by Rayola Kelley
Q: I have heard a lot about praise and worship, but I have witnessed many different expressions of both. Is there a right way to praise and worship God?
A: The answer is yes, there is a right way to praise and worship God. However, praise and worship is also a personal matter that must be properly discerned by the individual. To put these two issues in perspective, it is important to understand that God’s people are collectively as a group called to praise and worship, but true worship happens on a personal level. In other words, each person must come into a place of personal worship before God. It is in such a place that true communion can happen between God and man.
People who are really into contemporary praise and worship remind others that God inhabits the praises of His people, and that we should enter His gates with praise and thanksgiving. What many people do not understand is that the purpose of praise was to lead a person into personal worship. Praise and thanksgiving actually are the means to exalt God in the mind to ensure the presence of a right spirit. Once the mind is being lifted above the world as it considers the greatness and majesty of God, the heart will follow in the adoration, honor and expectation of true worship towards the true God of heaven.
Praise actually sets up an environment in which the presence of God can come down. It is as the person enters into God’s presence and ascends upward in adoration towards Him that he or she can come to a true place of worship. It is from this place that a person will be able to worship God in the right spirit according to truth. Therefore, we are told in John 4:21-24 that true worship will not be determined by a particular location, but the inward condition of man. In fact, the Father seeks the true worshippers who worship Him in spirit and truth.
To understand this in a right way, let us now consider what it means to enter the gate with praise and thanksgiving. There was only one real gate that God’s people could enter in the Old Testament that would lead them to worship. This gate served as the opening into the outer court of the tabernacle or temple. Once they entered the gate, they were immediately met with the Altar of Burnt Offerings. This is where all sins were addressed. Praise points to joy and thanksgiving to a grateful attitude, but once faced with the cost of sin, praise would take on a sober, humble attitude as it would consider the cost for a person to come into the presence of a Holy God to worship Him properly.
For Christians, the gate represents the redemptive work of Christ. The altar we must face is the cross of Christ. It is the great sacrifice of Christ that establishes the real reason for praise. It is not just a matter of us recognizing who God is, but what He has truly done for us. Such recognition should produce praise and thanksgiving.
There was also the laver in the outer court that reminded the priests of their need to be cleansed before entering through the door of the Holy Place. For you and me, the Word of God cleanses us in the right way, allowing us to enter by way of Jesus, our good and glorious Shepherd. It was in the Holy Place that the priest ministered before God as they kept the flame burning on the Candlestick. The bread on the Table of Shewbread had to be properly prepared and presented to ensure communion that comes from partaking of that which is set apart as holy. Then, there was the Altar of Incense; it had to constantly emit the fragrance that was truly acceptable to God.
For Christians, the Candlestick reminds each of us that we must be walking in the light of Christ to properly address all personal sins. The Table of Shewbread points to Christ as the bread from heaven that we must constantly partake of to ensure our life in Him. The Altar of Incense points to prayer and emitting the fragrance of Christ’s life (John 6:35; 2 Corinthians 2:15-16; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; 1 John 1:7). Clearly, the Holy Place was to create an awareness of God as a means of preparation for entering into true communion with Him in the Most Holy Place. We, therefore, must conclude that all acceptable praise and worship must find their origins, as well as be inspired, according to the awareness of God and His great work on the cross.
It is beyond the veil, located behind the Altar of Incense, where the real place of communion is located. The veil of the temple reminds us that we enter into this incredible place of fellowship because of Christ’s sacrifice(Hebrews 10:19-21). The truth is anyone can get caught up with his or her idea of God, but facing the harsh reality of the cost of our sins will establish the right attitude of humility.
This brings us to the realization that there are two ways in which God’s people enter into true communion with Him. They are through praise or brokenness. As you consider brokenness, it represents a state of humility as well as serving as a sacrifice, while acceptable praise will establish an attitude of humility as we consider God in light of His holy character (Psalm 51:17). As the New Testament Priests, we must remember that Jesus serves as our sacrifice that has prepared the way for us. It is from the premise of Christ’s redemption that we as priests offer the sacrifice of praise (1 Peter 2:5-9). But, praise that lacks true humility will ultimately end in fleshly worship that may leave an awareness of how the experience has personally affected the person, but no real awareness of God.
The debate about praise and worship is whether the Spirit of God has inspired people’s attitudes and actions, or whether they are riding the emotional wave of sentiment that is fleshly and worldly in attitude. The first sacrifice will prove to be acceptable to God, but He will resist the second type of sacrifice for it is considered unholy or defiled. This is why we are instructed to test the spirits to discern whether our praise is an acceptable sacrifice; therefore, we are ready to enter into a place of true worship, or whether it has been perverted. Sadly, there can be a fine line between acceptable praise and fleshly worship.
I do hope this will answer some of your questions. Remember that God truly will honor those who desire to worship Him according to His Spirit in light of the truth as to who He is and what He has accomplished for us.