Worship: What is it?

Worship is mentioned a lot in scripture. It is something that we are expected to do as Christians, but there are many events around us that are branded as worship and there is a general misunderstanding about what worship of God actually is. This continues the study on worship by looking at what worship is and how it affects us.

Worship is our ultimate purpose

Worship appears throughout the scriptures. There is the worship of idols and there is the worship of God. A person can worship something other than God. His or her whole life and thoughts can be absorbed and consumed with slavish subservience to something else, whether it be an idol or a deity of our own making, such as our work, family or wealth.

However, the purpose of our lives is to worship God to the exclusion of all else. Alas, even as Christians we are sometimes brought to realise that we are worshipping something else in our lives which is impairing the full flow of worship to God and needs to be pulled down from the pedestal that we have always given it. All our idols have to go: reputation, desires, plans, patriotism, etc, so that God might occupy the whole of our being. “For ye have been bought with a price: glorify now then God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). Some of the key features of worship in the Bible are given below:

  • Worship is personal:
    “And Job rose up, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down on the ground, and worshipped, and he said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: Jehovah gave, and Jehovah hath taken away; blessed be the name of Jehovah!” (Job 1:20- 21). “And he said, Swear to me; and he swore to him. And Israel worshipped on the bed's head” (Genesis 47:31). For more see ‘worship is continual’.
  • Worship can be collective:
    “And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded, all the time until the burnt-offering was finished. And when they had ended offering the burnt-offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves and worshipped. And king Hezekiah and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise to Jehovah with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and bowed their heads and worshipped” (2 Chronicles 29:28-30). “And Ezra blessed Jehovah, the great God; and all the people answered, Amen, Amen! with lifting up of their hands; and they bowed their heads, and worshipped Jehovah with their faces to the ground” (Nehemiah 8:6).
  • Worship is continual:
    “And also I have lent him to Jehovah: all the days that he lives, he is lent to Jehovah. And he worshipped Jehovah there” (1 Samuel 1:28). “And a certain woman, by name Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God, heard; whose heart the Lord opened to attend to the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). Lydia was a woman characterised by worship. “And departing thence he came to the house of a certain man, by name Justus, who worshipped God, whose house adjoined the synagogue” (Acts 18:7).
  • Worship is in spirit and truth:
    “God is a spirit; and they who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
  • Worship is in the presence of God:
    “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah. And when I saw, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of one that spoke” (Ezekiel 1:28).
  • Worship is of the Holy Spirit:
    “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and boast in Christ Jesus, and do not trust in flesh” (Philippians 3:3).
  • Worship is the purpose of God’s work in us:
    “being complete as regards the fruit of righteousness, which is by Jesus Christ, to God's glory and praise” (Philippians 1:11).
  • Worship is a result of joy and wonder:
    “Give unto Jehovah the glory of his name; worship Jehovah in holy splendour” (Psalm 29:2).
  • Worship is as a result of understanding more of God’s person:
    “Thou art the Same, thou alone, Jehovah, who hast made the heaven of heavens, and all their host, the earth and all that is therein, the seas and all that is therein. And thou quickenest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee” (Nehemiah 9:6). “Exalt Jehovah our God, and worship at his footstool. He is holy!” (Psalm 99:5). “Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before Jehovah our Maker” (Psalm 95:6).

So our worship is really our complete reverence and adoration of God’ Person. He is holy, he is inscrutable, He is pure, He is light and this causes us to look at Him in awe. Yet He is love, He is compassionate and He is able to do all things to and for us. We worship God because He is the Almighty God and yet we worship Him for the sheer magnitude of His unbounded love. We worship Him because we are brought into a sense of His awesome power, character, purity, holiness and the greatness of His love and what it has accomplished for us in Christ.

