Worship: What and Why?

Throughout its years of use, “worship” has garnered many experiential definitions depending on the culture of the community, the denomination, and the purpose of the gathering. That being the case, we perhaps have squandered the depth of meaning and cheapened not only the word but the activity  the word represents. To say that someone worships their work, children, money, position, etc. does a disservice to the word and to the person about whom we’re speaking. We have done the same with other words in the English language, not the least of which is “love.”

So how do we re-elevate “worship” in our minds and culture so that it will truly express our intentions and the attitude of our heart as we meet God? We will be addressing the question over the course of this series. Perhaps the following quotations by various authors will help us begin:

Worship is “the most momentous, the most urgent, the most glorious action that can take place in a human life.”
–Karl Barth

“The worship most acceptable to God comes from a thankful and cheerful heart.”
–Plutarch

“When men worship Jesus Christ, they do not fall at His feet in broken submission but in wondering love. A man does not say ‘I cannot resist a might like that.’ He says, ‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life my soul, my all.’ A man does not say, ‘I am battered into surrender.’ He says, ‘I’m lost in wonder, love, and praise.’”
–William Barclay

“You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
–Augustine

These people understood the life-changing experience of being in fellowship with God and communing with God; and the only way they could have accurately penned these words was for them to have been in communion with God.

Some of our earliest instruction on worship comes from Moses in the Commandments.

God spoke to Moses and told him who God was and what God expected. The first and second commandments ordered the people to have no other gods before or in front of God; and in case that wasn’t clear enough, God went on to spell out what that meant. Moses was giving us clear instructions on how not to worship. Yet this is a commandment with a promise—a promise of blessing to the future generations of those that love and obey God.

The Psalmist also speaks plainly about his worship of God.

We are called to worship as a response to God. “Worship is an active response to God whereby we declare His worth.” We do not attend worship; weparticipate in it. Maybe our old offering envelopes started us down this road by having us check “Attending Worship” rather than checking “Participating in Worship.” The psalmist says we declare God’s glory. It is demonstrative; it is active; it is responsive to God the Creator; and it follows our instructions from the commandments in Exodus.

Robert Webber states, “WORSHIP IS A VERB! It is not something done to us or for us, but by us.” All too often we treat it as a noun. When we arrive at “worship,” we expect to be entertained, amused, or have an emotional experience. We should expect to have an encounter with God as we praise God and respond to God’s grace and mercy. If we expect an encounter with God, should that not affect our attitude while preparing for and traveling to our place of worship?

In the Old Testament, the call to worship is largely given in a prophetic tone. The prophets were calling the people back to worship; they were calling God’s people to repent and return. God’s people always had to be called back from something they had “abandoned, lost, forfeited, or neglected.” Notice that each of these terms constitutes a different mindset. If your worship is lacking, can you discern which of these terms may apply to you? Is it an intentional abandonment of your effort to worship? Did you just misplace your desire to commune with God? Have you forfeited your time because of another event or activity? Is it simply a matter of neglecting your time with God?

The children of Israel spent a lot of time chasing after other idols or gods and being called back to the one God. Aren’t you glad that God continues to call us back too?

Sources

  • K. Lamm, ed. Worship Thoughts from Various Authors, (North Carolina: Renewing Worship, 2017), 1-7. Retrieved from https://www.renewingworshipnc.org/worship-thoughts/.
  • R. Allen and G. Borror, Worship: Discovering the Missing Jewel (Portland OR: Multnomah Press, 1982), 16.
  • R. E. Webber, Worship is a Verb: Eight Principles for Transforming Worship, 2d ed. (Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1995), 2.

Myron Douglas is minister of Education at First Baptist Church of Columbus, Georgia. Previously he has served FBC as Minister to Children and a sister church in Columbus as Minister of Music. He is a graduate of Wingate University and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Myron sings with a professional chorus, Cantus Columbus. He and his wife Babbs reside in Columbus and have two grown children who live out of state.

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