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Which Comes First: Praise or Worship?



Author: Sheri Tesar
Worship Category:

Posted January 23, 2017 by

The words “Praise and Worship” are linked together so often that I wonder if many people really pay any attention to the difference between the two words. “Praise and Worship” has become as common a phrase as “salt and pepper,” “peanut butter and jelly” or, if you’re Forrest Gump, “peas and carrots.” We use the phrase “Praise and Worship” to describe a specific musical genre or the musical portion of the Sunday morning gathering. It is helpful when leading others in praise and in worship to remember that “Praise and Worship” is not a genre of music but two different, but related concepts.

Praise is a part of worship, and worship is much larger than singing songs of praise. Have you ever thought much about the relationship between the two distinct words “praise” and “worship” and why they are usually linked together in that particular order? (I have seen these words linked together as “Worship and Praise” on occasion, but very seldom.)  The customary order is “Praise and Worship,” and I believe they are linked in this order for a reason. It is not because they fall this way alphabetically, but because this is the order in which these two events occur.

Praise always precedes worship. Until we praise God –that is, until we recognize and acknowledge how infinitely great and awesome He is, and until our hearts are filled with gratitude for all He has done for us, we will not worship Him –-that is, we will not bow down before Him as our Lord and offer our lives in service to Him. The acts of both praise and worship appear in Psalm 95, and they appear in that order.

The psalmist begins Psalm 95 with an invitation to praise God. “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord, let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation!” (Ps 95:1 NIV) We are invited to sing joyfully to the Lord, to shout triumphantly to the One who gives us victory. The psalmist goes on to invite us to “come before [the Lord] with thanksgiving; and extol Him with music and song” (vs 2). We are invited to continue our praise of God by offering Him thanks for all that He has done for us.

In verses 3-5, the psalmist offers us reasons as to why we are to praise the Lord. “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods” (vs 3). He is greater than anyone or anything else. He is God. He is the King of all the earth. All of creation was crafted by Him and belongs to Him.

Once we acknowledge the unsurpassed greatness of our God and praise Him for who He is and what He has done for us, the psalmist invites us in verses 6-7 to worship the Lord. “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (vs 6). We are to bow down in worship before the King and Creator. As part of His creation, we are to kneel in reverence and obedience before Him because we belong to Him, and He is the One who tenderly cares for us and leads us as He sees best.

I have often struggled with how the final four verses fit with the first part of Psalm 95. It has always seemed to me to be a rather abrupt change, but in reflecting on this psalm recently, I now see that it fits very well.

The first seven verses are comprised of invitations and instructions from the psalmist. He invites us to praise God (vs 1-2), instructs us on the reasons why we should praise Him (vs 3-5), and then he invites us to worship (bow before) Him and instructs on the reasons why (vs 6-7).

The voice changes in the final three verses to a message from God. He warns us as to what will happen if we refuse to accept the invitations and instructions given to us in the first 7 verses. God lets us know what will happen if we refuse to worship Him or bow down before Him. He warns us not to “harden [our] hearts” or to test Him (vs 8-9). God advises us to remain firmly in His care and not to be prideful, stubborn, and insistent on doing things our own way. This is not a threat from an egotistical leader who wants all to bow before Him. This is a warning from a loving Father who wants His children to obey Him because He knows best. It is in our best interest to follow the psalmist’s instructions in the beginning of this psalm.

“Praise and Worship” is not a musical genre or just another inseparable pair of words. Praise is words that honor the Lord for who He is and what He has done, and worship is the ensuing attitude of humility, obedience, and willingness to submit to the King and Creator of the universe, the One who is infinitely greater than we are and loves us more than we can comprehend.

Engage in praising our God. Recognize and audibly acknowledge to everyone how great He is. Sing, shout, and praise His holy name. Then make the conscience decision to worship Him, to bow before Him and submit to Him in reverence, humility, and obedience.

Sheri Tesar has an M.A. in Worship Studies from Lincoln Christian Seminary and a B.S. in Worship Arts from Dallas Christian College. She has served as a Worship Minister and as an Adjunct Professor of Worship. She and her family currently live in Littleton, Colorado.


