Which Comes First: Praise or Worship?
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.