What is Worship?
What is Worship?
By Gabriel Jasso
What comes to mind when you think about the word “worship”? For some of us, we immediately think of singing or music, maybe specifically traditional or contemporary music. Others might think of acts of service we do for others. Still others might think of worship as an intellectual assent to God’s truths. The reality is these are all expressions of worship, but in and of themselves, they are not worship.
You see, worship isn’t primarily singing, although it does compel us to sing.
Worship isn’t primarily acts of service, although it should propel us to love our neighbor.
Worship isn’t primarily intellectual assent, although it will drive us to hunger for knowledge of God.
So what is worship? Here has been my operating definition over the past years of my life: worship is the heart’s response to something greater than itself. I know that’s broad, but that is intentionally so. As a church community, I want us to realize two things. First, everyone worships. Second, it’s only through the work of Christ and the power of his spirit that we can worship rightly.
That’s not a typo. Everyone in the whole world is worshipping something. That’s because the human being was designed to worship.
In the creation story, we see God making everything in the world. Lastly, he makes man and says, “Behold, I have given you…” (Genesis 1:29). Everything else he has created to this point he blessed and called good, but only mankind does he tell to behold. This is the designed purpose of humanity, to behold all that God has done and the natural response to beholding is right worship to God!
Ever since the beginning, we have been beholding. Unfortunately, wrongfully so.
In Genesis chapter 3, we see our ancestors’ worshipping-eyes shift downward from the Source of knowledge to just knowledge. From the creator of good and wonderful things to just good and wonderful things. From God to themselves.
From this moment, a new type of false worship emerged, one focused primarily on the externals. Our ancestors realized who they are in the sight of God and, instead of returning to him, they covered themselves up — false worship focused on externals.
Even today, anywhere you look people are worshipping something or someone, maybe even multiple things. Jobs, cars, sports, hobbies, food, Netflix, spouses, potential spouses, independance. All of it is worshiped by someone, somewhere — all of it a way of trying to cover up who we are. And if you were to look at your life in the spiritual mirror, you would begin to spot things that you worship in the place of God for your own glory.
You see, everyone worships, but apart from Christ, our worship is misplaced and self-centered. We love what will only bring death and we hate what promises us life. The good news is that Christ came to redeem our worship and to help us “Behold our God” once more, through the sin-destroying power of his work and the power of his Holy Spirit.
It’s because of that work that we can proclaim with John the Baptist, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”
Worship Starts in the heart
It should be said that we still tend to operate out of an archaic model of worship. Meaning, we do in order to become. We cover up with things that will never fully cover our sin and guilt. A.W. Tozer calls this type of worship “fig-leaf worship.”
Often, when we talk about worship, we want to boil it down to something we can do. Read this, sing that, as if worship were a switch we can turn on and off.
The reality is worship is not a switch we can turn off. In Matthew 15:8, Jesus makes this abundantly clear. As he talks to the Pharisees, he says: “this people worships me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
Make no mistake. It is possible to sing theologically rich or emotionally stirring songs, read the Bible, preach sermons, help the poor, and for none of it to be done in worship to Christ.
In high school, I remember our youth group hosting talent shows. At one of these talent shows one of my friends got up and made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That was his “talent”. After he was done, people clapped and cheered. But it wasn’t because they were responding to some great work of art, or because he had revealed some amazing way of making a peanut butter sandwich. It was out of obligation.
Often, our worship is like this. We hear the sermon, we sing the songs, we read the words, we respond appropriately externally, but our hearts are far from God. We think that if we muster enough strength we can worship God. But that’s not how it works.
But the good news is that is not where God leaves us. Indeed, God knew the Pharisees’ hearts were far away, and he knows that ours are just as far. But he has made a way for us to worship correctly: in spirit and in truth.
John 4:24 says, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
God has given us the spirit of God, who perfects all our misguided worship. That is his grace to us — that we can worship him rightly even thought our hearts long after so many things other than God.
Beyond that, he has given us the mind of Christ to take Gospel fact and turn it into Gospel truth. There is a difference. Gospel fact knows a lot about Jesus and his work. Gospel truth believes all those things about Jesus and his work.
Fostering Affection for Christ
So, how do we foster a right love and response to God? How do we worship in spirit and truth?
Jonathan Edwards—one of early America’s best theologians—gave a brilliant example of what true worship must look like. Edwards essentially compared our worship to a candlestick. The heat represents our affection for Christ, and the light represent the truths of God. He said, “...where there is heat without light, there can be nothing divine or heavenly in that heart... where there is a kind of light without heat... there can be nothing divine in that light.”
In order to worship correctly, we must understand and our hearts must be affected. All of which is Holy Spirit working to remove the scales from our eyes so that we can behold our God.
To be practical, what would it look like to position yourself in a way to receive understanding and to have your heart affected? What if on Saturday night or before you started your day or before you had city group, you asked God to help you to worship?
Church family, I long for us to be a worshipping people, but we can’t do it by mustering strength, changing the music style, or vainly rehearsing theological truths. To worship correctly is much simpler. We only need to look at God’s work for us – the gospel truth – to see how he transforms our hearts. And by trusting God’s spirit living inside of us, we can experience true worship of the Creator of all things. For how great is our God and most worthy of all our praise.