April 2010 - Vol. 39

Praise and Thanks

a scriptural orientation to worship - Part IV

by Mike Shaughnessy 

Praise the Lord! 
Praise God in his sanctuary; 
Praise him in his mighty firmament! 
Praise the Lord for his mighty deeds; 
Praise him according to his exceeding greatness! 
Praise him with trumpet sound; 
Praise him with lute and harp! 
Praise him with timbrel and dance; 
Praise him with strings and pipe! 
Praise him with sounding cymbals; 
Praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! 
Praise the Lord! 
                                                         - Psalm 150

What does it mean to praise the Lord?
One gets the impression from the last of the psalms Psalm 150 that we are meant to praise the Lord. But what does it mean to praise the Lord? 

In Hebrew, there are two main words which get translated “praise” in English. The first, “yadah,” literally means to hold out one's hand. This was a posture of worship, one we still use today. The second word, “halal,” is the basis for the word hallelujah, which literally translated is “praise the Lord” (halal-yadah). Two other words for praise in Hebrew mean “to jump for joy” and “to shout.” So, not surprisingly, a time of praise for us would normally include: lifting one's hands, cheering, and clapping our hands or even jumping for joy!

In English praise means: 

  1. To express a favourable judgement, to commend; 
  2. To glorify especially by noting perfection. Thus, a mother expresses a favourable judgement, or praises, her new-born child simply for being and later commends her six year-old for faithfully brushing his teeth.
When we praise the Lord we speak or sing of his perfections. We honor or commend. When we look for synonyms for praise we find: acclaim, adore, applaud, bless, cheer, exalt, extol, exult, glorify, hallow, honor, laud, magnify, rejoice, revere, thank, venerate, and worship. These synonyms can help us understand what we should be doing when we praise the Lord in our worship and will give us the vocabulary to do it! We can actually prepare a sacrifice of praise. 

What’s involved in worship?
To worship intelligently, we should know what each of the above words actually means. Here is a chance to learn. Take the following test and see how well you do. Match the words in the right hand column to their correct meaning, numbered at left. The correct answers are in the footnote. *

a shout of applause or joy  acclaim  
applaud loudly, hail  adore  
to effect even greater respect and esteem  applaud  
commend for their perfections  venerate  
express approval especially by clapping cheer  
express gladness  exalt  
express gratitude  extol  
express Gods importance, worth, and value  exult  
express our respect and esteem for God glorify  
give God the highest position  hallow  
hallow by showing deference and respect  honor  
leap for joy (literally) rejoice (Psalm 68:3) laud  
to note Gods splendour, beauty, or greatness  magnify  
praise above others  revere  
praise the Lord solemnly  rejoice  
reverence with deep, unquestioning love  praise  
set apart as holy, unique  thank  
show devotion with tenderness of feeling  bless  
tell of Gods goodness  worship .

Above we see that the words we use in describing the praise of the Lord are closely related but have different shades of meaning. It may be helpful to spell these out more clearly.

Worship is the key word we build on. To worship, as we noted above, is to express the Lord’s importance, worth, and value.

The meaning of praise
Praise is another key word. When we praise someone, including the Lord, we acknowledge or commend them for their perfections, that is their good qualities, or deeds. The words most closely related to praise are laud, extol and bless. To laud is to praise the Lord solemnly. To extol the Lord is to praise him above other things or gods. This is also closely related to the word exalt, which means to give the Lord the highest position. To bless the Lord is to tell of his goodness, a particular perfection. To thank him is to express gratitude, but it is also a form of praise for what he has done.

We often distinguish between praise and worship. “Praise” is characterized by more joyful, louder, or more expressive ways of acclaiming God and his perfections. The songs we sing are more upbeat. “Worship” tends to be less loud, more reverent and profound. It is a more serious veneration or adoration of God. In our common worship, it is often accompanied by singing in tongues.

The meaning of honor
A couple of words are synonyms for honor. To honor the Lord is to express our respect (awe) and esteem (appreciation of his value or worth). To magnify the Lord is to cause the Lord to be held in even greater respect and esteem, thus to increase his honor. Glorify is a very closely related word. It means to magnify (or in this case, to increase) his splendour, beauty, magnificence or greatness. 

The meaning of reverence and adoration
Several of these words pick up on the idea that God is holy, that is, utterly unique and set apart from all others, not least due to his righteousness (or rightness). To hallow is simply to acknowledge that God is holy, set apart, unique. To venerate is to hallow by showing deference, that is, to be humble relative to that which is great. It is an expression of respect. To revere is to show devotion or commitment to that which is holy. It also has an aspect of tenderness of feeling. To adore the Lord is a similar type of awe or respect, but implies even deeper affection and unquestioning love. 

The meaning of rejoice
Several words are related to the word rejoice. Rejoice means to express gladness and approval. To applaud is to rejoice or approve especially by clapping. Acclaim intensifies this and means to applaud loudly often while hailing or cheering. To cheer is to give a shout of joy. To exult literally means to leap for joy. It is a word for a stronger expression of joy.

The meaning of thanksgiving
Finally, we come to thanksgiving. When I was a child, I was taught to say please and thank you. It was drilled into me! It was simply considered good manners. 

Saying, “Please,” shows that we do not presume upon another to favor us. Saying, “Thank you,” expresses the same, but is gratitude that the other person has favored us. When we give thanks to God, we are acknowledging that we have no right to his favor and that we are grateful that he has bestowed it. 

Note that thanksgiving is the word we use, not thanksthinking or thanksfeeling. Thanksgiving is an action. Of course, good thanksgiving also involves mentally acknowledging one's debt and feeling grateful. However, it’s not enough just to feel thankful; we are to give thanks to God, just as we should thank someone for a gift, not just feel thankful or think: that was nice.

God’s honor is our first concern
The scriptures teach us that we should honor God for who he is and what he has done. So praise and thanks constitute a significant portion of corporate prayer. We want God’s honor to be our first concern. Our needs and the needs of others are also important, but they take second place to honoring the Lord with praise and thanks.

I will give thanks to you, 
O Lord, among the peoples; 
I will sing praises to you 
among the nations. 
For your steadfast love is great 
to the heavens, 
your faithfulness to the clouds.
                                                      - Psalm 57:9-11
* acclaim = 2, adore = 16, applaud = 5, bless = 19, cheer = 1, exalt = 10, extol = 14, exult = 12, glorify = 13, hallow = 17, honour = 9, laud  = 15, magnify = 3, praise = 4, rejoice = 6, revere = 18, thank = 7, venerate = 11, worship = 8.

Prayer and Worship Series by Michael Shaughnessy
Part I: Welcome to heaven!
Part II: Worship is our service to God
Part III: Inspired Psalms and Songs
Part IV: Praise and Thanks
[Michael Shaughnessy is an elder in The Servants of the Word and the Director of Kairos in North America. Kairos is an international federation of outreaches to high school, university and post university aged people.].
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