One image that helps me understand these concepts is to think of worship as a beautiful crown adorned with two brilliant jewels. One jewel is praise; the other, thanksgiving.
Throughout the Bible people expressed their worship in several ways. They bowed before God, often with a sense of awe, to honor Him and show their devotion. They offered special gifts to Him, the chief gift being themselves.
Today, as in Bible times, worship includes yielding to God as our Lord and Master. We see this in Romans 12:1, where God asks us to offer Him our bodies, our lives, our entire person. This, He says, is true worship.
In genuine spiritual worship, we bow before the Most High God, the most merciful and reliable and winsome of all beings, and we crown Him as Lord of all that we are. We consent to His gracious, transforming work in our lives; we agree that He can work in us, so that we’ll be willing and able to do His will. In other words, we choose to let Him be God in our lives. This is our greatest privilege, the highest thing we can do.
Worship also includes adoring God, admiring Him, appreciating Him and letting Him know how grateful we are for His mighty works and the blessings He bestows on us. Thus worship includes praise and thanksgiving. As in ancient times, all three–worship, praise and thanksgiving–overlap as we glorify and enjoy God. Sometimes we do this in speaking, sometimes in singing, sometimes in silent reverence.
In thanksgiving we express gratitude to the Lord for His love and goodness to us and to others, for His constant acts of care and for His gifts, including the spiritual blessings He has lavished upon us.
In praise we admire God for who He is and what He does. Praise can be quiet and meditative. But it can also include celebrating and exulting in the Lord’s majesty and splendor, His sovereignty, His limitless power and His bountiful love–which we do not in the least deserve. In praise we extol our wonderful God; we exalt and magnify Him. Praise includes speaking highly of God to other people, as well as directly to Him.
It doesn’t matter whether our words are stumbling or eloquent. God looks on the heart; He’s searching for people who simply want to honor Him.
I find that my worship is richer when I offer the Lord praise and thanks for three things: who He is, what He does and what He gives.
David said, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1, NASB). We too can have lives filled with praise and thanksgiving.
PRAISING AT ALL TIMES?
A life of praise may appeal to you. But what does it involve? You may be puzzled about what it means to praise continually and give thanks always, in every situation. Won’t this lead to denying your true feelings? Does it mean that when you stub your toe or hit your thumb with a hammer, your spontaneous response must be “Thank You, Lord”? Isn’t it dishonest to give thanks if you don’t feel thankful?
Several things have helped settle these questions for me.
One is that the Bible doesn’t command us to feel thankful in every situation. It doesn’t command us to manufacture positive feelings. Instead, it commands us to give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As John G. Mitchell, co-founder of Multnomah School of the Bible, put it, “To give thanks when you don’t feel like it is not hypocrisy; it’s obedience.”
Notice that David and the other psalmists were honest about their feelings, facing them and telling God about them. They knew how to pour out their hearts before Him (Psalm 62:8). Often they praised God first, and then expressed their disturbed emotions, their perplexities, even their complaints. After this they went on to praise God again, despite their struggles.
What happens when we express our impressions and feelings, yet choose to keep praising in spite of how things seem to us? I find that sooner or later (often sooner) the Lord releases me from being a slave to my distressing emotions. He unties the tight knots within me and settles my feelings, though He may not answer my questions about how He’s handling my affairs.
And when at times praise does not quickly bring inner freedom and joy, I can say, “Lord, I can’t praise You in the same way I did last week (or last year). I can’t seem to respond to You with the same sense of delight and celebration. But I do choose to lift You high, praising You for what You are and what You mean to me.”
Praise flourishes as you weed and water and fertilize your spiritual garden. It becomes more constant as you nurture your soul on God’s Word and walk in His ways, depending upon the Holy Spirit. It gets richer and more spontaneous as you grow in your knowledge of how worthy the Lord is to receive honor and glory and praise.
AN OFFERING OF PRAISE
Thank You, my gracious and sovereign God, that You have been with me and carried me from the day of my birth until today … that You have known my whole life, from beginning to end, since before I was born … and that You wrote in Your book all the days that You ordained for me before one of them came to be.
Thank You that in Your gracious plan to bless and use me, You’ve allowed me to go through hard times, through trials that many people go through in this fallen world. How glad I am that You’re so good at reaching down and making something beautiful out of even the worst situations! How encouraged I am when I think how You did this for Joseph … how his brothers hated and abused and betrayed him, and how You worked these things out for blessing, both for Joseph and his family and for countless other people.
I praise You that the things that happened in my past, both enjoyable and painful, are raw materials for blessings, both in my life and in the lives of others. So I thank you for the specific family (or lack of family) into which I was born and the opportunities You did or did not provide.
And thank You for the things in my past that appear to be limitations, hindrances, bad breaks … the wounds of old hurts, the unmet emotional needs, the mistakes of neglect of other people–even their cruelty to me, their abuse.
How I thank You, Lord Jesus, that on the cross You bore my griefs and carried my sorrows, as well as my sins … that I can kneel at the cross and worship You as the One who took on Yourself all my pain and experienced it to the full.
I’m so grateful that all my past circumstances were permitted by You to make me see my need of You and prepare my heart for Your Word … to draw me to Yourself, and to work out Your good purposes for my life. I rejoice that You are the Blessed Controller of all things–You are now, You will be throughout the future, and You always were. All my days had Your touch of love and wisdom, whether or not I can yet fully see it.
Ruth Meyers and her late husband, Warren, worked with the Navigators in Asia for many years and wrote several books and Bible studies together.