What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘worship’? Most people think music, usually done at a ‘praise & worship service’ or singing loudly along with a ‘worship’ cd playing in our car. Those aren’t necessarily wrong, and in fact can be quite wonderful if the worship is sincere. But I would propose that worship is much more than that and goes beyond music, by, like a lot. Worship is much more than a great song sung on a Sunday morning.
The English word “worship” comes from two Old English words: weorth, which means “worth,” and scipeor ship, which means something like shape or “quality.” We can see the Old English word ‘ship’ in modern words like friendship and sportsmanship – that’s the quality of being a friend, or the quality of being a good sport.
So worth-ship is the quality of having worth or of being worthy. When we worship, we are saying that God has worth, that he is worthy. Worship means to declare worth, to attribute worth. So, when we speak, declare, or sing, about how good and powerful and worthy God is – we are worshipping.
This is a purpose for which we are called: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” – 1 Peter 2:9.
We receive absolutely everything from God… but the one thing we get to give back to him as our gift is worship. That is one of the job descriptions of a Christian. We are called for the purpose of praising and worshiping God. We should declare that God is worthy, worth more than everything else put together.
God wants worship not only verbally, but also in our hearts. He wants our worship to be sincere – he wants to be the most important thing in our lives, that we are truly submissive to him. He wants our worship to affect our behaviour. In other words, our worship needs to result in a response.
The best thing that has ever happened to us is that we have God in our lives and the best thing that’s happened to us this week is that we have God in our lives. In short, we have reason to celebrate all the time and in every place. Even Paul and Silas sang praises while shackled in prison.
They did something that should be quite natural for a spirit filled believer especially when with another believer. It is natural that we praise God when we gather together, when we speak to one another about the best thing that’s ever happened to us – not the situation itself, but the fact that God is with us in the situation. In other words, we really should be worshipping all the time, and that means then that worship definitely needs to be a priority when we gather together as the church.
Having said that, we need to understand that corporate worship is not about a great sing along on Sunday mornings. So then if that’s not it, what does corporate worship look like? Is there a method to the madness? What is my role as a part of the ‘crowd’?
The following are five aspects of corporate worship to consider every time we meet together.
Simply by gathering, we are showing that God has worth. Where two or three are gathered in his name, he will be present in a special way. When we gather, we gather in the presence of God. As the Old Testament says, we appear before the Lord. It’s like an ancient throne room, and we are invited to be with him. In our worship services, we want God to be present.
We specifically ask him to be present. He promises to be present. And if we are sincere about this, we should expect him to be present. And when we sing in God’s presence, we are singing to him. It’s not just a song about God — it is a song to God. These are words spoken to him. Many of the psalms, hymns and other spiritual songs we sing are often prayers set to music. He is the audience; we are the participants. That’s so cool.
Throughout the years our music has come from a rich & wide variety of styles. Some songs express positive emotions, such as adoration, praise, thanksgiving, confidence, faith, joy or excitement. We should always be happy that God is in our life. Even when we have trials, we are to rejoice. The psalms tell us to come before him and rejoice, to praise the Lord, to sing a new song unto the Lord.
That means then that our joy in him should spill over into praises. In fact, our worship should be dominated by praise. But joy is not the only legitimate emotion we can have with God. The psalms also have prayers of confession and supplication. Some of our songs are more meditative than celebrative. Some ask questions, some express sorrow, or anguish or fear. All of these are legitimate emotions we can sing about.
Our times of worship need to comprise prayer. This includes praise, petitions and confession. We join in the prayer not as spectators, but as participants. When we say “amen,” we are saying, that’s my prayer, too. When we express our dependence on God, when we give all our requests to him, it shows his worth. When we want to be in his presence, it shows that he is good. When we confess our sins to him, it shows his greatness.
When we give him thanks and praise, it exalts him and glorifies him. We worship when we participate in prayer together. Worshiping God through prayer brings us closer to him. It changes us. It changes our lives. It changes our circumstances. It gives us peace. It gives us joy. It strengthens us. It builds our faith. “Come close to God, and God will come close to you.” – James 4:8 NLT
Yes, you see it correctly, preaching is a part of worship. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that preaching alone can be used by God, just as a a worship service with music alone can be amazing, but together in their proper places, worship can be explosive. The sermon is a communication of God’s word to us. It explains to us what God’s will is for our life. We expect God to speak to us through his Word and we listen for what God is telling us. God’s truth affects our lives and our hearts. It affects real life, and it demands a heartfelt response.
The sermon should therefore appeal to our mind and to our emotions. In the sermon, we are not just an audience – we should also be participants. We should actively think about the Scriptures, think about the sermon, think about what it means in our lives. This isn’t just information about God — it is information about how God wants to change our lives.
This means then that a part of our worship, a part of our respectful response to God is listening for what he wants to teach us and how he wants to change us. We have to listen with the expectation that the sermon contains something God wants to tell us. It may be different for you than it is for me. The point is that we have to participate in the listening. Just as we participate in the music, and as we participate in prayer, we should participate in the sermon, too.
Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” – John 4:23-24
Worship is much more than an emotional connection. We worship in spirit and truth – it’s a both/and. As we listen, we should be ready to respond to the message we hear in the preaching (truth), and the message we have discerned in our prayers (spirit), and the message we have experienced in the song (spirit & truth). The response can come in many different forms, depending on the message we have heard.
One way to respond is to do what God is telling us to do. Some people are doing this by serving in various capacities within the church. Others respond with service outside of the church, and some may respond by telling others how good and great God is – worshiping him by doing the priestly duty of sharing the good news of salvation – and hopefully all these responses will be common.