A few years back, Matt Redman wrote the song “Heart of Worship”, which is at its core an apology for making worship just “a song”, and this is lyrically right on the mark.
The terms ‘praise’ and ‘worship’, as used today, almost always bring to mind a particular style of music in a church service. We often hear questions like, “what is the worship like at your church?”, or “how was worship today?” Sadly, some of most bitter disagreements in the Church as a whole have been concerning music, and these typically miss the point of what worship really is.
When searching the Scriptures for the true meanings of these two words in context, we are faced with something that shows that ‘praise’ and ‘worship’ are not synonymous with music, and are actually themselves two very distinct and separate ideas.
The word ‘worship’ as used in the Old Testament is most often translated from the Hebrew word shachah, meaning literally to depress, to bow down, or to prostrate oneself by falling flat. The Greek word proskuneo, translated as ‘worship’ in the New Testament, often carries a similar meaning. It is also the root of the word “prostrate” in our language, and it goes so far as to suggest “to kiss toward”.
The Biblical concept of worship then is one of complete prostration and submission to a Holy God. It is the purest form of reverence.
It is important to acknowledge that this word is not necessarily linked to singing; worship may be found in a lifestyle of humility and prayer, and in silent awe. Worship is at its core the realization of how great a chasm exists between us and God, and the great lengths to which our Messiah went to eliminate it.
The word ‘praise’, on the other hand, is used in a very different way. The words most typically found in the Old Testament are halal and yadah.
The word halal carries the connotation of joyful singing, boastfulness, and goes so far as to suggest acting foolish. It is the action of glorifying God, who is worthy of all honor, without any concern of what others may think. It is shouting from the rooftops, it is proclaiming Him loudly and without inhibition. It is a celebration of our Creator from the overflow of the heart.
Yadah carries a similar meaning of celebration, but is derived from a word that means ‘hand’, and oddly suggests throwing or the shooting of arrows. These two words help define praise as a celebration where the body of believers figuratively “throw” our praises towards a deserving Father.
And so praise and worship are two very distinct and different ideas.
We lift our hands to God in a physical expression of praise, and we bow silently in worship.
We celebrate in such a way that our voices shout in praise to Him, and we fall to our faces in worship, inspired and in awe of all that He is.
We enter His presence with joyful singing, and we reflect on his divine authority in complete submission.
We dance as David danced, and we cry out for mercy as David cried out.
And so the way I see it, when Matt Redman exclaimed that worship is “more than a song”, he was right on the mark.