"Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!" Psalm 95: 6
"Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of the imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose - and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable, and therefore the chief remedy of that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin." -William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1942 - 1944
My simple definition - "Worship is the response of all that we are to all that God is." Even though much could be added to that sentence, it will do as a starting point. When we worship, we are responding in some way or other to who God is.
Worship matters because God matters. When Christians talk about worship, they often restrict it to what happens when the church gathers on Sunday. Obviously that aspect is central to everything the church is to do in the world. Without the worship of God at the center, the church eventually devolves into little more than a social club, a debating society or a collection of do-gooders who do nice things for others. That's harsh but true. Christians are people who gladly, freely and joyfully worship Jesus Christ. They adore him.
Our problem is that we are so busy that we don’t have time for that which is really important in life. This is an active generation and we are an activist group of Christians. We want to run, run, run and go, go, go and do, do, do. If we are going to worship, we are going to squeeze it in as number 17 on a list of about 45 things we have to do week after week.
“Our problem is we worship our work, we work at our play, and we play at our worship.” That is what is wrong with so many of us. We worship something, but not the right thing. In all of life, nothing is as important as learning how to worship. Until we do learn how to worship, our lives will be filled with religious activity. We will come to church on Sunday, we will give money, we will be very active, but we will miss the one thing for which we were created. What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and to enjoy him forever. You were created to glorify God in everything - the whole purpose of your life is to honor God with your life. That brings you face to face with worship.
1. Worship Defined
Let’s see if we can find a working definition of what worship is. The Bible says so much about worship that it is hard to boil it down and get your hands around it. One of the chief OT words for worship means "to bow down." It has the idea of physically bowing down before the Lord. The NT contains a Greek version of the same word with the additional idea of bowing down and kissing the ground. That image tells us that worship is the response of the believer to the greatness, majesty and magnificence of God. Worship means to declare God’s worth. It is to give God the honour that is due him. If you want to say it in a very modern way, it is to pay God the ultimate compliment of referring to him in terms of the honour and majesty that is due his name.
If you were to go through the Bible to see what worship means, you would find it involves things like singing, praying, clapping, praising, shouting, weeping, laughing, kneeling, saying “amen,” speaking, listening, reciting, giving, sitting in silence, chanting, lifting up the hands, standing, lying prostrate on the floor, beating the chest, crying, sharing a meal together, sharing testimonies, reading Scripture, joining hands, singing in the choir, listening to the choir, playing cymbals, horns, bells, pipes, trumpets, and even dancing. What does that tell us? Worship involves the whole person in every area of life. Worshiping God is to be what you do with all your life, 7 days a week.
2. Worship Explained
We can understand this better if we take a look at John 4: 19 - 24 - the familiar story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. The Jews didn’t like the Samaritans and the Samaritans didn’t like the Jews. There was a geographic issue, an ethnic issue and a racial issue. The Samaritan woman in this story is the perfect picture of the hungry, thirsty, confused, sin-laden seeker who hopes to find an answer for the problems of life. One day as she goes to draw water, she meets the giver of living water - “Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
What she is doing here is what lost people often do. She is trying to get Jesus into a theological argument, to get him off the subject. Jesus is not going to be pulled off the subject. Jesus declared -“Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”
Do you understand what those words mean? Those were revolutionary words. Worship in the Christian community is not a geographic issue. You can worship him anytime, anyplace, anywhere. That also means it is not tied into a certain building, a certain time of day, a certain order, a certain way to dress or act. It is not tied into all those outward things. What is the really important thing then, if not the outward trappings? Jesus gives us the answer – “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
3 simple statements -
A. God is looking for worshippers.
We are not used to thinking about God seeking anything, but this passage tells us that God in heaven is looking for people on the earth who will worship him. We were made to worship. If we don’t worship God, we will find something else to worship. That explains the unhappiness of so many people in the world. Augustine said, “Oh Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” We've all heard about the God-shaped vacuum inside every human heart. If you don’t fill that God-shaped vacuum with God, you will fill it with something else. God seeks worshippers. We were made to worship God. Therefore, only the worship of God can fully satisfy us.
