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What is Worship?

My life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation; I hear the sweet, though far off hymn that hails a new creation. Through all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing; It finds an echo in my soul—how can I keep from singing?
–Robert Lowry


Definition of the Word “Worship”

Definition: “ascribing worth to a person or object.” It is derived from Old English “worth-ship.”[1]

We are worshipping creatures.[2] Every man, woman, and child worships someone or something.[3] When we worship something, we submit ourselves to it. We subordinate our desires, goals, and attitudes about other things to that which we hold as more beautiful, important, or fulfilling. Our hearts are constantly seeking out an object of worship, a recipient for our affections, an anchor to which we can cling in the midst of the storms of life.[4] The Bible simply points out that God is the one who fulfills what every human being is longing for, even if they don’t realize it or admit it.[5] John Calvin spoke of the human heart as an “idol factory.” He meant that, even as Christians, we will always struggle with giving our hearts to other things other than God. These idols may be made of wood and stone, or they might be possessions, relationships, attitudes or substances. Can you think of some common idols in our culture?

When we speak of worship, we can speak of it in the “broad” and the “narrow” sense. In the broad sense, all of life is worship.[6] This is why our vision is based on Romans 12:1-2: I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. We are called to be “living sacrifices” who do our best by God’s grace to worship him in our lifestyle 24/7.

In the narrow sense, worship is ascribing worth to God in a more “formal” way. God Himself tells us that we are incapable of true worship without His work in our lives.[7] Do we just sit around and wait for God to make us able to worship Him? No, He tells us to come and join with His people in worshipping Him and that He will work through those worship settings to transform our hearts and turn our inadequate worship into real adoration of God.

[1] Revelation 5:12: In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

[2] Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman about this in John 4:21-42; even though she tried to distract him with the “where” of worship and the “how” of worship, Jesus focused on what was most important—the “Who” of worship, God the Father.

[3] Cultural anthropologists tell us that throughout history every culture in the world has had some cult of worship.

[4] The philosopher Rene Descartes spoke of a “God-shaped vacuum” that exists in the heart of every human being. We may try to fill the vacuum with any number of other things (vocation, money, relationships, drugs, etc.), but only God can satisfy.

[5] Romans 1:19-20 speaks about our understanding of God being universal but not accepted; all throughout Scripture people turn away from God, not to avoid worship, but to avoid worshiping Him.

[6] 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

[7] Jeremiah, Romans 1:24-5.

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