If you have been keeping up with this blog, you can probably tell by now that I think that the way we phrase things says a lot about our attitudes about and understanding of those things. Whether it be the purity discussion or our expectations about our future spouse, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) So one thing that troubles me is when somebody says they had an “amazing time of worship” at their church that Sunday morning, or talks about the “awesome worship” at a conference they attended. Equally troubling is when someone describes “worshipping” in their car by playing worship music on the way to work, or taking some time out of their day to worship by playing praise songs. Don’t get me wrong. I am so glad that you experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in a special way at that worship service or conference. Those mountain-top moments equip us and refresh our souls for the mundane daily routine. But often when I hear the word “worship” in this context, it is used interchangeably with “music.” I believe this belies a misunderstanding of what worship means.
Actually, I do think it partially means what you think it means. Psalm 100:2 tells us to “Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” But true worship is so much richer than this. When we gather together for “a time of worship” during a service or conference, we are coming together for a specific, focused period of worship. But ideally, that should be an extension, a continuation, not a disjointed piece of our lives that begins and ends with the music. The act of worship is so much deeper than just singing some songs. We are missing out on a true understanding of worship if we limit the term to the act of singing praise songs and hymns.
Worship begins as the outflow of an attitude of thankfulness, wonder, and awe in our hearts. Music can be used to vocalize expressions of praise and thanksgiving, but music by itself isn’t worship. Worship is the act of inclining your heart towards God and ascribing worth to His name. It is seeking to know Him as He has revealed Himself. And while music can be a great tool for directing our hearts toward the Lord, it is not the only thing that should inspire the awe and reverence that worship requires. Whether it be a beautiful landscape where the heavens are declaring the glory of God, or the words of Scripture reminding us of what Christ has done on our behalf, or a blessing that reveals the grace of God in our lives, our hearts can and should be moved to an attitude of thankfulness and praise through many avenues.
Worship should not stop with feelings, however. To truly worship, the attitude should manifest itself in actions that honor and reverence the object of our worship. These actions are not limited to the singing or playing music during a worship service. Romans 12:1 exhorts us to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (emphasis mine) The verse immediately following this one urges us to no longer be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Thus, anything we do out of a desire to be conformed to Christ and not the world is worship. Sitting and listening to a sermon after the music ends is a continuation of the worship we expressed a different way earlier in the service. And the worship should not stop when the worship service ends, either. If you are doing your job as unto the Lord, whether or not you are in ministry, Monday morning can also be an act of worship. Your mundane meetings and emails and stressful projects can be done with a joyful heart and offered to the God who gave you that work to do. Your friendships and romantic relationships can be offered as a sacrifice of praise when they are done to encourage growth in godliness and honor God in your words and deeds. Your actions as a parent are worship if you seek to raise your children to fear the Lord, as long as that desire stems from the fear of the Lord that is in your own heart. Seeking to live in a way that honors God and proclaims His grace and goodness to others is a way of ascribing worth to His name, and it is a way of worshipping that we can incorporate into our daily lives. We never have to stop worshipping, and that is good news!
The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that the main purpose of our existence is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” When we limit the times we can be worshipping to the times we are singing, we miss out on experiencing our work and our relationships as things lived out before God. If our whole purpose as humans is to bring glory to God, anything outside of the context of worship is outside of our purpose. Our whole lives are supposed to be a sacrifice of praise. Right now is a moment that we should be worshipping. “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:15-16)