Broadly speaking the whole of the Christian’s life may be denominated worship. This is acceptable as we keep in mind that everything the church does should be considered worship and the individual, in all his acts and thoughts and words, is thereby worshipping God and glorifying Him.
But in this essay the term will be reserved to the corporate and private worship that the Bible urges us to present to our Creator and Redeemer. It is quite relevant and appropriate that we focus attention on this vital subject for our life is enriched and made abundant as we pour our hearts before God, acknowledging Him in all things, for in Him we live and are moved and exist.
What is worship?
Worship may be defined as the activity of glorifying God in His presence with our voices and hearts.
Worship then is an act of magnifying and exalting God. Yet all aspects of our lives are supposed to glorify God. But specifically worship is something we do especially when we come into God’s presence, when we are conscious of adoration of Him in our hearts, and when we praise Him with our voices and speak about Him so other may hear. In commending the teaching and mutual admonition and the singing Paul is encouraging us to worship (Colossians 3:16).
The primary reason God calls us together as a local church is to worship Him with one voice and mind. “God had demanded of Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert’ (Exodus 7:16b)...God brings them out that he might bring them in, into his assembly, to the great company of those who stand before his face....God’s assembly at Sinai is therefore the immediate goal of the exodus. God brings his people into his presence that they might hear his voice and worship him” (Edmund Clowney).
This actually occurred, but the people could not remain around Mount Sinai forever. In bringing them into the land of Canaan God instituted for them several feasts to be observed, festivals which served as occasions when the people could gather together before the Lord three times a year. The Israelites were specifically called to be a worshipping people, to praise together the name of the Most High.
That Israel did not live up to her high calling is manifest throughout her history and the denunciations and warning of God’s prophets sent to her. Eventually they were spit out of the land of promise and sent into exile because they forgot to give the wholehearted allegiance that the Lord expected and demanded from them.
But God promised that His purposes for His people would yet be fulfilled. There would someday be a great assembly not just of Israel but of all nations before His throne (Isaiah 2:2-4; 25:6-8; 49:22; 66:18-21; cf. Jeremiah 48:47; 49:6,39).
This began to be fulfilled at the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel call is really a call to worship, to turn from idols and sin to serve the living and true God, whilst a sure hope is entertained in the heart concerning Christ’s glorious return. Hebrews 12:18-29 is a lucid passage about New Testament worship: “...But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel....Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire.”
We enter the festival assembly of the saints and the angels. We gather in spirit with the spirits of just men made perfect. We enter the assembly of glory through Christ our Mediator, and the blood of his atoning death.
Reverent corporate worship, then, is not optional for the church of God. Rather, it brings to expression the very being of the church. It manifests on earth the reality of the heavenly assembly. Before the church engages herself to do anything, she must be above all a worshipping church (Acts 13:1ff.).
Our place in worship
Worship is a direct expression of our ultimate purpose for living. We are meant to glorify God and fully to enjoy Him forever. God is calling a family for Himself; He speaks of having sons and daughters, adopted into His family, that Christ might be the firstborn among many brethren. “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:6-7).
Scripture is certainly not deficient in pointing out to us our fundamental purpose of existence: it is that God may be magnified through us. We who have our hope set upon Christ have done so because we have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:12).
In worshipping God we are explicitly saying that He is worth our adoration and at the same time implicitly stating that we are not worthy. No man and no angel and no other creature is meant to receive worship. “Worship God” is the angel’s admonition to John who excitedly fell at his feet (Revelation 22:8,9).
Saints and angelic beings always refuse any worship accorded to them, for they know how God is jealous for His own honour and He rightly seeks His own honour. “I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:50. “My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 48:11). The transcendent God cannot possibly be robbed, but when we render to the creature what is due to the Creator must certainly be described as robbing God. We should rejoice that it is right that God seek His own honour and be jealous for His own honour. Infinitely more than anything He has made, God is worthy of honour. “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for thou hast created all things, and by your will they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11).
Are we persuaded that this is absolutely right? Is our soul absorbed with God? Are we ready to accord to Him all worship? Then we have the appropriate heart attitude for genuine and acceptable worship.
Adrenaline is a hormone secreted by the adrenal ductless glands and affecting circulation and muscular action. The adrenal glands are vital to many of the body’s normal functions, and are particularly necessary to us in resisting infection and coping with stress, thus making the person ready for flight or fight.
