‘Praise and worship’ is a phrase we often use to refer to a time of singing in our meetings. Some people tend to call the slow numbers ‘worship’. Is this consistent with what the Bible says about ‘worship’?
What is worship?
‘But the Lord… is the One you must worship. To Him you shall bow down and to Him offer sacrifices’ (2 Kgs.17:36). This is the closest I came to finding a definition of ‘worship’ in the Bible. Note the 2 things associated with worship – bowing down and offering sacrifices. You will also see this in 2 Chronicles 20:18, 29:28 and Psalm 95:6. Surprised?
Do you know that the first time the word ‘worship’ is used in the Bible is with reference to Abraham sacrificing his son, Isaac (Gen.22:5)?Shocked? Exodus 10:26, Joshua 22:27 and Isaiah 19:21 also couple sacrifice and burnt offerings with worship. In fact, the original Greek word translated as worship is ‘proskuneo’ which means ‘to bow down’.
Somehow, in my mind, worship did not go together with ‘sacrifice’ or ‘bowing down’. Sacrifice seemed gruesome and painful, and bowing down seemed humbling, while ‘worship’ felt good and left a warm afterglow. How could they be connected? But I have learnt now that worship, as discussed in the Bible, is very different from the way many of us think of worship.
New Testament Worship
In the Old Testament, we see numerous situations in which people had to learn how to worship God and suffered when they did not abide by the rules of worship. But what is the way to worship God today, when we are bound to Him by a new and better covenant? John 4:23 says: ‘Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.’
Hebrews 8-10 throws light on true worship and the New Testament equivalent for every fundamental Old Testament prescription on worship. In the Old Testament, the place of worship was the temple – the sanctuary – where the glory of God dwelt. Today, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor.6:19). Aaron and his sons, who served as priests in the Old Testament temple, have been replaced by Jesus, the great High Priest, who ministers in the sanctuary (Heb.8:1,2). Sin disqualified the Old Testament priests (and it disqualifies us) from coming into God’s presence to worship. But the burnt offerings that had to be offered in the Holy Place for the atonement of sin are no longer required, since Jesus offered the sacrifice for our sins once and for all (Heb.10:12).
This leads into Paul’s exhortation to us in Romans 12:1: ‘Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.’ The author of Hebrews says: ‘Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe’ (12:28).
To summarise, New Testament worship seems to require:
- Offering our bodies (not only our singing tongues and maybe our raised hands) as living sacrifices, so that everything we do with our entire body is an act of worship.
- Offering our worship with reverence and awe.
It is so much easier to think of worship as a genre of music,but it isn’t. Worship is not merely admiration or acknowledging that God is greater than us. True worship today is when everything we do with our bodies proclaims with reverence and awe: ‘Lord Jesus, You are my Master. You are my King. You are my Lord’. Worship equals submission and obedience to the point of sacrifice i.e. anything that keeps us from submitting to God or threatens to take His place, needs to be sacrificed.
Worship Outside the Church
Worship is every conversation, every emotion, every interaction, every action, every thought and every decision offered reverently to God.
How does this work and what does this mean in practice, you may ask? Here are some examples. God tells me: ‘Get out of bed and talk to me’ and I say: ‘A few more minutes, Lord. You should have got me to bed earlier last night’. Waking up to talk to Jesus would mean sacrificing my sleep. The Lord tells me: ‘Tell a friend about Jesus.’ And I say: ‘Please find someone else to do this. I don’t really want to get into a fight with anyone over this.’ Obeying Him would mean sacrificing my pride and engaging in what may be an uncomfortable conversation. The Lord says: ‘You’re full. Don’t eat any more.’ And I say: ‘Lord, you know how much I love this stuff. Please, one last one.’ Exercising self-control and obeying Him would mean sacrificing that taste in my mouth. Are you able to see what submission, sacrifice and bowing down – worship – can mean in real life outside the church?
We cannot choose to reverence Him at our convenience. Remember how Job heard of all the disaster that struck him and fell to the ground in worship? He submitted to and revered God, though he did not agree with what seemed to him like unfair treatment. When we acknowledge Jesus as Lord- over all our circumstances, over things that we do not understand, we do not control, we disagree with, we dislike – and so choose to obey and submit – that is worship.
The great preacher D L Moody said that the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to Him. We may have submitted some areas of our lives to God, but not all. We may have submitted some areas of our life to a certain degree, but not completely. But if we seek to worship the God of the universe in spirit and in truth, we are to grow in the direction of full submission to Him.
Music and Worship
Music is powerful, in and of itself, and moves our hearts. But merely being moved by the music or raising our hands or closing our eyes is not worship. When we gather together on Sundays, we gather for fellowship and corporate worship – to bow down together before our God and affirm and encourage each other in living lives of true worship 24×7.
True worship is revering God in all of our lives. Singing songs of submission can be an expression of our commitment to bowing down to God and to sacrifice things that come in the way of submission to Him. Singing such songs together with other disciples of Jesus is a beautiful, powerful, joyful, encouraging, edifying experience. But we are making a huge mistake if we think that our songs or musicare a substitute for the heart of worship – submission and sacrifice – that we must live out every day. May God give us grace to offer our bodies to Him as a living sacrifice with reverence and awe – because that is true and proper worship.
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