Praise....or Worship?

     In the realm of religion, Pentecostals as a group tend to be a fairly demonstrative lot, and that trait is reflected in their church services. Quick to sing, quick to praise, quick to raise hands, Pentecostals sometimes have to dodge arrows from those traditionalists who contend that there is far too much unleashed emotion and far too little dignified restraint during the evolution of a Pentecostal service. Perhaps this enthusiastic participation in a church service is because Pentecostals feel they have embraced the entire concept of salvation as presented in the New Testament, and each individual has been able to develop a personal relationship with his/her Creator. Pentecostals contend that the Church Age as we know it began in the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles. If you view that chapter you will read the sermon preached by Peter the Apostle to the citizens of Jerusalem on the Jewish Day of Pentecost. The citizens had been observing a group of approximately 120 people stumbling out of a building acting quite strangely and speaking in many different languages. Although they accused the noisy mob of being drunk, the citizens were also puzzled how these obviously native Galileans were able to speak in different languages which they had never been taught.
     Peter, assuming his leadership role, began to explain that this phenomenon was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and represented the establishment of the church of Jesus Christ for the latter days. He told them bluntly had Jesus had come to the earth to be their Savior, but they had rejected and crucified the only begotten Son of God. The citizens believed what Peter had to say, felt condemnation for their actions, and asked point blank, “What shall we do?”

“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Acts KJV

     In the eyes of Pentecostals, every other New Testament scripture which refers to salvation is a verification of Peter’s commandment…even the scripture which is most commonly used by televangelists and pastors who do not accept the necessity of baptism or the receiving of the Holy Ghost…Romans 10:9: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." The citizens of Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, after hearing Peter’s sermon, did, in fact, confess and believe, thus fulfilling Romans 10:9, but they were still not saved until they followed the instructions of Peter.

     So Pentecostals, appreciative of their personal relationships with their Creator and fully embracing Peter’s commandment, enthusiastically get involved in the process of a church service through active praise. Praise is accomplished through singing, prayer, raising and clapping hands, and playing musical instruments. There are many scriptures which substantiate these activities:

Psalms …….”Sing praises unto the Lord.”
Psalms 33:2-3….”Praise the Lord with harp, and an instrument of 10 strings. Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.”
Psalms 51:15…..”Oh Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.”
Luke …….”….the whole multitude began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice.”
Psalms 150:1-6…”Praise him with the trumpet…psaltry…harp…timbrel…dance…stringed instruments…organs…loud cymbals! Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord!”

     It is through praise that a person is able to create a communications channel to God. The action of praising forces us to concentrate on His blessings and disregard our personal concerns. The difficulty we have sometimes as mere mortals is that we attempt to approach God with a laundry list of things we need, when His simple desire, repeated countless times in the scriptures is for us to praise Him. He already knows our problems, but we need to create an avenue through which He can move to help us overcome. Positive praise creates a positive attitude in our outlook and gives us greater determination and strength to face the challenges of living. The act of praise is not limited to the confines of a church service, but may be given anytime or anywhere the desire for communion with God is felt. We are told in the scriptures, “He inhabits the praises of His people.”
     But beyond praise, there is a higher level of communication with God which brings a deeper understanding of His ways.  Although active, enthusiastic praise is the sugar that gives energy to the true believer,  puts icing on the spiritual cake, and strikes the match that starts the fire…worship is the steak and potatoes which gives us long term strength and helps us to grow spiritually. Praise and worship are two words which are used many times synonymously, but their characteristics are distinct and separate. Notice the different tone in the scriptures referring to worship:

I Chronicles …” Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”
Psalms 95:6………..”Oh come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel…”
Matthew ……...” And when they were come into the house, they…fell down and worshipped him.”
Matthew 28:9……...”…And they came and held him by the feet and worshipped him.”

     Worship involves a much more intense, personal, and introspective approach. Worship does not require great actions, loud music, active engagement, or group participation. It occurs when we are most directly in contact with God, and our love, appreciation, and, yes, perhaps even fear of His power demands that we approach Him is a reverential manner. We show humility to Him by bowing and kneeling. It is a moment when we search our hearts and souls. The old song said it clearly:

“Search me, O God, and know my thoughts today
Try me, Oh, Savior. Know my heart I pray.
See if there be some wicked way in me…
Cleanse me from every sin and set me free."”

     Some of the most powerful services I have ever witnessed were some of the quietest. Years ago, our pastor at that time conducted communion services on a monthly basis. Although in our normal services we had a variety of musical instruments and we praised enthusiastically, for the communion services only the piano and organ were utilized. His sermons concerning the sacrament were quiet, intense, and very compelling. We members took the sacrament while kneeling at an altar and prayerfully looking to God for strength, guidance, and forgiveness. It was during these services of intense worship and soul searching that we gained power and strength, and as a result we spiritually matured.
     Praise and worship are both vital elements to a successful church, and as such, there should be a balance between the two. Praise is the chocolate bar in the mid-afternoon which gives us a quick jolt and sustains us until the next full meal. The success of our praise, perhaps because it is more active and visual, is sometimes inaccurately measured in decibels, movement, and rhythm.  Though not necessarily harmful, it is tantalizingly easy to put the emphasis on the sizzle and not the steak. A steady diet of chocolate, though enjoyable and perhaps highly desired, will inevitably be detrimental to our health; whereas a balanced diet of essential nourishment will permit the thorough enjoyment of the occasional sweet treat. In the final analysis, it is through worship that we come to His spiritual table and feast on the food that will give us life everlasting. In ancient times, when the king and his entourage paraded through the streets of his kingdom, the villagers were expected to offer honor and loud, enthusiastic praise. But those same villagers, had they been invited to the castle, were expected to approach the throne of the king with a deep, quiet reverence. True believers today do the same: we praise Him enthusiastically when He is in the midst of our services, but as we get closer to Him and His throne, we are compelled to bow, kneel…and worship.