Today, the dangers and stresses we face are as likely to be psychological as physical, but either way, the body has the same physical reaction. There is a surge in the production of adrenalin which makes the heart beat faster and more strongly. This raises the blood pressure, while at the same time constricting the blood vessels near the surface of the body and in the gut, re-directing the flow of blood towards the heart - the reason we go ‘white with fear.’ It also turns glycogen stored in the liver and muscles into glucose required for extra energy.
When the danger is over or the stress removed, adrenalin production is reduced and the body returns to normal. However, if the danger or stress is constant, or if we are continually over-excited or under pressure, the body remains primed for action - and this can lead to stress-related conditions (for instance, high blood pressure).
In the West it is well-known how society seeks excitement. People want to be set in motion, to be roused up, to promote activity by stimulus. Many are satisfied in their thrill-seeking expeditions to act quite passively, for instance in watching football on television, in watching a thriller, or following some other sport through the media. Others enter into an emotional mood through the abuse of music. It is well-known how music acts upon man: soldiers are aroused to action by the beat of the drum and trumpet. Music can make us mourn; it can make us dance too.
The point is that people, quite unconsciously, want that adrenaline rush that makes them feel worthwhile. Some go to the extent of courting danger, like those who jump out of an aircraft just for the exciting feeling it creates in them. Others want to overcome the seemingly impossible task, so they take to climb mountains.
The trouble is that the more we get the more we want. We may easily get hooked and addicted to the thing that originally gave us the rush feeling. Then the only solution is to increase the dose. To create that same pleasurable feeling one needs a greater dose of adrenalin.
Some people, instead of engaging themselves in sports (which can become a mania with religious implications), are content to get a religious buzz. The phenomenon that catered for this type of rush is undoubtedly the charismatic movement where the mind is bypassed or at least down-played, while the whole concentration is on the feelings. Before the event people (who for all intents and purposes are counted as Christians) are phased up; the whole (worship?) service is intended to make the feel good; to make them enjoy that feeling of euphoria; to have the sense of well-being. This has become known as the celebratory type of worship, in competition with the traditional (and biblical) type which addresses the heart through the understanding.
If one is used to adrenalin-related worship he will find it difficult to leave that type of atmosphere, and yet, even while attending a charismatic circle, he will eventually crave for a higher dose of adrenalin. The body gets used to the former dose and asks for more. He finds the traditional mode of worship totally unprofitable and unsatisfactory.
The truth is that when one is hooked on adrenalin, whether from sports or religion, he would want more and more of the same thing. The Pentecostal movement regressed into the charismatic movement; the charismatic into the Vineyard movement; the Vineyard into the Toronto blessing (so-called); the Toronto blessing into the Brownsville ridiculous (and even blasphemous) happenings. It’s a downward spiral, never-ending.
Such worship does not come to the standard of true biblical worship, where the Lord requires us to be in full control of our understanding, our minds, our will, and all our sentiments, and not least our body. Self-control is the fruit of the Spirit which makes for peace and well-being.
Historically, when extremistic movements arose in protest to “formal” worship (such as Montanism), they were quickly condemned and dismissed as dangerous. But it seems that what’s happening in our generation, with people seeking a religious rush, is quite acceptable.
We need to raise our voices, to say that carnal worship is worse than nothing, and to seek the old paths once again.
In worshipping God, it goes without saying that we do not call attention to ourselves or in some way bring glory to ourselves. Worship must be God-centred, as everything else.
1. Whether it be preaching, the preacher must not by his antics and idiosyncrasies draw the listeners’ attention to him, but rather to the Triune God. The preacher who delights in parading his scholarship or skill in preaching is only exercising himself in pride. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
2. In public prayer the Christian is not meant to show off his theological expertise, but rather to humble himself and acknowledge God’s magnificence.
3. In the leading of worship, the person in charge must see to it that the people’s emotions are not jerked back and forth so quickly that they are unable to respond as whole persons, with the result that they withdraw emotionally and do not respond from the heart. They will then leave the service feeling frustrated and disappointed because they have not encountered God. For most human beings, focused attention is slowly attained and easily lost. Because of this, a worship leader who talks to the congregation between songs usually distracts attention away from the Lord and onto himself. Worship is thus greatly diminished.
4. Music, if any, must be in harmony with the dignity and loftiness of God. Levity in such things is condemned. The quickest way to destroy an atmosphere of worship is to have a soloist or choir (both of which have no backing from Scripture) who enjoy drawing attention to themselves.
