What is Worship?
A Ministry of The Fathers Business
By Sylvia Gunter
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I heard a broadcast of John Piper’s message at Passion in Atlanta. It galvanized my attention to making much of God as a priority, not because he loves us (which he does) or anything else centered in myself, but because of Him. He deserves all glory in and of Himself. We are His treasure, but that must come under our core acknowledgement that all things are for the praise of His glorious grace.
Last winter we had a rare snowstorm in the South which brought everything to a standstill. I looked up all the references to God casting down the snow and ice to earth, and according to Job 37:7 he stops every man from his labor so that all men he has made may know his work. How awesome to see so many people bowing their knee to his sovereignty! As I pondered his mighty handiwork, I thought, “Each of those snowflakes (not to mention the pieces of sleet) was crafted with its own unique design, and each one will melt without a trace, except to add its microscopic part to water the earth, fill the aquifers, and oceans! Can you grasp a God like that! Worship is our only response.
Worship expresses “worthship.”
Worship recognizes the preciousness of God. Glories surround His presence and His character, because He is glorious. Worship says what our hearts can’t contain. “Lord, You are worthy to adore, esteem, magnify, exalt, and revere. Receive all glory, and honor, and blessing.” Our saying it does not make it so; we say it because it is so.
Worship means to throw kisses toward.
Jesus said that people who “throw kisses to God” are the kind of worshipers God seeks. The Greek word “worship” in John 4:23-24 is proskuneo, to throw a kiss toward someone in token of respect or homage, to adore, to show respect, or to kneel or fall prostrate before in reverence. In that day the person of inferior rank fell to his knees and touched his forehead to the ground, throwing kisses toward the person who was higher.
Worship is personal loving relationship.
Worship begins with “You are…” Worship freely and intimately expresses a loving relationship with Him. David said, “I love you, O Lord, my strength” (Ps 18:1). Worship is the essence and simplicity of true love and mutual adoration. It is the deep connection our hearts long for with a loving Person. It involves commitment of ourselves to our Beloved and His commitment to us. To cherish our Beloved is our highest privilege, calling, and obedience. By that kind of worship, we will be changed by beholding Him.
Worship is in spirit and in truth.
Worship is with the heart, as well as with understanding. Jesus said, “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” (John 4:23-24). The Message says, “Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself…Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”
Worship is the response of deep calling unto deep.
Worship is the place where Spirit calls to spirit, where deep calls unto deep. The psalmist said that he panted for God as a matter of life and death, as a running deer pants for water. “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with Him, a prayer to the God of my life” (Ps 42:1-2, 8). Music speaks the language of the spirit, but worship need not be musical.
Worship reflects what we believe about God.
The crux of worship is to trust by faith that God is able before we have evidence, simply because He is trustworthy. Job revealed that he was a worshiper when everything he had was gone, and yet he said, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:20-21). Job did not lose his heart-bent toward God later in great physical affliction and betrayal by his friends. He said, “Though he slay me, yet I will trust him” (Job 13:15). That is one of the most profound worship statements in the Bible. If we do not trust Him, we do not understand Him, and therefore we will not worship.
Worship flows from truth about God in His Word.
Theology should inspire doxology. In Romans 11:33-36, Paul ended his three-chapter sermon with doxology. It is set apart as a hymn in many translations. The Bible is saturated with hymns, like Ephesians 1, with a three-fold chorus of “to the praise of His glory, to the praise of His glory, to the praise of His glory.” As Warren Wiersbe said, “When exegesis fails, I worship.”
Worship is awe-filled, because God is awesome.
Worship is awe and wonder before the Lord of our lives. Worship feels the mystery of Christ in us, the hope of glory. It may be expressed out loud or unexpressed in the deepest chords of the heart and soul. At times we, like Moses, may want to hide our faces because our human frame cannot stand His glory so near. Awe-filled love begs deep-felt expression. “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation” (Ps 95:1).
We are saved to worship.
