You have probably heard the following descriptions drawing a distinction between praise and worship. Praise is about God, worship is to God. Praise is opening up, worship is entering in. Praise is boldly declaring, worship is humbly bowing in the presence of a Holy God. Praise applauds what God has done, worship is honoring God for who He is. So is there a difference between Worship vs Praise? 

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Worship VS Praise – Is There Difference?

There is definitely a lot of truth in these succinct descriptions. Some people would emphatically claim that praise is always associated with singing loudly to faster songs, clapping, dancing, celebrating, and thanksgiving; and worship is kneeling, bowing, singing softly, lying prostrate, eyes closed lost in reverie.

But is this too simplistic? I personally don’t see the lines drawn so clearly. Remember, we should be stalwart in guarding sound doctrine, but when things aren’t spelled out for us in scripture we shouldn’t be dogmatic. Without marked direction and discernable definitions, we need to approach humbly and be comfortable with a little mystery. Although the lines may be blurred distinguishing between praise and worship, and as much as we like the nice, neat package of saying praise looks like this and worship looks like that, I don’t think scripture bears the distinction.

Praise is simply lavishing encouragement upon someone for what they have accomplished, saying or writing good things about someone or something, or expressing approval. We can praise anyone or anything.

The English word “worship” comes from two Old English words: weorth, which means worth, and scipe (or ship), which means quality or condition. So, worth-ship is the quality of having worth. Whatever we devote our time and energy to is what or who we worship. When we worship God, we are ascribing worth to Him and proclaiming that He alone is worthy. Worship is not always quiet and contemplative. Whether we think, imagine, sing, dance, clap, speak, whisper or shout about how awesome our God is, worship should be reserved exclusively for Him. “Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” (Psalm 29:2)

When discussing the difference between praise and worship we shouldn’t assume that praise is exclusively one thing and worship is another. If anything, praise seems to be a subset of the worship. When we praise God for what He has done, this leads to praising Him for who He is. The question is at what point did praise turn into worship? Maybe it was part of worship all along.

A skillful and wise worship leader incorporates both praise and worship in such a way that it is seamless, provokes a response and invites participation. Using skill, sensibility, and tact is important too. Obviously, you don’t want to interrupt a sweet rendition of Amazing Grace with a screaming guitar solo, a shout or loud clapping. It’s about timing as much as anything.

Passionate Worship or Praise

When David danced before the Lord he did so with all his might, (1 Chronicles 15:29, 2 Samuel 6:14) it was in a public setting, it was boisterous and raucous, and probably to a fast song. So, was he worshipping or praising? Seems clear it was both!

I once observed a young woman at church who was so enamored with Jesus that she was worshipping well before the service even began. Within the first song, she was dancing, clapping, then raising her hands and bowing. Should I have said, “Hey, you got it all wrong, you are mixing up praise and worship! This is the praise portion of the service where we clap, sing loudly and shout –it’s not time to worship yet”?

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Not just praise OR worship

There are many ways to describe the worship experience, whether all alone or in the midst of a congregation of thousands — adoration, celebration, devotion, exaltation, and thanksgiving are a few words that come to mind. The Old Testament doesn’t present us with the dichotomy of praise or worship, in fact, there are several Hebrew words for ‘praise’ that include elements you may have thought applied exclusively to worship:

Barak to kneel and bless God as an act of adoration, implies a continual conscious giving place to God, to be attuned His presence (Psalm 95:6)

Yadah to throw out, to worship with an extended hand (Psalm 63:4).

Karar to dance (2 Samuel 6:16)

Halal the root for our word hallelujah. It means to rave about, to boast, to celebrate, to be clamorously foolish. The literal translation is to spin like a top (Psalm 113:1).

Shabach a shout or command; to address in a loud tone (Psalm 145:4)

Taqa (Taqua) to clap hands (Psalm 47:1)

Todah (Towdah) same root as yadah, but literally means an extension of the hands in adoration (Psalm 50:14)

Zamar to touch strings, play an instrument in worship (Psalm 1:13)

Tehillah to sing a spontaneous, extemporaneous song. This is the praise described by John in Revelation.

Informed worship

We don’t have the luxury of making God into something He is not. Let’s say someone came up to me and said that they think of my husband as an accountant, someone who can solve all their financial problems. I know my husband very well, probably better than anyone else, and although he is a very gifted man in other areas, I know that he is nothing like what they described. I would tell the person I’d be glad to introduce them personally so they could discover who my husband really is. In the same way, we could fancy God as our cosmic buddy in the sky or a genie who grants all our wishes, but that’s not accurate; it’s not who He has revealed himself to be. We need to know the God we worship, and we do that by spending time with Him, by reading His Word and knowing who He says He is, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” (John 4:23).

Bringing it All Together

Back to the example of the girl who was demonstrative in her worship. She may not have needed a warm-up song to help her progress from praise to worship, but most of us come into a worship setting distracted by many things. Singing contagious songs about everything God has done for us prepares our hearts for more intimate worship. One could argue that praise sets up worship, and that praise is a stage in the total worship experience.

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, enter His courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4). The Old Testament paints a vivid picture of the stages of worship in describing the Jewish tabernacle. The tabernacle included three distinct areas: The outer court, where people mingled and prepared themselves to worship; the inner court, where the worshipper could meet with a priest, confess sins and offer an acceptable sacrifice; and the Holy of Holies, where the glory of God dwelt. Back then if you came into the Holy of Holies unprepared you were struck dead. Jesus, our great High Priest, has made a way for us to come boldly to the throne of grace to receive help and mercy (Hebrews 4:16).

I love that old song Take Me into the Holy of Holies because it’s a great picture of getting past life’s distractions and pressing into God’s presence:

“Take me past the outer courts into the holy place

Past the brazen altar, Lord, I want to see Your face

Pass me by the crowds of people, and the priests who sing Your praise

I hunger and thirst for Your righteousness but it’s only found one place

Take me into the holy of holies, take me in by the blood of the Lamb”

Praise and worship are part of the same continuum, and worship is more than what you do, it is a way of life. “Present yourselves a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1-2).

Ultimately the differences between praise and worship are outweighed by their similarities. They seem to be just different aspects of the same thing instead of one versus the other. True praise to God is an element of worship and true worship gives praise to God. In the end, they are part the common goal of getting closer to God. As we draw near God, He draws near to us (James 4:8).


Read more Bible passages about worship in the article, 20 Thought-Provoking Bible Verses about Worship.

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About The Author

Kristi Winkler is a contributing writer for Sharefaith, a veteran eLearning developer, writer/editor, and business software analyst. Her writing gives a voice to the ministry experts she consults with and interviews.

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