I attended a small Christian college in Alabama as a Biochemistry major. This meant that in addition to my core science classes, religious electives were also built into the curriculum.
My most memorable (and surprisingly demanding) religion class was entitled “Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ.” There were lengthy weekly reading assignments, papers, debates, and presentations.
My lecturer was a no-nonsense theologian who pushed her students to think critically and would not settle for the bare minimum when it came to class attendance, participation, or performance.
After one class, I casually asked as I was packing up my belongings, “What’s the difference between praise and worship? It seems they’re often used interchangeably.”
She looked at me over her round-framed glasses and responded, “An excellent question. Write me a 3 page paper on the subject, due next class.”
I groaned and kicked myself inwardly, but smiled brightly and nodded. Of course, she would not just tell me.
So I was off to the library to research. In a nutshell, I discovered that praise and worship are complementary.
Praise is rooted in gratitude, an acknowledgment and appreciation of what God has done for us.
The Bible is filled with examples of praise in various forms, people of all ages singing, dancing, shouting, and playing instruments alone or with a body of believers.
Worship goes beyond praise. It is rooted not just in what God has done but in who He is. It involves wonder and admiration for God that draws our spirits out to Him.
While praise is unidirectional (from us to God), worship is relational (fellowship and connection between us and God). While I would not have chosen this assignment for myself, it became a turning point in my understanding of what it really means to worship.
“It’s who you are and the way you live that counts before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.” John 4:23-24 (MSG)
Up until that point, I had felt underwhelmed in my worship experience. I would go to church every week and attend Bible studies on campus. I would sing and sway to the familiar songs, bow my head in prayer, listen to testimonies, and share some of my own. I would even have daily devotional time on my own. But then the service would end, or I would have to leave my private time of worship to start the day, and it felt like a switch would go off.
Worship was over. and the issues of the day would largely drown out my thoughts of God until the next service or devotional. There had to be more to worship than these precious stolen moments alone with Him. After this assignment, it began to penetrate my mind that worship should be a way of life.
Around this time, I attended a youth meeting and heard the youth pastor close the service with a prayer that included the phrase,
“As we leave this service, may we live with the awareness that we never leave Your presence.”
These simple words almost took my breath away. Worship in my life should not ever end. It should be a cord woven throughout every waking moment. I could express my love and admiration for my Maker in the way I took care of my body, in my interactions with my friends and classmates, the way I approached my studies, the extracurriculars I participated in. It was just as much an act of worship as when I was standing in a church, just as precious before God.
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.” Romans 12:1 (MSG)
This was a major paradigm shift for me.
It meant living with a constant awareness of God’s presence in my life and acknowledging Him in the many seemingly mundane moments. It was a challenge I hesitantly accepted and though I have not always executed it perfectly, it is still a blessing years later.
May we always walk in the awareness that God’s presence is as real as the air around us, and worship should be as constant and natural as breathing it in.