    Mayree Jos

    this was a good piece. I have been able to understand both praise and worship.
    Hod Bless you all.


    Yes this is great info. I am a worship leader at the church that I attend. I have a heart for praise and worship.How long should the praise and worship service last,and should I always lead most of the songs


    Hi Sheri,

    Nice piece. I’d be curious to see you develop this idea further in the context that we are always worshiping, or as Harold Best says, “we were created worshiping” (see Unceasing Worship by Harold Best). Thus, praise would not precede worship, for we would already be worshiping. Instead, praise would refocus or redirect our worship.

      Sheri Tesar


      I have read Unceasing Worship by Harold Best, so I am familiar with where you’re coming from. I’m unsure of your exact quote without a page reference, but Best does say that everyone worships something. Everyone bows down and serves someone or something — it may or may not be the Lord, the King and Creator of the universe. We might give our lives in service to money, our careers, our children, or any other pursuit that is good unless it becomes the sole focus of our lives and the object of our worship.

      In this line of thinking, I would still contend that praise precedes worship because we are not going to offer our lives in service to anything that we do not find great worth in. We praise that which we find great worth in, and we worship that which we praise the most.

      If we are already worshipers of God, then I would very much agree that praising God refocuses our hearts onto the One we worship. Hope this helps.



    Nice article. There have been many takes out there on what praise and worship should be. Yours is one of the better articles I’ve read. Thanks

    Crystal Laidacker

    Praise and worship is often the “go to” expression when people talk about music in the church because of what is at the heart of musical expression in the church. The heart of musical expression is praise for what God has done, is currently doing, and what he will do. This praise in turn naturally evokes worship an acknowledgement and appreciation of God’s nature as the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, lover of our souls who we can trust with our entire being. Thank you for pointing out the distinction between the terms. This reflection causes me to ask though, do the rest of the elements of church services do the same thing? Does our offering express praise and worship? Do the sermons and teaching in our churches bring about praise and/or worship? Do they lead people through the transition from praise to worship? Perhaps these are questions all church leaders need to be asking as they make plans for services in the church. Psalm 95 is an excellent example too. I just wonder if we’re guilty of hardening our hearts to planning what we think will be successful rather than what truly honors and glorifies God. Thanks Sheri for a good read!

      Sheri Tesar

      Thank you, Crystal! These are good questions for all church leaders to ask. I do think all elements of the worship gathering ought to help point us to Jesus and to renew our desires to praise Him and offer our lives in worship. The offering is an opportunity to worship/serve Him with our finances. The sermon is an opportunity to learn more about Him and His Word, to be reminded and inspired of the greatness of God, to renew our commitment to seek Him during the week, not just Sunday mornings.


    I am so thankful for this article. I have become a bit of a pain in our context because I refuse to call music worship. There is nothing in music that can evoke or conjure up a worshipping heart. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. I also appreciate the Psalmist’s language to back the difference between Praise and Worship. In fact, a simple word search will reveal LOTS of verses combining music and singing with Praise, and ZERO verses that have the word Worship in conjunction with music or singing. Your definitions are so very helpful and I hope that the language in our churches can adopt these definitions for healthier dialogue, and more vibrant experiences of both Praise and Worship. Thank you.

      Sheri Tesar

      Thanks, Bobby. I’m glad you found these thoughts and definitions helpful. You’re right — in much of our church culture, we have elevated music to much of a priestly role, believing it can somehow conjure up the presence of God or a “feeling” of worship. I love music and singing praises — I think it is a beautiful gift from God to be able to express truth and our feelings and emotions back to God. But it can’t fulfill the role of the Holy Spirit. Thanks again for your thoughts!


        Yes this was very helpful. As a worship leader we must follow the leading of the holy spirit there has been times when I have begin the service with praise because it seemed like the right thing to do,but in my heart I felt a desire to worship instead. As a leader we must also lead as God leads our heart.with the word of God and the leading of holy spirit we can’t go wrong. 🙂

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