5. The celebration of the Lord’s supper is a good occasion to worship our Redeemer and give thanks to Him for His wondrous love manifested on Calvary. The minister, more than at any other occasion, must be self-effacing and motivate the people to “remember Him.”
6. Even the announcements and the offering must be thought of. Are they really bringing glory to God in the way they are done? In directing the church of Corinth about the offering, Paul used such spiritual language that lifts a mundane task to the level of worship.
7. Our gifts, whether in serving or giving or speaking, are to be utilized in such a way that “in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).
When we worship
As we magnify God the proper and biblical way, the results will be numerous and significant.
For one thing, we learn to delight in God. David made it his aim to seek to dwell in the house of the Lord, to behold His beauty, and to meditate in His temple (Psalm 27:4). He know that in God’s presence there is fulness of joy, and in His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
Asaph climbs to such heights that he is able to say, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon the earth that I desire beside thee” (Psalm 73:25). The sons of Korah, similarly, knew the joys of worshipping God (Psalm 84:1,2,4,10).
The goodly heritage was passed over to the New Testament believers, who “continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God...” (Acts 2:46). Even before the descent of the Spirit, “they were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52,53).
Secondly, God takes delight in those whom he has created and redeemed. “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Such a revelation should fill us with encouragement for as we love God and praise Him we bring joy and delight to His heart.
Thirdly, in worship we draw near to God. During the dispensation of preparation, the people of God drew near in a very limited way. The tabernacle was set up, and God dwelt in their midst, and yet they were not allowed entrance into the Holy of Holies.
Under the New Covenant, believers have the privilege of being able to enter directly into the holy of holies in heaven when they worship (Hebrews 10:19). We are therefore exhorted: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22). Though we do not see God with our physical eyes, we gather in His presence, having access to His throne through Jesus Christ.
Fourthly, in worship God draws near to us. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). For in worship there must be repentance, a contrite heart, and God is attracted to those who are lowly.
Worship is worthwhile
Worship is an activity of eternal significance and utmost value. Worship is doing the will of God. Worship is the result of understanding “what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17-20). It is making the most of the time, seeking to live life qualitatively.
Not only during our short pilgrimage are we to raise of song of praise, but during eternity the church will worship God. The benediction has an everlasting dimension, integral to it: “To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 25). It is the primary activity of the inhabitants of heaven (cf. Revelation 4;8-11; 5:11-14).
Participating in God’s worship
Worship must be empowered and made real by the Holy Spirit who indwells believers. Only through Him will we be enabled to worship God according to His requirements. “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23,24). It means worshipping in the spiritual realm, in the realm of spiritual activity. Mary knew this: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46,47).
This signifies that only Christians are qualified to worship God, and no others. Though this may not cater to the ecumenical spirit of the age, Christians must remember their high calling and act accordingly. “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).
An attitude of worship comes upon us when we begin to see God as he is and then respond to His presence. That is why the mighty preaching of the Word is always imperative, for in Scripture God reveals Himself.
Tozer was right is lamenting that the missing jewel in the evangelical church today is the lack of proper worship. Have we seen God? Have we really encountered Him? When Isaiah saw Him he realized his sin and filthy speech; only then did he learn to worship. Genuine worship is not something that is self-generated or that can be worked up from within ourselves. It is the outpouring of the heart in response to God’s self-manifestation in Christ Jesus.
Again, if we are truly to draw near to God, there must be a striving for personal holiness. “Without holiness no one shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). It is only the pure in heart who shall see God, according to our Master (Matthew 5:8).
Practical considerations are to be taken into account too. For instance, the place where believers meet should be appropriate, having a setting that is conducive to worship, one that is ordinarily private and free from distractions, giving opportunity to focus attention upon the Lord.
What a challenge lies before us! How we have neglected our privileges! God has not withheld any good thing from us: we enjoy forgiveness, justification, redemption, eternal life, adoption, yea, all spiritual blessings in heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3ff.).
How are we responding? I do not mean primarily to these superb gifts, but to the Giver Himself! “Christ is all and in all.”
Spurgeon opened his sermon on January 7th, 1855, this way: “And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatory. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares?
“Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead’s deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as form a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of sorrow and grief; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.”
“Grant what you require of us, Lord, and we will give it you” (Augustine). Teach us to worship you, O Lord, and we will worship you.