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“God is spirit, and his worshipers
must worship [proskuneo]
in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24

It’s pretty easy to strangle God. One way it can be done is by stretching out your arms in “worship.” It is one way to keep God at “arms length.” It is especially effective if you can make enough noise to keep you isolated in your own self-induced euphoria. It’s long been a common pagan practice. It’s also popular with many “churches” (“mega” or otherwise) wanting to build “unity” that avoids personal confrontations. In such churches you are much more likely to hear several sermons on “The Importance of Worship” than even one on church discipline.

How can a church go wrong with worship? Isn’t it just everybody singing songs about how great God is? Well, most of the time that’s what it seems to be. Occasionally there is a Jonestown that thinks it involves a poison communion. Exceptions aside, the real problem is that once our church experience completely defines words in the bible for us, we aren’t really hearing what the bible says. Not only that, we’re giving divine authority to our misunderstandings.

Church can be very seductive. What is experienced as a congregation can be very intense and fill the words we use with meaning. “Alleluia” becomes much much more than words to moving song when experienced as a united congregation. Words like “Worship, Praise, love” and “glory,” all take on the intensity of the shared experience. As powerful as the benefits of these experience are in uniting us, they can just as easily alienate. Everything hinges on the kind of meaning we “fill” the words with. Church can seductively lead us to fill our understanding of words with unintended meanings—Meanings leading to self-deception.


People often equate “worship” and “praise” in a church service. The differences may be surprising. I titled this essay, “Praise God- Yada, Yada, Yada,” not to make light of the worship of God. I did so to raise questions about how we label our experiences regarding worship. Most may think that “Yada, yada, yada” is just a humorous Yiddish phrase made popular by the sitcom “Seinfeld.” The phrase’s actual origins are unknown, but Seinfield did unintentionally tie the word to Hebrew roots. The phrase is often used to mean “etcetera etcetera,” but the characters in the sitcom wanted to know if “Yada, yada, yada,” could ever stand for sex, as in ‘...we went back to my place, yada yada yada, I never heard from him again,’ ... to quote one of the characters.

“Yada” or “Yadah” is an old Hebrew word for “praise,” but it’s more than that. It is also the Hebrew word for intimate knowledge. And yes, in response to the T.V. sitcom, it can stand for sex. It is the word used in Genesis 4 where Adam “knew” (yadah) Eve and she bore Cain. Now a few men might like to take this to mean that “praising” their wife can just be a matter of having sex. Of course this isn’t true either. Intimacy is much more. Some think “Yadah” is derived from the Hebrew word for “hand” which is “Yad” (indicating the power of the hand to pass on a blessing). Interestingly, the root for of “Yad” can mean to to use your hands “cast something away from yourself,” but the intensive form of the word may indicate “wringing hands” with worry…which could be a picture of how we handle situations. In Genesis 29 we get another familiar form of “Yadah. Leah says she will “praise God” by naming her son “Yadah” or as we now pronounce it- “Judah” ( from which the term “Jew” is derived). Of course to say “Judah, Judah, Judah,” sounds like a bad Cary Grant impersonation.

By examining the biblical definitions of words, we gain insight to inform our church experience. The word for “thanksgiving,” is also related to the word “yadah”— that’s the word “todah” (which sounds a bit like what a circus performer says when he wants applause doesn’t it?—”TA DA!”). However, the most common Hebrew word for “praise” is “halal” which basically means “to brag about. You may know “Halal” as the first half of “Hallelujah.” It more commonly refers to “shouting out” the good deeds of another in a very public way ( a bit less intimate than “Yadah” it seems). What we call the book of “Psalms” (from a Greek word having to do with singing) is better translated from the Hebrew “Halal” as “Book of Praises.” So we gather from these words that the bible promotes both public praise (or boasting) about God and a more private, intimate kind of adoration. Most churches are probably good at the first and may neglect the second, but more importantly both kinds of praise may have little to do with “worship.”

What’s worship?

The English word “worship” is derived from the Old English “weorthscipe,” meaning worthiness. It meant to show respect of anothers’ “worth.” “Worship” in Britain was the actual title given to some officials…Just as we may call a Judge “You Honor.” Both the Greek and Hebrew words in the bible have a similar meaning. “Worship” in biblical terms refers to recognizing an authority that you should submit to. Worship means demonstrating your acknowledgment that the other is a superior you will obey. This is more than just “bragging” about the other.

For “worship” the bible uses the Hebrew word shachah and the Greek word proskuneo and both can mean “to bow down.” The Greek word proskuneo comes from pros, “toward” and kuneo, “to kiss.” It refers to kiss the hand of someone to show reverence and it was the custom to kneel with your head to the ground in the process. This kind of worship does not refer to a church service of singing, but to a recognition of which authority demands our obedience. From this word, I get that “worship” has more to do with my responses in “life” than singing in church.

There are two basic responses I can have to what I meet life. One is to “bow down” to what I meet or “stand up” to it.

To not worship God is to “Stand-up” to him or oppose him. To worship God is to respect his authority over us…and those who administer his recognized authority. We are not to “bow” to everything. We are to “stand against” that which opposes God. Sometimes this means “standing up to” a “brother.” “Worship” is about “worthiness.” We are not to bow to rank, but to truth. Not to “Angels of Light” but to the light itself. Spiritual bowing is directional. Like a compass, it has a singular vector. Biblical worship then can not be about closing our eyes in introspection. It is not about singing yourself into a feeling of ecstasy. Worship is not, in the end, even singing praises. Worship is recognition of the what you value enough to allow to direct your life.

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