Chapter 1

What Is Worship?

If you surveyed the people on the streets of your community, you’d likely hear some of these opinions about worship:

“It’s a waste of time.” Some may say that worship is unnecessary because there is no God to accept it. If heaven is empty, there’s no point in having a heart full of gratitude for a God who isn’t there.

“It’s a shot in the dark.” “I don’t know who or what to worship.” Skeptics find it hard to worship someone they can’t see. If they aren’t sure what to believe about God, then they can’t be sure what kind of worship matters.

“It’s a personal thing.” Some people say it doesn’t matter who you worship or how you worship. What’s important is that you devote your life to serving some higher power. All religions are different roads leading to the same God.

“It’s a matter of looking within.” Those who accept this view say that God is in everything and that everything is a part of God. No distinction is made between the Creator and his creation. To get in touch with one’s inner thoughts and feelings through meditation is to commune with deity.

“It’s better on the golf course.” This view says that you can be as close to God on the golf course or in a fishing boat as you can in a community of believers. Worship is seeing God in the beauty of the sparkling water, the strength of the towering trees, and the blue of a sunlit sky.

It’s something that happens at church.” Some people feel they can worship only when the time and setting are right: Sunday morning, stained glass, traditional hymns, soft organ music, and a choir. According to this view, worship must occur in the sanctuary. It may include following a set of repeated words or exercises, or wearing traditional garments.

Does anybody really know what worship is all about? Let’s explore what the Bible tells us about worship and what kind of worship God expects from us.

Worship defined

The surging power of the ocean. The breathtaking beauty of the Grand Canyon. The unleashed fury of a violent storm. The infinite expanse of a starlit sky. These inspire in us a sense of awe and wonder and make us feel insignificant and limited by comparison. Surely, if creation can affect us in this way, then contemplating the greatness of our Creator should cause us to explore those responses with worship.

But what is worship? The word worship comes from an old English word that contains the ideas of honor and worth. When we worship God, we’re honoring him. We’re recognizing his value. Like the angels in heaven, all true worshipers say, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power” (revelation 4:11).

The Old and New Testaments translate a number of words as “worship.” The Hebrew term used most often means “to bow down, to do homage” (see genesis 18:2). The most prominent Greek word for worship conveys the idea of “showing reverence” or “bowing down to God” (john 4:21–24). A second Greek term means “to serve, to minister,” Both are used in Matthew 4:10 where Jesus says, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”

Worship, then, involves both our attitude and our actions. Worship is the attitude of reverence and adoration, as well as the action of humble, loving service to the God who is worthy.