WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO WORSHIP GOD?
By Mark Anderson
God is looking for worship. He is looking for people to worship Him. When it comes to the Christian life, some of what we believe and practise, which we consider to be biblical, can often be a product of church tradition and culture. The human mind can be so easily conditioned by culture; it can be shaped by sentiment and influenced by tradition, and unfortunately, this is what has happened to many people’s understanding of worship.
During the Old Testament, to worship God required a priest, a sacrifice and a temple. This is significant as we consider the dialogue which Jesus had with this Samaritan woman. Part of the conversation revolved around the correct ‘sacred site’ to worship God. For the Jews it was the temple and for the Samaritans it was Mount Gerizim. Jesus says that the geographical aspect of worship has been now eclipsed by something greater. ‘True worship,’ He says, must be in ‘Spirit and truth.’ Let’s unpack this significant statement.
What does it mean firstly to worship ‘in truth?’ In John 14:6, Jesus refers to Himself as being ‘the way, the truth and the life.’ In John 17:17, He says ‘Thy word is truth,’ and in John 3:21 He spoke of those who live by the truth. From these three sayings of Jesus, we can conclude that to worship in truth, is to give our lives in total surrender to Christ in obedience to the gospel; to embrace His teachings and submit to His word and to allow His word to affect, influence and govern our daily lives. What does it mean to worship ‘in Spirit?’ To worship in Spirit is to recognize that through the Holy Spirit, time and place no longer matter when it comes to worshipping God. The Holy Spirit transcends all geographical boundaries and God no longer dwells in buildings made by human hands. It doesn’t matter if one is in a mud-hut in Africa, a jungle in South America or a mega church in Australia – God can be worshipped everywhere.
In summary, to worship ‘in Spirit and truth’ is to give our lives in total surrender to Christ in obedience to the gospel; to embrace His teachings and submit to His word and to allow His word to affect, influence and govern our daily lives and while we do that, God makes it possible for us to come before Him through the Holy Spirit.
‘For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.’ Eph 2:18
Those who worship God must worship Him in Spirit and in truth which means we can worship Him at all times. For many believers however, worship is something they do for twenty minutes on a Sunday morning. Ask them why they go to church and a typical answer is: ‘We go to church to worship God.’ That statement by itself is actually going backwards to the Old Covenant and forgetting the nature of the New. It’s going backwards because it is saying that worship must be done on a certain day at a certain time in a certain place. True worship is something that continues all week, not just on a Sunday.
In the New Testament there are at least five verbs and three nouns translated as worship, and not one of them are used in the context of what we would call and define a ‘worship service.’ One of these Greek words means ‘to honour religiously’ while another means ‘to be in awe of.’ Obviously we shouldn’t only honour God and be in awe of Him for twenty minutes, one day a week!
Now when we as believers come together as a local church, we corporately offer our praise, adoration and worship to God. Under this umbrella of worship there is a place for singing, music and handclapping etc, and whilst we have a scriptural mandate for all of those, there is an all too common problem. Tradition and modern day church culture has, and continues to reduce worship to singing, and that notion is indelibly imprinted on the minds of many believers, who leave churches week after week believing they have worshipped God – feeling satisfied that they have done their bit for another week. Worship does not end the moment one steps outside the church – it continues all week. Worship is a lifestyle.
‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’ Phil 1:21
Note the word ‘live.’ Christ was Paul’s reason for living. Paul lived to see Christ exalted. As Paul preached, as he surrendered to God’s will and denied self – Christ was exalted. This is what worship is all about – Christ being exalted through the way we live.
‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.’ Rom 12:1
At the heart of worship is sacrifice. Paul uses a picture of the Old Covenant sacrificial system to reveal to us what New Covenant worship entails. Just as an animal was slaughtered and placed upon an altar in ancient Israel, so we too as believers, must willingly place ourselves on God’s altar as an act of worship. It’s laying our lives on God’s altar, in surrender to His plans and purposes. Worship is saying ‘Lord, I’m at your disposal; where you want me to go, I’ll go; what you want me to do, I’ll do; Take me, use me and fulfill your eternal purposes through me.’ It’s in effect saying ‘Lord I trust you with my life – my future; I’m willing to deny myself and forgo my desires and plans even if it costs me.’
Worship is a life surrendered to God. It begins with us as individuals, but its ultimate expression is through the body of Christ collectively. Notice Paul’s use of singular and plural in Rom 12:1. He is addressing the ‘brethren’ (plural) – imploring them to present their bodies (plural) as a living sacrifice (singular). God is looking for a complete, corporate and united response in worship from His body.
Our lives are bound up in worship. We don’t come to church to worship. Instead we bring our worship to church. We bring our worship because we bring ourselves and by bringing ourselves, we are bringing I trust a life given in surrender to God through Christ. Worship is not external; it’s internal; an attitude of the heart. It’s not how well one can sing, or whether or not one can play an instrument; it’s all about the heart attitude.
“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with [their] lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men.” Matt 15:8,9
Worship begins with total surrender to the will of God. Such surrender will involve a separation from sin and the world’s standards.
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Rom.12:2
Worship transforms us and key for this transformation is a renewing of the mind. The renewing of the mind goes further than right thinking. It involves proving the will of God. ‘Prove’ means ‘to to test, examine, prove, scrutinize (to see whether a thing is genuine or not), as metals.’ In essence it is to see value in something. When we see the value in walking in God’s will and passionately pursue it regardless of the cost, we encounter and become enraptured in the satisfaction and joy that its blessings bring. In such seasons, a spontaneous burst of praise erupts from our innermost being.
Remembering that Romans 12 is applicable to the corporate people of God, we read further in the chapter of giftings and ministries springing up within the body to edify and bless one another. All of this stems from a life of worship – a life given in total surrender to God.
We become like the one we worship. Speaking of the worship of idols the Psalmist states:
“They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.” Psalm 115:8
Teenagers who idolize footballers or pop singers, frequently turn their bedrooms into shrines to their idols. They will even try to emulate their heroes through dress and appearance. If we as believers cultivated that dedication and effort in our zeal for Christ, then the world out there would see Jesus in us in greater measure.
Let’s shake off that mindset that reduces worship to merely singing and let’s endeavour daily to worship God through total surrender to His ways and purposes so that Christ may be revealed in us.
“Worship is quickening the conscience by the holiness of God, feeding the mind with the truth of God, purging the imagination by the beauty of God, opening the heart to the love of God, and devoting the will to the purpose of God.” William Temple
Worship is a lifestyle so “whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Cor.10:31