How Do I Worship God?
True Worship is Expressed in Action
I once read a story of a lady who came out of a church service and greeted the pastor with a critique. She said: "Pastor, I just couldn't get into the worship service today because I didn't like any of the songs!" The pastor replied: "That's all right, we weren't singing them for you anyway."
This rather blunt answer to this poor lady actually points out the misunderstanding that many Christians have about what constitutes true worship. Let's face it. The first thing that comes to the average Christian's mind when they think about worship is the Sunday morning service. They think about sermons and Sunday School lessons and an expectation of watching a few people on a stage perform for them, including singers, musicians and pastors.
In many ways, their expectation of worship is like their understanding of going to a play, or a movie. They go to a church with the desire to be entertained. I often hear people say: "Oh, the service really moved me" Or on the opposite side: "I just don't get much out of church." My question is: "What did you put into it?"
The truth is, the average Christian's idea of worship is all wrong. Worship is not a place you go to one day a week. It is something that is incorporated into all of life, a lifestyle. And it isn't the same as going to a play, or a movie. You're not seeking to be entertained, or to "get something out of it." You are not the audience, critiquing the performers on a stage. Rather, you are the performer. And your audience is the God of the universe.
I. Defining True Worship
The interesting thing is that the English word we use isn't even adequate to describe the biblical understanding of the concept of worship. We get our understanding primarily from the old English word "weordhscipe" which means worthiness or meritoriousness. Thus we think of worship as giving God the recognition that He deserves. Which isn't a bad thing. It just is inadequate to define what the Bible has in mind when speaking of true worship.
The word worship can be either a noun or a verb. When used as a noun it includes attitudes such as adoration, veneration, devotion, supplication and invocation. The actual definition of the noun is the reverence, honor or homage paid to God and the ceremonies or services expressing this reverence.
However, the thing that we have to realize is that worship is not predominantly a noun in Scripture. Shachah (shaw-khaw'), is the primary Hebrew word for worship. It means, “to bow down or prostrate oneself in homage”. One modern translation, the New American Standard Bible, translates shachah as “worship” 83 times and “bow” or “prostrate” another 82 times.
The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery also tells us that worship is first and foremost a verb. Verbs, as we know, are action words. Worship requires action.
Besides Shachah, there are several other words in Scripture that are translated worship in our English Bibles. Two of the primary ones are the Hebrew word 'aboda and the Greek word latreia. When translated as worship in the Old Testament, they usually mean work done in service at the temple. The Greek word latreia in the New Testament, either refers back the the Old Testament and its sacrificial system, to the false notion that killing Christians would be a service to God, or to the Christian presenting his body as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
So the main concept of worship in Scripture is not sitting in church once a week, singing the doxology and critiquing the weekly sermon. The underlying concept of worship in the Bible is service to the One revered. We not only have an attitude of deep respect, adoration, reverence and awe of God, but true worship is always accompanied by the activities or actions that express these feelings.
II. Worship is a Response to God
We see in the Old Testament that worship is primarily a reaction or response to what God had first done for the worshipper. Many of the acts of worship in the Old Testament revolved around the Tabernacle or the Temple. It included the sacrifices and various festivals. They celebrated God as Creator, Deliverer, Provider and Redeemer. Examples of God's actions which they celebrated include the Passover and the Exodus from Egypt.
As we get to the New Testament we still see worship as a response to what God has done (Romans 12:1). And the restraints of the Tabernacle and the Temple are greatly diminished. In fact, Paul indicates that our bodies are now temples of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19,20)
Earlier, Jesus said that there will come a day when the true worshipper won't need a specific place. But they will worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:23). The word spirit here is not the Holy Spirit but the human spirit. Jesus' point is that a person who worships God must not do it with some external conformity to religious rituals and places, but inwardly with a proper heart attitude.
This is not to say that there is no longer a need for corporate worship. We still have to remember not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together as members of the Body of Christ (Hebrews 10:25). What it does mean is that it is not limited to that. Rather all that we do becomes one continuous response of worship to God.
III. Worship Includes Sacrifice
One of the primary misunderstandings we need to rid ourselves of in worship is that we ought to get something out of it. Worship is not getting but giving. Paul, in Romans 12:1,2 says:
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
The word for "spiritual worship" here is latreia which, as we have already said, is a word for worship or divine service. In the Old Testament, although they used such things as grain offerings, the sacrifice made by the person offering was primarily an animal and was killed. Then the body was completely used up. Paul here calls us living sacrifices. In other words we offer our bodies, our lives and all that we are to God in service to him. It is not something that we do once and then it is over. We must daily make that choice to give ourselves to God. Also, it includes all of the things that we do in each hour of our life with our hands, our feet, our eyes, our ears and all other parts of our body.
So, whether we are in the kitchen, the ballpark, the bedroom, the boardroom, the home or the workplace, all is done as an offering of worship to the One who gives us life. And everything is to be to His honor and glory (Colossians 3:17).
If we are to understand worship the way the Bible teaches it, we have to remember that when leaving what is commonly called a worship service, our worship has only just begun. The test of true worship is not what we do on Sundays. It is what we do in our everyday life Monday through Saturday.
It is my prayer that God's people will truly worship Him. For He alone deserves our honor and praise and adoration. May we learn what it means to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. And may we never again think of worship as something we do only one day a week. But let us allow that Sunday service to prepare our hearts and our minds to truly worship Him the rest of the week.
© 2012 Jeff Shirley