The apostle John wrote that we were freed from our sins by the blood of Jesus to worship the living God. “[He] has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father. To him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (Rev 1:5b-6). Our lives as a service of worship will reflect the glory of God (Ps 29:9). We are worshipers of Him first and workers for Him second.
Our worship depends on God taking the initiative by His Spirit to make Himself known to us.
In His Word God reveals His ways, His works, and His names. When His name is precious to us, His glory will be precious, and worship will be inevitable, because the Spirit dwelling in us reaches out to worship Jesus. Paul said, “We worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:3).
Only humility worships God.
Worship says, “God, You are big. In fact, You are everything. You must increase; we must decrease.” No one can boast before Him; no flesh can glory in His presence (1 Cor 1:29). When we are humbled in the presence of God, we will worship, and when we worship, we will be humbled in His presence. Our life with Him deepens as we bow in worship. In 1 Chronicles 21 an obscure Old Testament character, Ornan the Jebusite, spoke profound worship at the threshing floor where David built an altar that prefigured the temple. Ornan said, “I give it all.” When God takes us to the threshing floor, it is always a time of surrender that blesses His heart. In worship, we give our all.
Worship involves self-surrender.
It dethrones self. We submit, He draws near. We see Him, we lose sight of ourselves. Worship is self-forgetful. It springs from renouncing self as our idol. In Exodus 34:14 God says, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Worship is the orientation of our lives toward One who is jealous for our affection. Worship bows down before God in dedication, submission, and sacrifice. We enter into the sacrificial heart of Jesus with our brokenness.
Worship springs from gratitude.
Worship is our grateful response to the grace of God. It is gratitude for the totally undeserved work that the Lord Jesus, Father God, and Holy Spirit have done for us (Col 3:16b). Selfishness and self-seeking will never worship. Worship gazes on God and His ability to answer.
Worship requires presenting clean hands and a pure heart before holy God.
When we know Him as holy, we know how much He values clean hands and a pure heart to approach Him (Ps 24:3-4, 6). We are exhorted to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness (Ps 29:2, 96:9), to worship at His holy hill (Ps 99:9), and to worship toward His holy temple (Ps 138:2). We fall on our faces before the infinite holiness of God. Then we see His incomparable holy mercy, forgiveness, faithfulness, and restoration. The Bible says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience …” (Heb 10:22).
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Worship is prizing God our Father, Jesus our Savior, and our Holy Spirit.
We most truly worship God when we prize Him as the sole object of our heart’s desire. Right after Philippians 3:3, where Paul said worship is by the Spirit of God, he expresses the pinnacle of his relationship with Jesus. He so treasures Christ that all else is loss, compared with the gain of having Him. John Piper’s theme is “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” David said to God, “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you (Ps 63:3). Worship is non-negotiable, in the light that everything comes from Him (2 Cor 4:7, 2 Cor 3:5, 1 Chron 29:5,10-13,16,20).
Worship assumes Lordship.
Worship says not only “He is Lord,” but “You are my Lord.” Romans 12:1 urges us “in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship.” Not being conformed to this world, but being transformed to the character of Jesus is good, pleasing, and perfect worship with our lives that delights God.
Worship assumes a kingdom of which He is King of kings.
The King of the ages is due homage and reverence. Through all eternity, we will be saying, “Great and marvelous are Your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are Your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear You, O Lord, and bring glory to Your name?” (Rev 15:3-4).
Worship is whole-hearted obedience.
Worship is simple obedience to the first commandment. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). More than anything, God wants us to love Him. Worship is freely loving God to the point of giving Him our submitted hearts and wills in every area.
Worship is spontaneous.
Worship can’t help overflowing from a passionate heart. Real worship is grounded in truth but involves deeply felt emotion. Intense longing for the nearness of God will express itself irrepressibly in worship. “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts!” (Ps 65:4).
Worship is for God Himself, not the means to something else.
True worship culminates in God Himself. The “praise service” is not the warm-up for the preaching. A. W. Tozer called worship the missing jewel of the church. Dr. Ronald Allen said, “The situation seems not to have changed appreciably since these words were first stated by A. W. Tozer.” The jewel may still be missing, but now many people know it and want to find it.
