Then Ezra praised the Lord, the great God, and all the people chanted, “Amen! Amen!” as they lifted their hands. Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Nehemiah 8:6 (NLT)
I recall a conversation with a friend who has many years of experience as a worship leader. The essence of the discussion settled on the fact that worship encompasses more than singing. We can sing songs of praise sincerely and with the right motivation but still not be a worshiper of God.
We may use the terms praise and worship interchangeably, but there are differences. Praise can express our appreciation for God’s attributes and actions toward us. Praise involves singing, speaking, or even shouting, often accompanied by instruments. The goal of praise is to glorify God and to give him thanks and honor for his goodness and greatness.
Someone who sings and proclaims the praises of God can do so without being fundamentally changed, but a worshiper is someone whose life is devoted to the one they worship. A worshiper’s life will include praise, but one who praises is not necessarily a worshiper. We may call our gatherings “worship services,” but how often do we really worship?
Our goal should be to start with praise and go deeper into worship. Or better yet, live a life of continual praise and worship.
Jesus, quoting Isaiah, said: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’ Matthew 15:8 (NLT) It is certainly possible to sing all the right songs with all the right words, praising God with what we say without having a transformed heart. The worshiper centers their life on God. A worshiper’s life and actions are not compartmentalized. From the beginning, sacrifice was a part of worship, but sacrifices of animals or grain offerings were only a shadow or template of God’s desire for worship.
Even under the old covenant, the understanding of what God truly desired is known. Samuel told Saul that God “desired obedience rather than sacrifice.” (1 Samuel 15:22). David said, “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.” Psalm 51:16–17 (NLT)
We can praise God wherever we are, but worship brings us into the Holy of Holies. You can praise without worshiping, but you can’t worship without praising. Worship requires action: Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; Psalm 95:6 (NIV).
Let’s Get It Right
God speaking through Amos, declares what he really wants to see from us. “I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.” Amos 5:21–24 (NLT)
Proverbs echoes a similar thought: “The LORD is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer him sacrifices.” Proverbs 21:3 (NLT)
Praise for show is not what God wants. When our actions do not align with what comes out of our mouths, we waste our time and God’s. We might be proud of ourselves and our efforts, but without love and compassion for others, we are just “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
There will be times in our lives when praise flows easily from us. But there will also be times that require a “sacrifice of praise.” Praise may require effort, but worship involves everything. A worshiper has his life in alignment with God’s will. True worship is a surrender of things that we hold near and dear.
Worship As Service
Worship and sacrifice were initiated as something external offered to God as an appeal for atonement and forgiveness or as an outward exhibition of praise and adoration. Still, God’s genuine desire is for our lives, transformed and offered to Him. Paul shows us what authentic worship is: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” Romans 12:1 (NLT)
Interestingly, the Greek word latreuō is found 21 times in the New Testament. Sometimes it is translated as worship, and at other times it means to serve. Looking at Romans 12:1 as well as Hebrews 12:28, there seems to be an even division between Bible versions that translate the word as serve or worship. We see that worship is more than an external expression. It requires us to turn over our lives as a sacrificial offerings.
We could conclude that worship and sacrifice, as prescribed by the old covenant, was easy and convenient compared to what God really desires from us, but do not forget that it was ineffective. “Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins.” Hebrews 10:11 (NLT)
Christ dealt with our sins once and for all by his sacrifice on the cross, and he is worthy of our songs of praise and adoration. True worship comes from lives that have been transformed and offered up as living sacrifices. God wants to see justice and mercy flow from a our lives in addition to the praise and worship from our lips.