The word worship is often used interchangeably with several elements that are tied to a church. But what is worship? How do we know that what we are doing is actually worship? To answer these questions, we must seek advice from the Word of God.
Worship in the Bible
Abraham was said to have worshiped in Genesis 22. Worship continued throughout the Scripture clear to the end of Revelation when the angel told John to worship God. We use the word on a regular basis in church. But to use the word worship does not mean that every person interprets the word in the same way. So, before we can learn about worship, we must first establish a working definition of the word itself.
The word “worship” came into prominence in the 1300s. It was a contraction of two words: worth and ship. It meant to ascribe or declare the worth of something, or to place value in the thing being honored. To worship, then, is to lift up the Lord, to declare his value, and to place life under his Lordship. (etymonline.com)
The word “worship” is best used in Psalm 29:1-2:
Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. — Psalm 29:1-2 (NIV)
The word “ascribe” in this text can be used synonymously with the word “worship.”
When we use the word worship, we must make a broad stroke with our definition. It must include corporate settings as well as personal one-on-one time with Jesus. It includes singing praises, and being quiet. It includes prayer, reading, serving, preaching, and evangelism. Worship takes place on Sunday, but it also takes place every other day of the week. In fact, corporate worship should be a reflection of the worship we experienced the previous six and a half days, as well as the springboard for our worship in the week to come. — Fred Bittner, The Art of Worship
What is Worship? Look to the Psalms
To answer the question, “What is worship?” we observe how worship took place in the Psalms. (Bold sections for emphasis)
I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, Lord, as you know. — Psalm 40:9 (NIV)
May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. — Psalm 88:2 (NIV)
Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. — Psalm 95:6 (NIV)
Serve the Lord with joy; come before him with singing. — Psalm 100:2 (NCV)
I will thank the Lord very much; I will praise him in front of many people. — Psalm 109:30 (NCV)
Proclaiming his acts in the assembly (what we now call preaching) prayer, bowing down, kneeling, serving with joy, singing, thankfulness, and praising him before other acts are all a part of ascribing or declaring worth (worship) to the Lord.
Is there an easier answer to What is Worship?
Put simply, worship is anything you do that declares the worth of the Lord, which deepens your relationship with Jesus, and urges others to follow after him.
Our faith is constantly changing—growing and stretching as we continue to get to know God. There are so many facets of His character that are being discovered daily. As we continue on the road to knowing Jesus, we may find our faith growing without our even realizing it. — Margaret Feinberg, His Healing Hands: Finding God in Broken Places
That is to say, worship changes as our relationship with Jesus grows deeper. Here are two deeper aspects of worship, as described in the Psalms:
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. — Psalm 46:10 (NIV)
May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord. — Psalm 104:34 (NIV)
When was the last time you went before the Lord, and just listened? Worship can be very active, with singing, fellowship, and public church services, but there comes a point where our worship must include being still, and meditating on God’s word.
Ours is a world of satellites, lasers, cell phones, and ATMs. Faxes zoom across telephone lines, and computers arrange daily schedules with supreme accuracy. Because of all these things, we have learned to demand instant results.
The tendency to try to become super Christians within a very short time is grave. It is almost as if we believe that to please God, we must become “better” quickly. However, God does not work this way.
He wants love and devotion to overflow from our hearts naturally, not forcibly, turned toward Him. We cannot hurry our way into spiritual growth. It takes time, quality time, spent with God.
This is how God weeds out old, sinful habits and replants His renewing truths within our hearts and minds. He knows that to produce maximum growth there must be maximum care and nurturing. God slowly reshapes our lives until they are molded into the image of His Son.
Never become discouraged by what seems to be a long time during your spiritual growth. God’s timetable is not ours. And if you will seek Him above everything else, you will receive all He has for you within His timing. — Charles Stanley, Seeking His Face
Ronald Allen declared that the essence of worship is the celebration of God.
When we worship God we celebrate Him: We extol Him, we sound His praises, we boast in Him. — Ronald Allen, author of The Wonder of Worship
Worship should not be a painful ritual that takes place week after week. Genuine worship is alive, ever changing, and an always challenging experience where we discover more about the Lord of our lives. The more we know about him, the more we can celebrate about him. The more we celebrate, the more like him we become.
What is Worship? Look to Heaven
The book of Revelation gives us a view of worship in heaven. Perhaps this is our best example of worship. As you read their worshipful response, make it your own act of praise.
Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” — Revelation 4:9-11 (NIV)