‘Praise and Worship’ is not just singing songs to God

I’m sharing a message that the Lord has given me on “The Power of Praise in the Darkness.” This is post #2.  My introduction post is here:

The story of how worship became a central part of my life

To a lot of church-goers, when they hear the phrase “praise and worship,” they immediately equate it to “singing songs about God or to God in church.” Others of us know it’s more than that, and we love to praise Him and worship Him anywhere and at any time. I’d like to make sure that we lay a good foundation of what praise and worship actually is before I talk about the power that is released when we praise and worship Him!

So what is praise?

For me, the definition of praise is most obvious when I think of praising my children. I loved it when a teacher would recognize something my children did well on and praised them for their hard work. I appreciate it myself when someone recognizes me for something I have done and praises how well I did. I’m sure you are the same way! 

Think of the day after the Super Bowl, the day after Michael Phelps broke the record number of Olympic gold medals, the day after the NBA finals, or the day after the highest level of competition of your favorite sport. What are you and your friends often doing? You’re probably praising the athletes and the feats they accomplished the day before! 

Praise is something that humans naturally give when something totally amazes us. But it is also something we typically stop doing when we’ve come to take for granted the wonderful things we see all the time. Feats in sports that drew praise in the 1970’s no longer earn much praise. 

But from these earthly examples, we see that praise goes in two directions. We can praise someone directly by telling them how great they are or how wonderful they have performed, and we can also praise them to other people, by telling others about how wonderful they are. 

Worship on the other hand is expressing adoration to someone directly. It also has an element of reverence to it — of bowing down ourselves and raising up the thing or One we are worshiping. We’re acknowledging that the object of our adoration (God) is greater and more worthy than we are. By ‘raising up,’ I mean that we are drawing attention to that person or thing. If we draw on the world of sports again, then we can think of how the one who scored the winning goal or who won the race is often raised up on the shoulders of everyone else. They draw attention to him or her, praise him or her, and work together to make sure everyone around sees the champion and knows what they have done! This is a good picture of what worship is. 

But praise and worship are not really about singing.

Think about it. Do you sometimes listen to and sing along with songs with lyrics that you don’t really agree with? Maybe it’s a song about lost love and you’re happily married. Maybe it’s a country song about getting drunk, which you would not do — but you sing the song anyway simply because it’s fun to sing.

We can do the same thing in church or in our cars with the Christian radio station playing. We can sing a song with our mouth even as our mind is thinking about the events of yesterday, the latest thing that riled us up, or what we want to do this afternoon. We’ve all done this at times! 

So in those times when we are just mouthing the words, are we praising Him?  No. 

1 Cor 14:15 says this: “I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also.” I’m not going to discuss singing in the spirit here, but I’d like to point out that Paul offers only two ways of singing praise here – with the spirit, and with the mind. He does not even mention singing with just our mouths, without any spirit or mind behind it.

Have you ever had someone give you empty praise? Did you consider it praise, or did you consider it almost more of an insult? I know I’d rather get no praise than empty praise!  Empty praise hurts!

God is no different, for we were made in His image. Isaiah 29:13 says this: 

This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.

Consider these examples:
If on one day I am standing behind the keyboard playing and singing, and my mind is thinking about the things that frustrate me at work, then I am offering empty praise to God, and I’m not worshiping Him at all. In fact, it might be argued that at that moment I am elevating and lifting up my work troubles more than God, for that is what I am focused on!
If on another day, my throat hurts or my sinuses are stuffed up and it is uncomfortable to sing, but in my heart, I am thinking about how awesome and amazing my God is, and I am thanking Him for what He’s done for me — then I am praising and worshiping Him! 
If I’m in the middle of a situation at work that makes me want to scream, but instead I take a deep breath and meditate for just a moment on God’s faithfulness to me, and His promises and His love for me — if I affirm within myself that He is still good to me, even in the middle of the nasty circumstance — then there, with just a thought and without anyone around me knowing, I am praising and worshiping (lifting up) Him. 
Thus we see that praise and worship are attitudes of the heart. Singing songs is only one method of expression that we can use to praise and worship Him. But the real praise and worship is what’s happening in our mind and heart. 
God looks on the heart, and He knows the thoughts of our mind. There’s no fooling Him in what we are offering Him!
He is looking for those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24)
In the next post, we’ll look at the life of David, for lessons are often easier to understand when we see them demonstrated!

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