Worship is a matter of covenant-keeping.
All who hold fast His covenant will worship (Is 56:6-7), and worshiping other gods is covenant-breaking, for which God brings judgment (2 Kings 17:38, 2 Chron 7:22, 24:18). God repeatedly warned His people against the idolatry of worshiping other gods (Exo. 20:5, Josh 24:14, Acts 17:23). Jesus received worship on many occasions (Mat 28:9,16-17, Luke 24:52, John 9:38). He said, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only” (Mat 4:10).
Worship is a priestly function.
Worship is a lifestyle, not an event.
The psalmist understood the lifelong commitment to seek God. “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek (Ps 27:4,8).
Worship is not limited to a certain day or place.
Jesus in John 4 struck down the idea that worship depends on a place. But something corporate happens, bigger than the individual parts, when God’s people gather to harmonize their worship from the overflow of their individual worshiping lives.
Worship puts things in their place, even answers to prayer.
In worship, we get God’s perspective. Our lives should be God-centered, not man-centered, problem-centered, need-centered, or comfort-centered. David cried out, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory” (Ps 63:1-2).
Worship must not be institutionalized or ritualized.
Colossians 2:16-17 takes the emphasis off times and forms. Worship is inner spiritual reality. It cannot be processed, standardized, prepackaged, sanitized, or printed in a “worship folder.” When we engage in the outward forms of worship with our heart far from God, the Bible calls this vain (Is 1:11-15, Col 2:23). It is lip-service without full devotion, empty confession without a committed heart (Matt 15:9, Is 29:13, Amos 5:21-24). God specifically told His people not to worship Him in the vanity of the heathen (Deut 12:4,31, 2 Kings 17:32-33,41).
Worship is an action verb.
Some experiences of the heart in worship may not be expressed outwardly, but the Hebrew words for worship are active. The Biblical body language of worship includes standing, bowing, falling down before God, lifting hands, shouting, clapping, singing, processions, festive throngs, new songs, kneeling, dancing, trumpets, tambourines, and other musical instruments. Other worship words are glorify, exalt, exult, magnify, and bless. The Biblical worship vocabulary indicates that we don’t worship passively and unintentionally. Isaiah and the apostle John fell down before God in worship.
Worship prepares the way of the Lord.
Worship in the tabernacle and the temple pictured the coming of the Savior. The psalmist said, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God” (Ps 50:23). Our worship looks forward to His summing up all things to Himself in all eternity.
Worship is an instrument of victory in spiritual warfare.
Worship has spiritual power to win victories. In Joshua 5:14-15 and 6:2, Joshua bowed to worship the Captain of the Lord’s hosts, and God supernaturally brought down Jericho after Joshua’s worship. In Judges 7:15, Gideon bowed in worship, returned to his camp, and commanded, “Arise, for the Lord has given the enemy into our hands.” The Israelites again used worship as God’s appointed weapon for winning a three-fold victory in 2 Chronicles 20:22. They had not even reached the battlefront when God acted to completely destroy three enemy armies.
Worship has implications for evangelism.
Jesus told the woman at the well that the reason he was talking to her about her life on earth and her eternal destiny was that His Father was seeking true worshipers. Then Jesus said, “Look at the fields. They are ripe for the harvest of more worshipers.” The point of evangelism is not getting people saved or keeping them out of hell; it is getting worshipers. Jesus might say the same thing to us. Look around at the ripe fields of those who do not know what it means to worship the living God. If staying out of hell is our main motivation for salvation, we will operate only in our own self-interest. What is the primary motivation for our relationship with Jesus? If it is anything other than to worship, we have only a business bargain with him. God intends for us to come alive to Him in worship.
Now It’s Your Turn
The heading of many of the Psalms is musical notation. God wants to hear songs of worship from your life and voice. Will you tune your heart to sing His praise? Will your life be an instrument of praise and worship?
The Father’s Business,
P. O. Box 380333, Birmingham,
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