The continuous nature of our worship

Worship can be a deliberate action where we set aside a particular time or place to worship God as Elkanah did “And this man went up out of his city from year to year to worship and to sacrifice to Jehovah of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of Jehovah, were there” (1 Samuel 1:3). Yet, worship is a continual state of mind and heart in a Christian. A Christian does not have a secular life and a spiritual life. They are, in fact, one and the same thing. “And everything, whatever ye may do in word or in deed, do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father by him” (Colossians 3:17). Everything that we do is done for the Lord. Why? We are worshipping Him. We are so consumed with the knowledge of His Presence and the glory of His Person that our whole life is done for Him and for His pleasure. We go to work, school, the shops, our leisure time, etc. and are filled with God. We have our eyes so fixed on Him that it colours all our everyday activities and words. Our lives reflect Him at every moment and our free time is spent rejoicing in His presence with us for He is in every part of His universe. Our activities therefore will be reflective of the extent to which we are daily absorbed with God. The Lord says that “By their fruits then surely ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20).

In Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1 and the book of Revelation we find the heavenly creatures worshipping God. The twenty-four elders gladly fall down before God in worship and cast their crowns at His feet. This worship is characterised by joyful wonder at the Person of God. It will be our lot in eternity. We will be filled with such immense joy and wonder in the Presence of the God whom we have only begun to know that we will worship Him for all eternity.

One final point to make is that worship is from our spirit. It doesn’t involve words or songs (more on this later), but is the movement of the heart. In most cases where it is mentioned in the Bible it is where someone falls on their face and worships. No words are mentioned, no hymns are sung only a heart overwhelmed with the Presence of God bowed before Him.

The attitude of worship

If God is in His rightful place in our lives, then worship will be the all-consuming purpose of our life. The Lord may allow us to pass through trials to test His work in us and to bring us into a greater knowledge of Himself and in so doing we will be filled with a greater awe at the working out of His will in us according to His ways which ore higher than ours. For example, after losing his family it says of Job: “And Job rose up, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down on the ground, and worshipped, and he said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: Jehovah gave, and Jehovah hath taken away; blessed be the name of Jehovah!” (Job 1:20-21). What a spirit of worship! Nothing was going to shake his obsession with God. In the end He came to a greater knowledge of God than he had ever known before and was given greater blessings than he had before his time of trial began.

Likewise, Abraham: “And Abraham said to his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” (Genesis 22:5). Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, the one in whom God had said that a great nation would be born. What agony of soul Abraham had to pass through we can only begin to imagine as he reached the point that he would yield his son to the will of God. He too received greater blessing as a result of this trial.

God said to the children of Israel: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith Jehovah, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you in your latter end a hope. And ye shall call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you; and ye shall seek me and find me, for ye shall search for me with all your heart, and I will be found of you, saith Jehovah. And I will turn your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places whither I have driven you, saith Jehovah; and I will bring you again into the place whence I have caused you to be carried away captive” (Jeremiah 29:11-14). He didn’t say that they wouldn’t go into captivity, for they had sinned and deserved to be removed from the land of God’s blessing, but that they would learn Him in their time of trial and return more focussed on Him than they were before when they were consumed with idolatry.

So we are told that “we do know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to purpose” (Romans 8:28). He will form us to be worshippers. The attitude of worshippers is that we are focussed on God Himself and we will bow to all that He has to do to us to make us know Him better. This will cause our worship of Him to grow and give Him greater delight. Thus as a worshipper, we will be ready for whatever service He gives to us.

"Thou, O king, hast made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, pipe, lute, sambuca, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image; and that whosoever doth not fall down and worship, shall be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom thou hast appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego: these men, O king, regard thee not; they serve not thy gods, nor worship the golden image that thou hast set up. … But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image that thou hast set up.” (Daniel 3:10-12 & 18).

When we have begun to worship God, then nothing will shake us from it. All the opposition of the most powerful king on earth at the time could make these three men worship something else. Even if God did not save them from the fiery furnace they would not worship an idol. They would rather suffer knowing that they would be with God after death than try to escape the flames. This is because a worshipper of God cares little for this life knowing that a better one awaits. They have tasted the eternal life and long to be nearer the One they now know. Paul was like this as he suffered through life yet he could speak of the “good deposit” that he had committed into the Lord’s hands. He was focussed on the “appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ”. He longed to see the one that he worshipped.

