Worship is one of the most important exercises any Christian can do. It is for this reason that we were born.
Thus, if worship is so important, the crucial question remains, How do I learn to do it right, to worship the Lord in both “spirit and truth”?
Appreciating God is the first prerequisite for God-glorifying worship. David demonstrated such appreciation when he wrote: “You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Ps. 118:28, 29, ESV).
Appreciating who God is, what He has done for us, and what He is doing for us—this is the first part of true worship. Worship is not about you or me! Worship is about God. Worship is not about being entertained or feeling good, either. Worship is about God and His great acts for us. Thus, the Lord, not anyone else, must be the focus of our worship. Until we understand this concept, we will not understand worship nor will we worship Him properly.
Worship should not be considered a spectator event. Some go to church to sample music or taste a sermon. That could hardly be defined as worship. Worship is not just about appreciating God but about abandoning ourselves to Him. Jesus said, “ ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ ” (Matt. 16:24, ESV). He calls us to give up all things for the sake of worshiping and serving Him. Worship that glorifies God calls for reckless abandonment of self, and our own desires, in order to find the living Christ.
When you go to church, are you looking for a deeper relationship with Him or are you thinking about the week ahead? True worship calls us to abandon our own preferences and agendas that we might fall into line with the will of the Lord.
“ ‘The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him’ ” (Hab. 2:20, NIV).
The reason the earth should be silent is that it might hear what God says. God-glorifying worship is, therefore, also about paying attention to God’s voice as opposed to voicing our opinions. On this very point, a great deal of confusion exists over the question of worship.
God-glorifying worship is always contemporary. The word contemporary entered the English language in the seventeenth century and the essence of this expression means “of the moment.” Thus, contemporary centers not so much around music style as about God’s holy presence. It is possible to sing the latest praise songs and not be contemporary; it is also possible to sing hymns that the church has been singing for more than 100 years and be very contemporary.
The issue does not center around when our music was composed and by whom, but whether or not we are singing to God in that moment. At its heart, worship that glorifies God is about a human heart reaching out to serve and love God the Father, in the name of His Son, and empowered by God the Holy Spirit.
Whom do we worship?
“Whom do we worship?” The God of the Bible is indivisible, divine, essentially unknowable, and He can never be fully defined in mere human phrases. However, in God’s own Word, the Bible, He has revealed Himself so that we can come to know Him better. The following are six of the ways He describes Himself in His Word:
First, God is light. We, due to our sinful nature, are closed and secretive. Like Judas and the Sanhedrin, we sometimes meet in dark places to plot our dirty deeds but, “this is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, ESV).
Second, God is life. “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7, KJV). Containing life in Himself, He gave this life to us. When they arrived at the empty tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, the women were told, “ ‘He is not here, for he has risen, as he said’ ” (Matt. 28:6, ESV). In the book of Revelation, He introduces Himself to John on Patmos, “ ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore’ ” (Rev. 1:17, 18, ESV). This God we worship lives today. What makes worship “contemporary” is not what we bring to it but His living presence. If God is not present, it is not worship.
Third, God is love. The Bible leaves no room for misunderstanding: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, ESV). Thus, in worship that centers on glorifying, “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, ESV). The reason? According to the Bible, true worship is not initiated in our love for God but by His love for us. It is our response to His love. “ ‘ “And you shall 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, ESV). So, we glorify God in worship because God is light, life, and love.
Fourth, we worship God because He has the title of Creator. “The earth was formless and empty” (Gen. 1:2, NIV). Then, God spoke and created our world. “The universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 11:3, NIV). The gospel reminds us that this God can also take a self-centered sinner and create a Christ-centered saint. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17, ESV). That we have been made new by His grace alone is, in itself, sufficient reason to worship Him in “spirit and truth.”
Fifth, God deserves our worship because He has made a suzerain covenant that brings us into partnership with Him. The word suzerain means that a greater power extends generously to a lesser power. Is that not what happens when the great God of creation invites us to join Him? Of course, it is.
