In the last ten years of my life, I had the privilege to travel the world as a missionary, encountering many different churches and denominations. Some were very loud, some were very silent, some had big bands playing modern styles of worship music, and in some others, musical instruments were even forbidden! In many places, people have asked me this common question: how to praise and worship? Which is the correct way?
We will look at some biblical examples, but before we understand how to praise and worship, let’s look at what thanksgiving, praise, and worship are, and how they embrace each other.
Thanksgiving, praise, and worship
Thanksgiving starts with being thankful. It’s related to remembering — an appreciation of something that we are thankful for.
We can be thankful for a kind action someone has done for us, for a situation, for the love we have received, and it’s related to the gratitude that we have for such things.
Basically, thanksgiving is recognizing that someone has done something nice for us, and we appreciate it. Is there anything greater than being thankful for what our Beloved did on the cross for us?
In life, we praise many things. We consider the quality of something or someone and we express it. Any time we speak well about someone/thing, we are praising this person or object or whatever.
So to praise is simply to proclaim the characteristics of someone/thing, and confess it with our lips. Here is a practical example.
Let’s say I’m going home. I open the front door, and I see my wife. I look at her and start to compliment her look, the way she smiles at me, the way she moves my heart, etc. So I may say to her: “Rachel, you know what, you are just so beautiful and the way you smile at me moves my heart. You are so special to me.”
I could also verbally appreciate something she did. For example, I come home and I smell the food she is cooking, so I say to her: “Sweetie, you are such a good cook.”
So praise is a positive expression of the characteristics of someone, in our case, of God. This could be done verbally, or physically like when we clap our hands to applaud.
From the Hebrew halal: to declare, confess the nature of God, express approval and admiration celebrating with words or songs, to glorify. Example: God, you are so good; you are so precious; you are wonderful, etc.
I will briefly describe worship since I have covered this topic in a deeper way in the article:
“Is worship a lifestyle? – Defining worship and getting a true understanding of it”.
Worship is the response that we have toward God or a divine action He has done. We recognize the superiority of God, and we respond by worshipping Him.
These are the definitions of the terms that are used in the Bible in the Old and New Testament:
Shachah: give honor, prostrate oneself, pay/give homage/tribute to a royal person or God, express gratitude
Proskuneo: to kiss, a dog who licks his master’s hand, to flatter or fawn over, to crouch down, to prostrate oneself in homage/ tribute, in reverence, worship.
How to praise and worship? Let’s look at some guidelines.
Thanksgiving, praise, and worship in action
“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.”
— Psalm 100:4-5 New King James Version
Let’s look at these steps.
Step # 1
- Entering His gates: being thankful moves our heart by reminding us of the goodness of God
Step # 2
- Entering His courts: once we have recognized the goodness of God, we then express His characteristics and we proclaim His attributes; we are therefore praising Him.
Step # 3
- God dwells and is enthroned in the praises of His people. So, when we praise Him His presence is manifested, and we respond by worshipping Him.
“Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.” —Psalm 22 (New American Standard Bible)
Of course, this is not the only way we access His presence. Sometimes it just happens immediately, without going through all the steps. Or, we can jump from one step directly into the presence of God.
But if the Bible gives us such directions, I believe we should consider them, especially if we are leading worship.
What does the Bible say?
In the Bible, we see many examples of commands or exhortations on how to praise and worship the Lord with musical instruments.
We see exhortations on how and in what way to play (play skillfully with shouts of joy – Psalm 33:3). Musical instruments and dancing are mentioned (Psalm 150), as well as clapping of hands (Psalm 47:1). Singing is mentioned and encouraged also in the New Testament (Eph. 5:19, Col 3:16).
These exhortations or commands are done since we should praise and worship with all of our being, just think of how King David rejoiced when the Ark was brought to Jerusalem (1 Chr. 15:28-29). Or, how much God loved the Tent of David since He said that he will reestablish this ministry (Acts 15:16). I would say He is already doing it across the world.
The music/art of our heart
Throughout the different generations, we have grown up with different styles, not only of music but also all the styles of art. (You can read more about the relationship between worship and art here.)
Any time there is a generational change we see this clash of generations. I believe this is simply because the language that is spoken is different. Generally, there is a style or type of music or any kind of art which we relate to, simply because that is what we grew up with.
I remember once I was in a town festival in the region of Abruzzo in the center of Italy, and there was a band playing.
The musicians were young and they were playing the music that they had written. In the first row, there were all the older people of the town sitting down and watching the band play with a disappointed look on their faces.
Unfortunately for the band, the audience was made almost entirely of older people. So after a few songs, they looked at each other and realized the situation. In a clever way, they transitioned the songs to a more traditional style. At that point, something happened. The older people stood up and started to dance and clap their hands, singing all together the traditional “tarantella” songs.
In the same way in church, we have so many cultural differences and each one of us has a style that relates to his heart, regardless of whether the style is old, new, or from another culture or subculture.
Each one of us has what is sometimes referred to as “the music of our heart”. This is unchangeable since all of us can perhaps relate more to one style more than another.
How to praise and worship God?
I have seen many styles expressed in different contexts, cultures, and churches, and I would dare to say that there is no one style for praise and worship.
The Bible talks about all nations and all people worshipping the Lord. I believe that so many times we have tried to put what praise and worship should look like in a box.
The Bible gives examples and models of praise and worship, like singing spiritual songs and the attitude of our hearts when we’re worshipping.
I strongly believe our lyrics should have good content; in fact, this is where our attention should be. Words are powerful, and if they are meaningless they will lack power.
In regard to the styles, we should not have any barriers. All the styles talk about the richness of God, and each culture has a way to express its devotion.
If God has taught me anything, it’s that He is in it all.
Of course, we should be sensitive to our audience just like the band in the town festival, since our goal is to serve and love God and His people. But that is another story.
Hope you enjoyed this article. Please leave a comment below.
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