What do you think of when you hear the word “worship?”
Though a popular topic among Christians, worship can be difficult to define. For many, our minds immediately turn to music. Whether it’s through classic hymns or modern songs, we often associate worship with gathering together to sing praise to God.
That’s certainly one aspect of worship, but I’ve come to realise there’s more. Because I was a musician, I’ve often been asked to “lead worship” in different contexts . . . but to be an effective leader, I had to discover the fuller, deeper meaning of worship.
It turns out, while music is often an expression of worship, it’s really more about our attitudes and our hearts.
My favourite definition of worship comes from William Temple, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1942-44:
“Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose – all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.”
Worship is so much more than just singing! In fact, Isaiah revealed how unimpressed God was with His people’s “worship” when their words did not reflect the attitude of their hearts:
“These people approach me with their speeches to honor me with lip-service, yet their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah 29:13)
Generations later, Jesus explained that true worshippers “worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23)
So, we’re called to authentic worship, but what does that mean?
First, the object of our worship matters, because we all worship something. What is most valuable to us? We might be tempted to devote ourselves to a relationship, career, wealth, or success, but true worship is valuing God above all else.
“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so I long for you, God.” (Psalm 42:1)
Next, authentic worship means responding to the truth of who God is, coming to Him in reverent acknowledgment that He is God, and we are not. It is recognising His holiness and our sinfulness.
“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.” (Psalm 29:2)
True worship is also honest. It entails coming as we really are, rather than pretending or putting on a show.
It can be tempting to judge our worship by our feelings. How strongly do we feel our connection with God, how clearly do we sense God speaking, or how intensely do we feel the emotion behind our words. But God doesn’t judge our worship this way.
The psalms provide examples of people approaching God in all kinds of situations and a variety of emotions. Sometimes, the people of God turn to Him rejoicing and praise bubbling forth effortlessly. (Psalm 103)
Other times, they come weeping, pleading for help or justice, fearful or angry about their circumstances, and full of doubts and questions. (Psalm 13)
The common thread woven into their worship is God’s children coming as they are. Their worship does not deny the challenges they face or the turmoil they are feeling, rather
they choose to turn their focus to God in the midst of hardship.
Many psalms begin in anguish, but as the writers bring their situations before God, they come around to a place of praise. Nothing has changed about their situations, but authentic worship moves them to the place of finding hope in God, and reasons to praise Him, even in difficult times.
Worship is not measured by our feelings, but it does involve bringing our feelings, in all honesty, to God.
Finally, true worship is not confined to church gatherings or focused times of prayer. Authentic worship lives not only in our words, but in our actions, in the way we live our lives.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.” (Romans 12:1-2)
Worship leader, Matt Redman, sums it up well in this quote from his foreword for R.T. Kendall’s book, Worshipping God,
“The song God loves most of all is the one that is not merely found on our lips, but is echoed by our thoughts, words, and deeds.”
Together, let’s turn our hearts to God alone, approaching Him with gratitude in joy and honest vulnerability in suffering. May the hope and peace we find in declaring His transcendent goodness lead us into lives defined by authentic worship.
Worship VIII Day 12
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