When we think of worship today, I believe it is common to automatically think of music. Maybe this is not the case for everyone, but it definitely is for me. I love music, I sing, I play music, so when I think of worship, it is real easy for me to think of music. However, worship is so much more than that. I am going to attempt to give an in depth look at worship – its importance and how we can do it.
I am going to define worship as what we assign worth to. Worship comes from the old English word “weorthscipe” (pronounced worth-ship). I think that is much more accurate than today’s word worship. The old English word was used in England and it meant that in worshiping God that they were assigning to God His true worth. It would refer to knowing and praising God as He has revealed himself to be by His creation and through the Scriptures.
First, what importance does worship hold? Worship should be important to us because it is important to God. I believe John 4 is an excellent place to see this importance. Take John 4:23 as an example:
“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.”
More on the subject of “in spirit and truth” will come later, but that verse illustrates the point of importance of worship to God.
The next question is why should we worship God? God has revealed Himself to us in human flesh, in the person of Jesus Christ. He has accomplished redemption through the work of Jesus Christ. The sin which alienated us from God has been paid for by the death of Christ. That is the plain cut answer on why we should worship God.
Next, and maybe the most important thing to distinguish is, what is true worship?
“Christians believe that true worship is the highest and noblest activity of which man, by the grace of God, is capable.” – John Stott
I would agree with this, but I would also say that true worship today is almost non-existent. According to A.W. Tozer,
“To great sections of the church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us.”
Tozer wrote this in 1948; today I am sure the problem has only worsened. John Armstrong equated the worship of God today as “Mac-Worship” – meaning that worship has been made common, cheap or trivial.
So, back to the question what is true worship? I like John Piper’s definition in his book Desiring God, “Strong affections for God, rooted in and shaped by the truth of Scripture – this is the bone and marrow of biblical worship.” Further,
“To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.” – William Temple
Notice how in both Piper’s and Temple’s definition of worship, God was the object. Worship is not for us, it is not to meet our needs. Yes, worship can give us joy and satisfaction, at least for me it does. But, that is not the primary purpose. To repeat what I wrote earlier, worship is what we assign worth to. So we should assign worth to God, we should worship God for His infinite majesty, His unconditional love, His mercy, His saving grace, and so much more. We should not worship to make ourselves feel good.
I believe that we can only worship God by knowing God. After all, how can we worship what we don’t know? We can know God primarily through His Word. I think we have to be rooted in scripture as Piper said.
To further define true worship, there are a couple words used in the Scriptures to describe true worship. One word is humility (Gr. “tapeinophrosune”) – true worship views God in His perfection and man in his imperfection. Another word is reverence (Gr. “sebomai”) – the idea of the Greek word is that of fearing God. It is not so much the fear of terror and dread so much as it is the fear of wonder and awe at the majesty and greatness of the infinite God.
Now, what does it mean to worship “in spirit and truth”? Jesus said in John 4:21, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” In those days, worship took place in a certain place at a certain time. Jesus was saying that soon this will not be the case. To worship God in spirit means that you can worship God at any place and at any time. Jesus was initiating a new age – through His death and resurrection – that the place of worship would not matter. In the words of William Barclay,
“The true, the genuine worship is when man, through his spirit, attains to friendship and intimacy with God. True and genuine worship is not to come to a certain place; it is not to go through a certain ritual or liturgy; it is not even to bring certain gifts. True worship is when the spirit, the immortal and invisible part of man, speaks to and meets with God, who is immortal and invisible.”
To worship God in truth is to approach God truthfully and honestly. Jesus warned of false worship in Matthew 15:7-8, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;’”
Also, as I mentioned earlier (but cannot stress enough), we must worship according to the Bible. As Jesus said in John 17:17, “…your word is truth.” I can tie this together. In order to worship in truth, we must worship according to what is truth (the Bible).
Thirdly, we must approach God “Christo-centrically” – meaning we must worship God with Jesus at the center of everything. As Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” So only through Jesus can we come to God and know who He is.
Overall to worship in spirit and truth means that we must come in God’s way and not in any way of human devising. Worship centers around God and His perfection, and His desire for praise and adoration. All too often we try to modernize worship, to update it and make it more meaningful and relevant to us. Worship is first and foremost for God’s sake rather than our own. As D.A. Carson puts it,
“To worship God ‘in spirit and in truth’ is first and foremost a way of saying that we must worship God by means of Christ. In him the reality has dawned and the shadows are being swept away (Hebrews 8:13). Christian worship is new covenant worship; it is gospel-inspired worship; it is Christ-centered worship; it is cross-focused worship.”
Finally, I would like to address some ways that we can worship God. At the beginning, I mentioned music as not the main way to think of worship. However, music is a means of worship. Other means of worship include prayer, preaching, and testimonies (obviously, this is not an exhaustive list). When using these forms of worship, we must be careful not to let them turn into false worship. Take prayer for example. Prayer can (and should) focus on who God is and focus on adoration and praise of Him. Prayer can also turn into a laundry list of petitions for our needs. Yes, God does want to know our needs, but my caution (to myself as much as to you) is to not let prayer turn into only petitions and lists.
In addition when worshipping through music, it can be used to quiet our hearts and minds and focus them upon God and His goodness. Music can also be an instrument through which our praise and adoration can be expressed to God. We must choose music which focuses upon God and expresses adoration and praise to Him.
When we worship God through testimonies, it should be about telling how God has worked in our lives and He deserves the glory and praise for what He has done; a testimony should not bring the focus on ourselves.
Worship requires an inner humbling, a surrender of self-will, a repentance of sin, and trust. It requires cultivating the presence of God. It ascribes to Him the supreme value of who He is and acknowledges His worthiness (worth-ship) in words and in deeds (Col. 3:17). In his book, Worship in Spirit and Truth, John Frame says,
“Redemption is the means; worship is the goal. In one sense, worship is the whole point of everything. It is the purpose of history, the goal of the whole Christian story. Worship is not one segment of the Christian life among others. Worship is the entire Christian life, seen as a priestly offering to God. And when we meet together as a church, our time of worship is not merely a preliminary to something else; rather, it is the whole point of our existence as the body of Christ.”
The wonder of Christian worship is that when we come to the true God and come in the way He has established, we find Him to be inexhaustible and discover that our desire to know and worship Him further is increased.
What do you assign worth to?
– Adam Smith
Barclay, William. The Gospel of John, Vol. 1. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958).
Boice, James. “What Is Worship.” (1994 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology).
Carson, D.A. Worship by the Book. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).
Deffinbaugh, Bob. “Worship.” <http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=438>.
Frame, John. Worship in Spirit and Truth. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1996).
MacArthur, John. “True Worship.” <http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/TWCH1.HTM>.
Piper, John. Desiring God. (Colorado Springs: Multnoma Books, 1996).
Stott, John. Christ the Controversialist: A Study in Some Essentials of Evangelical Religion. (London: Tyndale Press, 1970).
Temple, William. The Hope of a New World. (New York: Macmillan Co., 1941).
Tozer, A.W. The Pursuit of God. (Harrisburg: Christian Publications, 1948).