The attitude of a worshipper of God is that we will rejoice in anything that brings us closer to God. It may be a time of testing, it may be that we see His goodness in blessing us and it may be a time discipline where we learn His love and care for us (see Revelation 3:19). Regardless, a worshipper is unshakable and will give up anything that might take God’s place in our hearts. They might not feel in a worshipful spirit all the time as daily life goes on, but their whole attitude of life will be bent towards giving God glory in everything and staying in His presence through every moment.

The purpose of Man

“But the hour is coming and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for also the Father seeks such as his worshippers” (John 4:23).

Here we find the secret of man’s true purpose on earth. God is seeking worshippers who worship in spirit and in truth. God delights in worshippers. A picture of this is in Psalm 45 where it says of the king (the Lord Jesus), “And the king will desire thy beauty; for he is thy Lord, and worship thou him” (Psalm 45:11). The Lord came to earth to secure His bride, the Church/Assembly. He has absolute delight in her and she worships Him. A bride going to her wedding is so filled with love for her groom that it might be said that ‘she worships him’. That is the sense of our worship for the Lord, our bridegroom to whom we will one day soon be united.

God has revealed Himself in such a wonderful way, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, demonstrating His love so amazingly at the cross as He Himself bore the punishment He had pronounced for our sins. In so doing He has not gained a number of robots who are programmed to worship but He has won the hearts and affections of those who love Him. “How much rather shall the blood of the Christ, who by the eternal Spirit offered himself spotless to God, purify your conscience from dead works to worship the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14). As we see what He has personally done for us and glimpse the character of His glorious and loving person we rejoice in being near to Him and in enjoying the relationship He has brought us into with Himself.

All the persons of the Godhead are to be worshipped; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God says of the Son, “And again, when he brings in the firstborn into the habitable world, he says, And let all God's angels worship him” (Hebrews 1:6). Jesus is God Himself, made manifest in flesh. Hence, a blessed type of the Lord could say, “Before I was aware, My soul set me upon the chariots of my willing people” (Song of Songs 6:12). A willing-hearted people is what God has secured and as we gaze upon the greatest of all sacrifices which God has Himself made in Christ we see so many awe-inspiring attributes of His Person that it causes us to worship and glorify Him. This was the essential purpose of all that God has done. That we might know Him and that, in wonder at all that He is, we would fall down in worship before Him.

God commanded this to Israel: “For thou shalt worship no other God; for Jehovah—Jealous is his name—is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14), but He has secured it from us now through the display of His grace. Just as a lover would be jealous of someone who tries to steal the affections of the one they love so also does God have a holy jealousy for His people that they might love and worship Him alone. He desires our pure and unadulterated affections.

His work throughout our lives is to bring us to a greater and greater knowledge of Himself; that our relationship with Him should become deeper and deeper; that our worship should become more and more all-consuming. Jacob is a good example of this as he tried to do things by his own schemes and plans throughout his life. However, God had worked with him all through his life. He had suffered disappointments and he had suffered trials so that at the end of His life he could look back and see the “God that shepherded me all my life long to this day” (Genesis 48:15). He ended his life as a worshipper. This is the end result of the One “who has begun in you a good work” and “will complete it” (Philippians 1:6). “By faith Jacob when dying blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshipped on the top of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21). God’s aim is make us into worshippers and He is doing so by showing us Himself through His tremendous sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, through the blessing that we have gained through Him, through the mercies He shows us day-by-day, through the trials that we pass through and through the strength we find in Him.

Bearing fruit for God

As we live on earth we are to serve Him. So often we think of service for God as being what we can do to spread the gospel or help others. We lose sight of the real service. When the Lord tells the parable of the sower He describes the seed falling into the good ground as producing varying amounts of fruit. A fruit does have some seeds in it, this is true. We do plant the seeds of God’s word into the hearts of others so that they might be saved too. However, most of fruit is for the pleasure of the one who eats it. The primary purpose of our lives, therefore, is to worship God and give Him the satisfaction of His heart in our love for Him and worship of Him. As A.W. Tozer said “God is seeking worshippers and worshippers make good workers”. If we want to be serviceable to God, then we must begin with worship. If our whole being is consumed with God, then we will know what He wants us to do and we will have our eyes on Him as we do it.

“All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord, and shall glorify thy name” (Psalm 86:9).

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