What does the word “Worship” mean to you? Do you instantly get a picture of what worship means? Or is the concept less distinct?
Maybe some synonyms would help: adore, glorify, revere, reverence, venerate, adulation …
Are you getting a clear picture yet? Let’s look at Revelation 4:8-11 and 5:8-14. 3
“The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!’
“Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created.’” Revelation 4:8-11
“Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.’
“Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!’
“And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that 4
are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!’
“Then the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.” Revelation 5:8-14
Is that the picture you got when you initially thought about “worship”? Or did you picture (like I did), quietly sitting in a pew at church, half-heartedly singing some songs?
I’m afraid my picture of worship centers around “reverence” … and that tends to be real passive, right? From Cradle Roll we sang all the little songs that equated silence and reverence.
The problem is, from those verses in Revelation, there isn’t much silence going on. The worship pictured there is not at all passive. At the same time, it’s hard for me to visualize the Revelation/Throne Room kind of worship going on in my sanctuary … especially if being reverent is the same as being quiet. What do you think?
I don’t know the answer. I just know that my ‘worship’ can be done by a crash dummy – sit in a pew and be quiet. I think I must be missing something, don’t you?
Daniel Taylor wrote a book called, Letters to My Children, in which he answers questions that his own children have asked him. One of these questions is from his son Matthew. Matthew asked his dad, “Church is getting boring. Why do we have to go to church?”
This is what Taylor said: 5
“Think about it. If a friend of yours called and said that a famous athlete or singer was going to be at his house, and asked if you wanted to come over, wouldn’t you go? And wouldn’t you be excited? Of course! And so would I.
“Well, church is the place where God will be, every time you go. Of course he is with you whether you’re in church or not, but he can be there in a special way when many believers gather to celebrate him together.
“‘Sounds great,’ I hear you saying, ‘but then how come you fell asleep so much? If God is really there, I mean really there, then how come we aren’t bug-eyed and breathless most all the time?’
“That’s a very good question. I wish I had a very good answer. Part of it is that God knows we can’t take very much of him. It’s like when you hold Fluffs, our hamster. If you squeezed very hard, Fluffs would be on his way to hamster heaven. You have to hold him gently, talk to him quietly. Well, God has to be sort of like that with us.
“Truthfully, though, the biggest reason might be that we don’t want very much of God. We want God to stay in his cage like Fluffs does. We are afraid of losing control of our own lives. We just want him to help us a little here, and forgive us a little there, and let us handle the rest. And so we try to make church a safe place where we can get a little bit of God but not too much.
“We don’t like surprises, not even from God, so we make our churches places where surprises aren’t likely to happen. We ask God to come, but only if he will be polite. And therefore, little kids and adult kids often fall asleep—even if they keep their eyes open. 6
“And yet, at the very same time, church is a wonderful place. God has chosen it, ‘sorry-ness’ and all, to be the place where he will meet his people, the place from which he will send his people to all parts of the world to preach the good news about him.”1
1 Daniel Taylor, Letters to My Children (InterVarsity Press, 1999), pp. 64-65
I think sometimes the problem is that I don’t see/feel God at church. I see people – people who are just like me, and I get distracted. And so I sit quietly like I think I’m supposed to, thinking about what that person said or another person did, what he’s wearing, and how she did her hair … and the only thing I’m being is “reverent”. I’m not worshipping.
I’m sure you’ve been to or watched a pro-football game. Have you ever noticed the crowd? Some folks are sitting and watching the game, but if you’re just going to sit and watch the game, why not do that at home where you can be comfortable? Most people who come to the game, come ready to interact with the team and with each other. They come to connect, to be part of the game.
Do I go to church to be part of the service? What would that look like? Sound like? Feel like?
Again, I’m pretty sure I don’t know the answers here. I am sure it’s something we all need to think more about.
I’d love to hear/read your thoughts on the subject of worship.
“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim the good 7
news of His salvation from day to day. 3 Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples.
“For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the Lord made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before Him; Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
“Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come into His courts. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth.
“Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns; The world also is firmly established, It shall not be moved; He shall judge the peoples righteously.’
“Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; Let the sea roar, and all its fullness; Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord. For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with His truth.” Psalm 96
Lillianne Winegardner Lopez 1.18.19
Worship is pulling our affections off our idols and putting them on God.
The other night I took our family dog for a walk. It was a full moon, so bright that we cast a shadow as we walked along. But of course the moon has no light of its own. It shone, and it lit us up so brightly, because the sun was shining on it. It merely reflected the sun’s light. In the same way, 8
we have no glory of our own, only such as is reflected from the light of Christ that shines upon us. That is what we live for: to bask in that radiance, to reflect it, to bring it to the world around us, not for our own sake but for the praise of his glory.
If we haven’t learned to be worshipers, it doesn’t really matter how well we do anything else.
In his book Good Morning Merry Sunshine, Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene chronicles his infant daughter’s first year of life. When little Amanda began crawling, he records: “This is something I’m having trouble getting used to. I will be in bed reading a book or watching TV. And I will look down at the foot of the bed and there will be Amanda’s head staring back at me.
“Apparently I’ve become one of the objects that fascinate her. … It’s so strange. After months of having to go to her, now she is choosing to come to me. I don’t know quite how to react. All I can figure is that she likes the idea of coming in and looking at me. She doesn’t expect anything in return. I’ll return her gaze and in a few minutes she’ll decide she wants to be back in the living room and off she’ll crawl again.” The simple pleasure of looking at the one you love–what Bob and his daughter enjoyed–is what we enjoy each time we worship God and bask in his presence.
Merely learning a truth about God is education, not worship.
If my lips could sing as many songs / as there are waves in the sea: / if my tongue could sing as many hymns / as there are ocean billows: / if my mouth / filled the whole firmament with praise: / if my face / shone like the sun and moon together: / if my hands / were to hover in the sky like 9
powerful eagles / and my feet / ran across mountains as swiftly as the deer; / all that would not be enough / to pay you fitting tribute, / O Lord my God.
Hymn probably composed in the Talmudic period, 3rd-5th century A.D.
Interestingly, of all the songs in the Book of Revelation, not one is a solo. The twenty-four elders sing and cast their crowns before His feet, the united voices of countless angels resound, every living creature in heaven and earth and under the earth and all that is in them are joined in one song. Those who are victorious over the beast are given harps and a song to sing. In every case multitudes of people or angels unite in the same song with absolute unity.
I am dismayed by the popular phrase “worship experience” to describe the church’s corporate worship. Worship has the capacity to transform us, because it focuses our hearts and minds on God–God seen in one another, in ourselves and in the world around us. However, the phrase “worship experience” suggests that worship is important because it induces feelings. In this context worship is focused more on the worshiper than on the One worshipped. … We need to ask ourselves what a true worship experience is so that if we had one, we could recognize it.
Not long ago, the world watched as three gray whales, icebound off Point Barrow, Alaska, floated battered and bloody, gasping for breath at a hole in the ice. Their only hope: somehow to be transported five miles past the ice pack to open sea. Rescuers began cutting a string of breathing holes about twenty yards apart in the six-inch-thick ice.
For eight days they coaxed the whales from one hole to the next, mile after mile. Along the way, one of the trio vanished and was presumed dead. But finally, with the help of Russian icebreakers, the whales Putu and Siku swam to freedom.
In a way, worship is a string of breathing holes the Lord provides his people. Battered and bruised in a world frozen over with greed, 10
selfishness, and hatred, we rise for air in church, a place to breathe again, to be loved and encouraged, until that day when the Lord forever shatters the ice cap.
Craig Brian Larson
I have a 95-year-old grandmother. No one has heard me preach more than three times without hearing a story about my grandmama. The saddest thing I can probably say about you is that you’ll not get a chance to meet Sweetie Pie. She lives in New York City, and we are lovers. I am the second born of her 65-year-old daughter, and she makes me happy.
