The Pharisees served as official interpreters of God’s law in the absence of a prophet or teaching priests. Instead of teaching with integrity, they “[broke] the command of God for the sake of [their] tradition (Mat. 15:3). Instead of inscribing the Scripture on the tablets of the hearts of the people, they “[nullified] the word of God” by teaching what fortified their earthly position (Mat. 15:6). Instead of leading people to God, they “[shut] the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.” Jesus exposed their hollow worship practices restating Isaiah’s prophesy. " 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men'" (Mat. 15:8-9). 

With so many definitions, variations, and styles of worship how can we know that we worship acceptably? In seeking an answer to this question, we must be careful not to be wise in our own eyes or develop complicated personal or corporate philosophies of worship. If not, we will find as A. W. Tozer admonishes. "God discovers Himself to 'babes’ and hides Himself in thick darkness from the wise and the prudent.” In the quest for true worship, Tozer offers good advice. “We must simplify our approach to Him. We must strip down to essentials and they will be found to be blessedly few.”[1] What are the essentials of worship? I believe Scripture gives evidence for four critical elements.

Knowing and Understanding God

Jesus makes the centrality of knowing God clear. “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). God is a personal God who desires relationship with individual believers. A. W. Tozer states it this way:

God is a Person, and in the deep of His mighty nature He thinks, wills, enjoys, feels, loves, desires and suffers as any other person may. In making Himself known to us He stays by the familiar pattern of personality. He communicates with us through the avenues of our minds, our wills and our emotions. The continuous and unembarrassed interchange of love and thought between God and the soul of the redeemed man is the throbbing heart of New Testament religion.[2]

External religion does not fulfill the requirement of coming to know God or Christ. Getting caught up in the externals and the “do’s and don’ts” move a person away from communion and drives an unholy wedge between God and the soul, interrupting intercourse.

Knowledge of God — His person, nature, and character — is gained over time; adding depth and intensity to worship, and increasing its meaningfulness and relevancy.

Relationship

Twice each week forty-five-year-old Jan visits her mother who lives in a nursing home. Before each visit Jan spends a considerable amount of time preparing herself for the encounter. Jan’s mother, Mrs. Stonewall, suffers from dementia and memory loss as a result of Alzheimer’s disease. Mrs. Stonewall, having lost a considerable amount of weight and interest in the world around her, is now only a shadow of her former self. Jan states the most difficult thing to come to terms with is the lack of recognition and confusion on her mother’s face when she greets her. Each visit she searches for a hint of recollection in her mother’s eyes — the dear woman who bore her, nurtured her, and loved her for forty years. Each visit Jan is sorely disappointed because her mother does not recognize her.