Praise is telling God how you feel about him and what he’s done for you, how wonderful he is and how grateful you are, all wrapped up in a song somebody else wrote.
Worship is deeper, more intimate, more personal. It’s like singing a love song to the object of your adoration.
Of course, you’re still using a song somebody else wrote. And when you’re through praising God and worshiping, you give money to the church, hear a sermon from the preacher, request prayer if you need it, then go home.
That’s what I thought for years, until I researched original language for myself.
The English word worship comes from the old root word “worth-ship.” How much someone is worth, in respect, honor, position, wealth.
The New Testament Greek word carries a similar idea, but is used of a servant’s attitude towards his master – not exclaiming how great he thinks his master is, but being in submission, reverent, waiting for the master’s instructions.
The servant doesn’t inform the master of his own plans for the day. He doesn’t have any plans of his own. He doesn’t do anything until his master tells him what to do.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well something about the future. He said, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
Just physically singing in a church service is not what he meant.
I still worship with songs other people wrote, but sometimes it’s not songs at all, it’s paragraphs, sentences or phrases, sometimes just feelings. Whatever it is, it’s not complete unless followed by listening for the Master’s instructions.
Recently the Holy Spirit said to me, It’s time for urgent worship.
What does that mean, I asked? What is it, and why is it time?
True worship begins with focused attention, he said. Not contaminated with distractions like other people singing. Not drowned out by the static of worry over what is going on in your life, your own thoughts.
True worship is hard, I had to acknowledge. I wasn’t very good at it. Trying to concentrate doesn’t wipe out all the distractions. My elbows hurt. My fingers seem stiff. Time for Tylenol?
I find my mind wandering, thinking about the people I love and their troubles. Concerned about the state of the world.
Worship too easily transitions over to praying for something. Praying is not bad in itself, but it’s not focusing on the worth-ship of God and listening to his voice, his instructions.
Without the critical element of true worship, I may not hear his instructions instantly or clearly enough to respond with confidence when he needs me to.
I was worried that I just can’t do it, no matter how hard I try. Then he reminded me of how I learned to play the piano, how I learned to type: practice.
Practice urgent worship. Focus on the Master and he will strip away all your unnecessary distractions. Don’t worry that you’re not perfect, just practice.
Okay, I said.
But why? I wasn’t sure if he would tell me, but he did.
Because a day is coming when he will speak a critical word. We must be able to recognize his voice and respond, perhaps in an instant.
Urgent worship will prepare his people to hear him clearly, when that day comes.
Originally published in 2010. That day may be sooner than we think.