What does it mean
to praise the Lord?
2010 - Vol. 39
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
One gets the impression from the last of the psalms –
150 – that we are
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
In English praise means:
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.
To express a favourable judgement, to commend;
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.
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.
shout of applause or joy
|applaud loudly, hail
|to effect even greater respect
|commend for their perfections
|express approval especially
importance, worth, and value
|express our respect and
esteem for God
|give God the highest position
|hallow by showing deference
|leap for joy (literally)
rejoice (Psalm 68:3)
|to note God’s
splendour, beauty, or greatness
|praise above others
|praise the Lord solemnly
|reverence with deep, unquestioning
|set apart as holy, unique
|show devotion with tenderness
of God’s goodness
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 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
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
The meaning of
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
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
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
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
= 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
[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.].
Part II: Worship
is our service to God
Part III: Inspired
Psalms and Songs
Part IV: Praise