Have you ever considered the difference between praise and worship? Is there a difference? It is not uncommon to hear the words praise and worship used in tandem and even interchangeably, but do they mean the same thing? On one level, they may seem the same, but there are significant differences.
There are numerous Hebrew and Greek words for both praise and worship as translated into English. The most prevalent Greek word for praise indicates esteem and honor, a recognition of God’s glory. The word used most often for worship means bowing down, paying homage, or prostrating oneself before God.
What Is the Difference?
A significant difference is that one can praise God without having a change of posture, but to worship God signifies a shift of priorities and allegiances. Jesus quoted Isaiah: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’” Matthew 15:8–9 (NIV). We do not mean to give the impression that praise is shallow and superficial, but there is a greater depth to worship. Praise can be heartfelt and sincere, but it can also be going through the motions. We are not able to fake true worship.
They said all the right things, but it had not resulted in a change of heart. What we genuinely worship is recognized by what is most important to us. It is not necessarily about the amount of time spent, but instead how willing we are to displace or reprioritize what we say is important to us when other interests present themselves.
One of the essential discourses on the subject of worship occurs in John 4:4-26, when Jesus has an encounter with a Samaritan woman at the well outside of the village. She was there at this time of day, hoping to avoid uncomfortable encounters. Perhaps because she was ashamed, or ostracized because of her many failed relationships.
As Jesus begins his conversation with this woman, she starts to realize that there is something different and unique about him. In a manner, she praises him by saying, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” Many people praise Jesus because, undeniably, there is something unique and special about him. Even worldly people recognize this, and other religions acknowledge him as a prophet and teacher, and still, they stop short of glorifying him as God.
Jesus and the woman proceeded to have a conversation regarding the proper location of worship, and Jesus revealed that true worshipers are those “who worship in spirit and in truth.” The woman responds by saying, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Jesus then reveals to her, “I, the one speaking to you – I am he.”
Until this point in her life, this woman arranged her life around her shame and rejection. She bowed to her shame. Likely, she spent many hours prostrating herself before her humiliation. In essence, she worshiped her embarrassment, not in a good sense, but because everything in her life was ordered around her shame.
When Jesus came and spoke words of life to her, she changed her allegiance and her priorities. She was now bowing her heart and paying homage to Jesus, and she was able to go into the village and tell them about a man who had changed her life because shame and rejection no longer held her in their grasp. Her willingness to go into town and tell people about Jesus demonstrates a change in who she worshiped.
It is undoubtedly good to sing praises unto God, and expressions of worship by word or song are reasonable. The transformation of priorities and allegiances. The bowing of our hearts and lives in alignment with God, which is the greatest demonstration of “worshiping in Spirit and in truth.”
Another example of why worship is transformative was given to us by Paul. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1 (NIV).
How Praise Becomes Worship
Seventy-eight times in the NIV, we are encouraged to Praise the Lord. Including: Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. Psalm 150:6 (NIV). I daresay that worship will always encompass praise, but all praise does not rise to the level of worship.
At times we may begin with a “sacrifice of praise.” We may be facing circumstances that are difficult or seem impossible. There is hurt and pain, yet we begin to praise the Lord out of obedience. We cannot worship what we do not know or understand. Jesus told the Samaritan woman: You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. John 4:22 (NLT)
Familiar knowledge does not guarantee that we will worship, but without intimacy, worship is impossible. We can transition from praise to worship because God will make himself known to us through praise. In fact, God is enthroned on our praises (Psalm 22:3). God draws near to us and reveals himself to us when we praise him. Once we know him, as he knows us, we will transition from praise into worship before him.
A true expression of worship comes when we offer ourselves to God without reservation. “Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our maker, for he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care. If only you would listen to his voice today!” Psalm 95:6–7 (NLT)