Covenant is about being chosen through grace. “The Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deut. 7:9, ESV). Covenant also includes being charged with the responsibility to “love him and keep his commandments.”
The sixth reason we worship God is because of Calvary. “ ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ ” (John 3:16, ESV). Calvary continues as the primary evidence of how seriously God takes His covenant promises. When we contemplate the cross on which the Prince of glory died, we can do no less than bow down before Him in worship that will bring Him glory.
How shall we worship?
I heard a country preacher exclaim that more “holy nonsense” has been written and spoken about Christian worship in the last decade or two than in the preceding 20 centuries. While I may not have chosen his words, I identify with his sentiment. That is why we should recognize the importance of our returning to the Bible for instruction about worship. Worship that does not center on the Bible does not glorify God and, therefore, cannot be defined as worship.
In one of His most revealing encounters, Jesus was speaking with a Samaritan woman who raised the issue of worship: “ ‘Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth’ ” (John 4:20–24, ESV).
This was a woman whose sense of worship was all about place: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus told her that worship does not focus on the site but about spirit: “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” Worship was not about location but about Lordship.
Amos was another country preacher and a real straight talker: “ ‘I cannot stand your assemblies. . . . Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps’ ” (Amos 5:21, 23, NIV). Their heartless, empty, self-focused worship merely went through the motions, and God spoke through
Amos to warn them about this kind of worship. In a similar fashion, many people today associate worship primarily with going to church as many of the Jews did when they went up to Jerusalem. Yet Jesus said that worship transcended any specific time or space. We are called to worship the Father 24 hours a day by sanctifying every activity, word, and thought as an expression of our love for God.
Worship in spirit and truth
Each month, the mayor of Augusta, Georgia, Deke Copenhaver, conducts a prayer breakfast where people gather to pray for him and the city. Anyone may attend. After one of these prayer gatherings, one man asked another, “Where do you go to church?” The man’s reply was attention-catching: “We don’t,” he said, taking his wife’s hand. “Our life is our church.”
“Well,” replied the inquirer, “you could always start going to church.”
At this point the second man’s wife interjected, “We used to attend church, but how many times do you have to get hurt?”
Silence followed, but here was a couple who, for whatever reason, had withdrawn from the organized church. Perhaps you know someone who can identify with this couple’s experience? The reality is that God can be worshiped both inside the church and outside it. We can be in church services every week and displease God by putting form over focus in our worship. Worship is not about where but about how.
Also, God is not mocked. The person who thinks that they pay off God with 60 minutes of church attendance each week is as foolish as the one who believes that sending a tithe to the church comprises all God expects. Amos says that God is not bought off with cheap token commitments. What does that mean? This means that someone can go to church meetings regularly but, if they do not forgive others their sins, God will not accept their worship. Worship that God honors becomes an everyday, all-day experience: “ ‘Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24, NIV). As surely as a mighty stream never stops moving, so glorious worship exists as a nonstop adventure.
“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” (Rom. 12:1, 2, ESV). For the apostle Paul, worship encompasses the mind: “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
What have you been thinking lately? Have you taken “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5, NIV)? What have you been watching on television? What have you read recently that did not glorify God? What are you spreading on the Internet? A holy God will not tolerate the moral contradiction of weekend worship and midweek indecency or borderline sin.
Does God expect me to worship Him in church? Yes. Does God expect me to worship Him outside the church? Yes. He expects me to worship Him in how I approach my studies. In how I perform my job. In how I treat my employees. In all things, at all times, I am to worship the Lord of the Cross.
A pastor’s two small children ran to his study to tell him his breakfast was ready. His son arrived in the study first and promptly jumped onto his father’s lap, spreading himself out so that there seemed to be no more room. The pastor’s small daughter arrived next. Her brother said, “You’re too late! I’ve got all there is of Daddy today.”
That pastor was smart. He reached out his great big arm and fully embraced his little girl. She replied to her brother, “You may have all there is of Daddy, but Daddy has all there is of me!”
When we come in full surrender, the Lord will have all there is of us, and out of that will spring true worship, true service, and “ ‘the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it’ ” (Isa. 40:5, NIV).