What is worship? Have you ever asked yourself that question? I must confess that it was several years after my conversion before I did. I went to church regularly, but I didn't probe all that deeply into the larger question.
Visit any online Christian bookseller and enter a search for "worship," and you will be confronted with overwhelming numbers of books and resources. It's a topic that has been written about widely and continues to be discussed, debated, and on occasion, disagreed about.
This month we will be writing about worship. On this first Wednesday of October, I thought I would share some preliminary things I discovered when I considered the question "What is worship?"
My first line of inquiry was a dictionary of theological terms, The New Dictionary of Theology, edited by Sinclair Ferguson, David Wright, and J.I. Packer. According to the entry in this dictionary, worship is "man's sense of awe in the presence of the magnificent, the frightening, or the miraculous." It prompts reactions such as "speechlessness, paralysis, emotion, and dedication."
I think that's a good beginning. When I think of worship, I think of awe.
At the heart of our worship is God. He is the object of our worship. Fundamental to worship is the revelation of God and our response to him. God has revealed himself known to us through creation (Psalm 19:1), through Jesus Christ (John 1:18), through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), and above all, through the written Word of God (Psalm 19:7). As God reveals himself, we respond with worship. We are commanded to worship no one but Him (Exodus 20:1-3).
Worship is founded on the knowledge of God. The more we get to know God, the more we want to worship him. The more we know about God, the more we will understand true worship. Worship will inspire emotions, but it cannot be based on our emotions; its foundation is God.
According to the New Dictionary of Theology, one of the most common words for "worship" in the Old Testament comes from a word which means "servant." In the New Testament, the words most used to indicate worship are latriea, which also is related to servanthood, and leitourgia, another aspect of service. As we know from Romans 12:1, worship and service are linked.
Some of the things we most commonly associate with worship are preaching, gathering with the saints, the sacraments, liturgy, confession, prayer, fasting, giving, and of course, music. It is music and public worship that seem to generate the most difficulty and disagreement. While all of these things are important for worship, they are not all of worship.
These are just a few general thoughts to introduce the topic of worship. Perhaps you have some thoughts of your own. It is a topic that inspires deep thinking. God wants our worship, and he alone is worthy of our worship. These are amazing truths!
This month, as we all share thoughts on various aspects of worship, we are aware that we don't have it all figured out, and we know we will barely scratch the surface.
Oh come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker!
For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. (Ps. 95:6-7)