What is Worship?
Before my freshman year of high school, my dad and I took a road trip together. We both enjoy baseball so we drove from Houston to Chicago and saw four baseball games in three different stadiums along the way. The trip culminated with us celebrating my dad’s fortieth birthday at Wrigley Field – a historic stadium on both of our sports bucket lists. Before the first pitch, my dad put his arm around my stadium seat, leaned over and said, “I couldn’t imagine a better place to spend my birthday, or a better person to spend it with.”
It wasn’t just what we were doing that was special, it was that we got to do it together that elevated the joy of the occasion and made for a lifelong memory.
Theologians since the Westminster Catechism (and likely before) have argued that “the chief end of man, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Our lives are intended to glorify – to worship – God. And not only are we created to worship him, but in doing so, we get to enjoy him; we take pleasure in his presence. Christian worship, and a life marked by it, is intended to be a joyful experience.
So, what is worship? Christian worship is the joy-filled, whole-life response to who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.
Worship is the expression of reverence and adoration of something. We all worship. The question is to what or to whom will we ascribe ultimate worship? We can worship money, sex, power, sports, and any number of false “gods.” Often our worship is shaped by our affections. We ascribe worth to what we love most. So Christian worship then, is intended to embed us in the story of God’s grace, allowing the story of his redemption and restoration to shape our affections for him. Therefore, Christian worship is the expression of ultimate reverence and adoration of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Worship is a Response
Notice worship is a response. God is the initiator of worship, meaning he moves first. He creates. He calls. He saves. He gives grace. We hear his call, are reminded of his grace, and then we respond with worship. This is why some worship services begin with what is known as a “Call to Worship.” We recognize that God, by his Spirit, initiated our worship gathering. He drew us to respond to the gospel initially, and is drawing us to worship him as a church. So, at the beginning of a worship service, someone will typically read a passage of Scripture, or initiate a call and response because it signifies God’s initiation of the worship gathering. Worship is a response.
Worship is Whole Life
If we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, our souls, our mind, and our strength (the greatest commandment), then worship must include our whole life. Our affections (heart), our spirit (soul), our intellect (mind), and our body (strength) are all involved in worshipping God. We use our minds to think about and engage the mind of God. We allow God to stir our affections – growing our heart and our love for God. When it comes to our bodies, our posture often reflects not only what we think, but what we feel about who God is, in worship. Thus, in a worship service, we may stand in reverence, kneel in prayer or submission, raise our hands in praise, close our eyes in reflection, or any number of postures that best communicates our worship.
This is why worship is about more than just the songs we sing. Although music can help shape our affections for God and give us words to help express our gratitude and praise for him, worship is more than that. Music is just one element of a worship service. Prayer, the reading of God’s word, giving, confession, teaching, the Lord’s Supper, all of these are habits we practice that shape our hearts to worship God the other 167 hours of the week. What we do corporately is intended to shape how we worship God individually.
Romans 12:1 makes this clear: “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.” Christian worship is not a one-hour-a-week kind of worship; it’s a whole life response to who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.
Who God Is and What He Has Done
Theologian Edmund Clowney once wrote: “The gospel is a call to worship, to turn from sin and call upon the name of the Lord.” Worship is an act of repenting and believing the gospel. When we embed ourselves in the gospel storylines, and remind each other of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we turn from our sin and repent. Repentance is not only turning away from an old way of living, it is turning towards God and, in doing so, ascribing worth to the only one worthy of it. Christian worship is a response to who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.
Worship is Joy-filled
When our lives are a living response to the gospel and we glorify God, we in turn, enjoy him forever. Worship is intended to be a joyful experience. Certainly, there are times where other emotions are at play. We can worship in times of grief or despair (see the Psalms for example). But remember: joy is not a temporary emotion. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 2:20) and is an orientation of the heart to be content, confident, and hopeful despite our ever-changing circumstances. In fact, notice how often the Psalms command us to pursue joy in God through worship:
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones; And shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart. (Psalm 32:11)
Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; Praise is becoming to the upright. (Psalm 33:1)
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For You will judge the peoples with uprightness and guide the nations on the earth. (Psalm 67:4)
Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. (Psalm 100:1–2)
God created us to worship and in turn experience joy. When we delight in God, he delights in us (Isaiah 62:3-5). When we draw near to God, he draws near to us (James 4:8). And when the church experiences joy in worship together, it is a shared experience, where our joy is multiplied. This is not only true for believers, but when the church worships with unbelievers in its midst, and when the church passionately confesses the truths of the gospel with one voice, unbelievers must wrestle with the truth claims of God (Acts 2:42-47).
Christian worship is the joy-filled, whole-life response to who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.
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