B. Our worship must be in spirit.
God is a spirit. That is the whole emphasis of this passage. Our worship must correspond to God’s nature. That means that true worship begins in the heart. It begins in sincerity, in contrast to hypocritical, outward ritualism. Genuine worship is spiritual. You don’t worship just by coming to church because worship is more than coming to a service. To worship in spirit means to give your heart’s full attention to God. If you come to worship and are distracted about everything else, you might be going through the outward ritual, but you are not worshiping in spirit. Charles Spurgeon – “Recollect that if you do not put your hearts into the worship of God, you might for that matter as well be at home as here; you are better here than at home for other reasons, because you are in the way where good may come to you; but for worship’s sake you might as well have been in bed as here.”
C. Our worship must be in truth.
The true idea of God and Christ is essential. Calvin - “This is the death of merely good intentions." This is also the dividing line between Christianity and the religions of the world. Even though they may be worshiping in spirit, they are not worshiping in truth. This is why it is not possible for Christians and Muslims to worship together. We may find things to admire in the religions of the world, and we certainly ought to appreciate the sincerity of other people and show proper respect for their beliefs, but truth is non-negotiable. I can watch Muslims as they pray and I can appreciate their sincerity, but I cannot in good conscience join with them nor can they join with me.
Jesus is telling us that our worship must have 2 things balanced—sincerity and reality, heart and mind, emotions and knowledge. Our danger is to stress one or the other, either to get the truth and skip the spirit, or get the spirit and skip the truth. Both are dangerous. To have the heart without the truth leads you to emotionalism, sentimentalism, and ultimately into heresy. To have the truth without the heart leads you to legalism, formalism and ritualism. God searches the heart. That’s where worship begins. When you worship God from your heart, in your spirit, based on the truth that is revealed in Jesus Christ, you then are pleasing to God.
3. Worship Applied
What, then, has to happen if worship is going to become priority number one for us, as individuals, families, and in our churches?
A. A Change in Attitude – How We Come to Worship
You will come eagerly, joyfully, expectantly. Often our hearts are not in it, our minds are not in it. We sing “Thank You for the Cross” (I wonder how SA are going to bat today?); “Crown Him With Many Crowns” (It sure is hot in here); “Holy, Holy, Holy” (I wonder if I should put more money in the stock market?) That is the way we are. We come distracted. We come busy, hurried and worried. Maybe we come angry. Husbands, have you ever noticed how many times you will get angry at your wife on Sunday morning? Wives, have you ever noticed how easy it is to get frustrated with your husband on Sunday morning? That is the Devil. He knows you are going to worship. He doesn’t bother you if you’re going to work. You have great days during the week. He is going to try to destroy your spirit before you come to worship.
B. A Change of Purpose – Why We Come to Worship
There is a tendency today to be very hypercritical about worship. We tend to evaluate everything. We come with a critical mentality. We come shopping for a church, looking for this or that. You know how easy it is to come to church and say, “Well, how did the pastor do today?” “What did you think about the worship leader?” “I didn't like that song we sang.” How easy it is to get into that mentality and look around at things and get a hypercritical spirit. The question is not what did you get out of this service? The question is what did you put into it? If you leave a church service saying you didn’t get anything out of it, it’s probably because you didn’t put anything into it. When you come to give, you will receive. When you come just to get, with a consumer mentality - 2 things will happen. You will go away frustrated and you will develop a critical spirit. When that happens, genuine worship disappears.
We need a change of focus if worship is to become a priority. What is the first and greatest commandment? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” Matthew 22: 37. It is not church work first and then worship. It is worshiping God and loving him first, and out of that flows everything else.
Worship is the oil of the spiritual life. When you start to run low on worship, your life starts to break down. If you feel a little broken down, it may be because you have run low on worship. When you lift the worship of God back to its proper place, your life will start working again.
Because worship is a spiritual activity, it must be empowered by the Holy Spirit working within us. "Lord, teach me to worship you." "Open the eyes of my heart so that I will worship in spirit and in truth." "Lord, slow me down so that I will have time to worship you." There is no substitute for worship because there is no substitute for God. We can exist without God but we cannot truly live without him.
Prayer - Heavenly Father, there is so much we need to learn about this. We are all students on a pilgrimage together. Teach us what it means to worship you in spirit and in truth. Teach us what it means to love you completely, to give you the adoring response that is due your name. Make us worshiping people, and so transform us and equip us for service to others. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Amen.