The Bible is full of references to worship. Narrative accounts of individuals and groups offering worship to God. Commands to worship. Instructions for how and where to worship. The Psalms brim with references to praising and worshiping God… and yet we often seem to have a very fuzzy, if not distorted, understanding of what worship really is.
The word “Worship” is used 13 times in the Psalms.
- The Hebrew word “Sachah” is used 12 of the 13 times – it means ‘to prostrate oneself (in homage to royalty or to God), to bow oneself down as an act of respect before a superior being. It meant to honor God with prayers, even without prostration of the body. However, those who used this mode of salutation often fell upon their knees and touched the ground with their foreheads. In short, it was a way of showing submission.’
- The Hebrew word “Abad” is used once, and carries the idea of serving a master.
From Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Worship is described as “both an attitude and an act.” Referring to Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4, it goes on to say,
All true worshipers must worship God in “spirit and in truth.” That is, true worship takes place on the inside, in the heart or spirit of the worshiper (cf. Psalm 45:1; 103:1-2). Worship pleasing to God must be unfeigned and transparent, offered with a humble and pure heart (Psalm 24:3-4; Isa 66:2).
But this is not enough. Worship “in truth” connects the heart or spirit of worship with the truth about God and his work of redemption as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. David understood the importance of worshiping in truth and the necessary linkage between “truth” and the Word of God when he wrote, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear [i.e., worship] your name” (Psalm 86:11; cf. Psalm 145:18). Here both the Old and New Covenants agree! The true worship of God is essentially internal, a matter of the heart and spirit rooted in the knowledge of and obedience to the revealed Word of God.
In my words, I like to define worship as recognizing and responding to Who God really is.
We often think of worship as an experience, a feeling, a service we attend. Worship is much, much more than that. Worship begins as I understand truth about my God – as I study His Word, as I walk with Him and learn more of who He is and what He has done. As I learn more of Him, an attitude forms in my heart – an attitude of reverence, of submission, of humility and awe in His presence. True worship then turns this attitude into an act. I bow myself before Him, internally and possibly even externally, I offer Him myself as a sacrifice and obey Him!
What does this look like? In Celebration if Discipline, Foster suggests some steps into worship that are challenging to me. Consider with me how we might:
- Learn to practice the presence of God daily. Pray continually throughout our days. Make a conscious effort to praise, thank, adore Him in the quietness of our hearts. Foster says, “All this will heighten your expectancy in public worship because the gathered experience of worship just becomes a continuation and an intensification of what you have been trying to do all week long.” Ann Voskamp continually challenges me along these lines – she has so much encouragement on her site if you struggle with this like I do!
- Prepare ourselves for large-group worship. How often do we drag through the church doors on Sunday morning tired from staying up far too late the night before, distracted by rushing around finding missing kids’ shoes, frustrated by conflict with our spouse on the way? How much more would God move in our midst if we took the time to really prepare ourselves to worship with the Body, to treat that time as a truly sacred hour that must not be rushed through or slapped together haphazardly that day?
- Get our eyes off of ourselves, our tastes, our preferences in corporate worship. Foster points out, “as an individual I must learn to let go of my agenda, of my concern, of my being blessed, of my hearing the word of God. The language of the gathered fellowship is not ‘I,’ but ‘we.’ There is a submission to the ways of God. There is a submission to one another in the Christian fellowship.” He challenges that we should accept even distractions and interruptions and give them back to God in praise rather than allowing them to cause us to be anxious and put off.
- Understand that worship is an act of sacrifice. Sometimes we just don’t feel like it. Remember that worship is not about us and how we feel – it is about who God is and how worthy He is of our adoration and submission! No matter how I might feel, God is no less deserving of my attitude and act of worship both individually and corporately.
Are there certain habits or practices that have helped you focus on worship as an attitude rooted in Truth and an act of submission before Him?