What is Worship? (Part I)

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

"As is true with many terms used among Christians, the word "worship" can become a cliché devoid of significant content if we don't stop to consider its meaning."
~Jerry Solomon

I'm going to start this post with several different quotes and definitions about worship.


"The reverent love and allegiance accorded a deity, idol, or sacred object." (American Heritage Dictionary)

"Falling down before," "Paying homage to," and "Serving." (the Greek words combine these ideas)

"The reverent love and devotion accorded a deity, an idol, or a sacred object; the ceremonies, prayers, or other religious forms by which this love is expressed; Ardent devotion; adoration." (thefreedictionary.com)

"Worship is not a musical experience. Musicians, singers and worship leaders can no more create a worship experience than an evangelist can create a salvation experience. Both worship and salvation are decisions - decisions that only individuals can make."

"Worship is not a result of how good the music is or whether my favourite songs are sung. It is not a consequence of whether I stand or sit, lift my hands or kneel. My worship must be an expression of my relationship with God - in song, in shouts and whispers, sitting, walking, or driving the car. Worship is my response to God."

"The Lord Jesus loves us with all His heart. He desires that we love Him with all our heart; and until we do, we will never know the sweetness of His love for us. We will have some faint concept but that is all. With how many people do we share the secrets of our heart and with whom do we share them? We will be intimate with the person we know loves us, the person we know is committed to us, the person who has given himself or herself to us, and with none besides. It is so with our Lord. There must be response of love to love." (Joseph S. Carroll)

"Worship is the central focus of a vital Christian faith, and the most distinctive activity of the church of Jesus Christ. The biblical words translated "worship" (Hebrew shachah, Greek proskuneo) mean, literally, to bow down or bend the knee. Such was the ancient gesture of honor to a sovereign and superior authority. To worship is to offer the oath of covenant loyalty to the Great King, and to affirm our faithfulness as his servants. For this reason, the worship of God through Jesus Christ lies at the heart of all Christian expression." (Richard C. Leonard)

A.P. Gibbs shares in his book, Worship: The Christian's Highest Occupation:

The term, "worship," like many other great words, such as "grace" and "love," defies adequate definition. The meaning of these words, like the exquisite perfume of a rose, or the delightful flavor of honey, is more easily experienced than described.

Some definitions of value:

"Worship is the overflow of a grateful heart, under the sense of Divine favor." Here the writer has emphasized the fact that worship is a spontaneous thing. It is not something which has to be laboriously pumped up, but that which springs up, and overflows from a heart filled with a sense of the greatness and goodness of God. . . .

"Worship is the outpouring of the soul at rest in the presence of God." Here the accent is on the spiritual condition of the one who worships. The believer is at rest. . . .

"Worship is the occupation of the heart, not with it's needs, or even with it's blessings, but with God Himself." Here the distinction is between prayer, praise, and worship. . . .

One more definition:

"Worship is the upspring of a heart that knows the Father as a Giver, the Son as Savior, and the Holy Spirit as the indwelling Guest." . . . .

"Salvation is something received by us as a free gift from God (Rom. 6:23). Worship is something presented by us to God, as a willing acknowledgment of our deep appreciation of what He is, and all He has done."


Ah, why
Should we, in the world's riper years, neglect God's ancient sanctuaries, and adore
Only among the crowd and under roofs
That our frail hands have raised?

~ William Cullen Bryant

It is obvious from the definitions and sentiments expressed above that there is a lot of discussion about worship, but I want to know God has to say about it. Many have drawn principles of worship from God's Word without stopping to remember that His Word is not merely a guidebook, but an expression of God's Person, the very breath of God, and it has become flesh and lived among us in the Person of Jesus Christ. Are we so naive that we must merely draw ideas from a life, rather than embracing the Person Himself?

In an earlier entry on this blog, I referenced Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman about worship.

The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."

Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When He comes, He will tell us all things."

Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."

The cry of this woman's heart, after Jesus spoke to her about worship was to know what--or who--she worshipped. I can almost hear the pleading in her voice as she tells Jesus, "When He comes, He will tell us all things."

Jesus did not answer her with a dissertation or a definition of worship. He did not even answer her by telling her all things. His answer was simple: "I who speak to you am He."

The rest of the passage talks about how she ran to get her friends and shared her wonder at the "man who had told her everything she had done."

There are a couple of things in this story that are worth noting.

First, Jesus was speaking to a Samaritan. This woman had no place with the Jews. She was a Gentile. Still she was created in the image of God, and she had been created to worship someone--it is in all of our natures.

Second, Jesus did not specify that there would be a certain "right" place to worship the Father.

Third, Jesus specifies something about what worship would be--and is: "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth."

I suppose there are all kinds of exegetical procedures to draw the true meaning out of that verse. The way I see it from a simple perspective, though is that the worship Jesus is talking about is real. Sincere. Genuine. Without obligation that leads to hypocrisy, without segregation (as in Jew or Gentile) between those who can approach the Father.

The question for me, now becomes, "how can worship be this simple?" Don't I have to be in a certain place with God? Don't I have to sing a certain song, surrender a certain part of myself before I can worship? Don't I have to "climb that mountain?"

The answer Jesus gives the Samaritan woman would suggest that worship of the Father is made simple through the Son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, our salvation.

More to come...


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