Un-Redefining Worship

“Will everyone please stand for worship?” a man at the front says to the crowd. With shuffling pages and a bit of whispering, everyone stands up. Some music starts and the focus shifts at the sound. At just the right time, everyone joins in singing.


Photo by susieq3c on Flickr

It’s one of those beautifully captivating moments for this church. Everyone is focused on God, turning their words into prayers and completely humbling themselves before His majesty. This is real worship.

The songs finish, and everyone sits back down, again with some shuffling and whispering.

The man walks back up to the front. “That was some great worship!” he says with enthusiasm. “Isn’t God good? Ok, time to transition to the message…”

Wait, what? Transition?

Churches and Christians of late have tried their hardest to redefine the word and the idea of ‘worship’. When you hear “worship service,” it almost always means singing. When someone says, “That church has great worship,” you know he only means he likes the songs. I have even heard someone say, after a time of singing in a service, that now it was time for the message, but we would worship some more later.

No! That’s not all worship is! Singing can be certainly be worship, but worship doesn’t have to be singing.

And this isn’t just my idea, or my little soapbox. The Bible gives a wonderfully, satisfyingly fuller view of worship.

It does describe singing as an act of worship, though. In fact, that’s probably the most often mentioned act of worship in the Bible.

“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation!” -Psalm 95:1

“Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.” – Psalm 30:4

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” – Colossians 3:16

Those verses describe beautiful, meaningful acts of worship. But they aren’t the only verses on the subject.

  • Revelation 4:8-11 describe heavenly beings declaring in spoken words God’s power and majesty in worship.
  • 1 Chronicles 13:8 and Psalm 150:1-6 mention the playing of instruments to praise the Lord.
  • In Matthew 2:11, we read specifically that the Wise Men worshipped Jesus by giving Him gifts.

Then there are two verses that really bring this question to a head. While they don’t define worship in and of themselves, they give a picture of God’s desire for worship that really penetrates even my modern idea of it.

The first is found in the book of Samuel. This took place before Christ’s death, when the Israelites were still making sacrifices to the Lord as a means of worship in order to symbolize the death that Jesus would someday suffer to pay for their sins. People at this time became obsessed with sacrifices, but they missed the heart behind them. Samuel asked, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). Obedience was even better in the eyes of the Lord than the form of worship they considered highest.

That same sentiment was explained to believers in Rome, after the death of Christ and after the need for animal sacrifices.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). Some translators have translated this, “which is your spiritual worship” (ESV).

It is a form of worship when we give ourselves over to God, to use as He sees best, ignoring our own selfish ambitions and our own comfort. God is worshipped when we are fully, sacrificially obedient.

According to the Bible, worship is more than 20 minutes of people singing words about God at the same time. Like most anything, it has to do with our hearts.

Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!
Tremble before Him, all the earth. (Psalm 96:9)

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. (Psalm 95:6)

Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. (Psalm 29:2)

That, I think, is what defines worship. Worship is when Christians are in awe of their Creator, the Master of the Universe. Worship is when Christians humble themselves in order to bring glory to the Father. If someone is honoring God in a Biblical way, with glory given utterly to God, God is being worshipped.

So what does that mean for our worship service? Well, it pretty much makes the term both redundant and limiting. It’s redundant because when we are singing to Him, we should always be thinking of God’s holiness in a reverential way, in any service. It is limiting because it narrows down this huge idea of “tremble before Him” into a time of singing, when in reality listening to teaching from the Word of God, praying, talking about how God has blessed you, thinking of God’s power – in other words the entire service and what should be part of our entire lives – can and should be included in worship.

Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!
Tremble before Him, all the earth. (Psalm 96:9)

What is most important to remember is that worship of an Almighty God involves trembling. None of the acts that we go through, whether that’s singing, hearing a message, telling others about God, or even obedience, are worship if our hearts are not in the right place, in humble adoration of God. But when we are in that right mindset, what beautiful worship that is.

And how good it is to worship the Lord!

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