We talk on the phone every Sunday night no matter where I am in the world. When I talk to her or when I see her, as I will next week, it’s not drudgery for me to enjoy her presence.
Over these last forty-three years, I have simply bathed in the sunlight of her presence. I don’t say “Oh, I’ve got to go see my grandmother.” It’s “I get to see Sweetie Pie.”
Until you stop coming to worship as if you have to see God, you’ll never know what the Psalmist is talking about. He says it ought to be your delight to come up into Papa’s face and enjoy his presence. It presupposes a relationship that makes you want to be there. He says, “When we have the festival, when we have our Sabbath, when we have our convocation, we ought to come with a certain gladness of heart because God is God.
Richard Allen Farmer
At a youth camp, the camp pastor told us how much he missed his son Noah. He asked if we would be willing to sing to his son over his cell phone. So together we sang his son’s favorite song. After the camp pastor told Noah good-bye, he told us nothing could have made him happier than when we sang to his son.
He then said that is what it means to worship. Worship is pleasing God the Father by singing to his Son.
Merle Mees 11
Early in our marriage I gave my wife a terrific anniversary gift: a rain gauge. At least I thought it was a great gift. Susan, after all, is a farmer’s daughter and keeps close watch on the weather. I envisioned her delight and nostalgia while tracking our back yard precipitation. I congratulated myself on my creativity.
Guess what? Susan was not impressed: “A rain gauge—for our anniversary?!” The rain gauge is now a family joke, a classic example of a gift enjoyed by the giver but not the receiver.
One word I hear a lot these days is authentic, as in “we seek authentic worship.” Usually this means we’re trying to create an experience that helps worshipers feel something. Nothing wrong with that, but if our focus is only on our experience, we may be giving God a rain gauge.
Are we offering in worship a gift we enjoy and figuring God will like it?
A real gift, real worship, means knowing what’s important to The Receiver.
In the physical realm there are two opposing forces called “centrifugal” and “centripetal.” Centrifugal force tends to pull away from a center of rotation, while centripetal force pulls toward the center.
A stone whirled about on the end of a string exerts centrifugal force on the string, while the string exerts centripetal force on the stone. Take away one and the other immediately disappears.
These two opposing forces can help us understand something of the fear of God. The centrifugal force represents the attributes of God such as his holiness and sovereignty that cause us to bow in awe and self-abasement before him. They hold us reverently distant from the one who, by the simple power of his word, created the universe out of nothing. The centripetal force represents the love of God. It surrounds us with grace and mercy and draws us with cords of love into the Father’s warm embrace. To exercise a proper fear of God we must understand and respond to both these forces.
Jerry Bridges 12
To live in fear of God means that we live before God and the rest of reality in such a way that there is never contempt within us. We take nothing for granted, everything as a gift. We have respect. We are always poised for surprise before the mystery of God, others, and ourselves.
All boredom and contempt is an infallible sign that we have fallen out of a healthy fear of God.
While I was serving in Paraguay, a Maka Indian named Rafael came to sit on my porch. I was eating and went out to see what he wanted. He responded, “Ham, henek met.” Again I asked what I could do for him, but the answer was the same. I understood what he was saying but not its significance: “I don’t want anything; I have just come near.”
I later shared the incident with a local veteran missionary. He explained that it was Rafael’s way of honoring me. He really didn’t want anything; he just wanted to sit on my porch. He found satisfaction and pleasure just being near me.
“What brings you here, my child?” the Lord asks.
“Ham, henek met.”
Doesn’t that reveal the heart of true worship?
Everybody has to live for something, but Jesus argues that if that thing is not him, it will fail you. It will enslave you …. Nobody put this better than the American writer and intellectual David Foster Wallace. Wallace was at the top of his profession. He was an award-winning, best-selling novelist who committed suicide in 2008. But before his death he gave a famous commencement address in which he said this to the graduating class:
Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism …. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And … pretty much anything you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough …. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you 13
will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you …. Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.
We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God.