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What Is Worship and What Isn’t It?

Emma Danzey

Worship is a word that is so commonly used in the church. However, when formulating a definition of worship, we can easily become confused. Is worship the music we sing because we call these moments worship? Is worship a sermon? Could it be prayer? What is worship? Today we will look at Scripture and talk about how we can accurately define worship.

What Is Worship?

What would you say if someone came up to you today and asked, “What is worship?” It is easy to think that this would have a simple response, but it can feel challenging to answer this question. A great place to start is John 2:24 which says, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” Jesus defines worship as involving Spirit and truth. He tells us to worship in this way.

Cindy McMenamin from Crosswalk shares, “Note that Jesus didnt say true worshipers will prefer Gregorian chants, the hymns of the early 1800s, or contemporary music while raising their hands. To worship in spirit and truth means our attitudes are in check and we have a heart surrendered to God. Its often difficult to be critical or condemning of something when our hearts are surrendered to God.”

A Command

Throughout the Bible, we are actually commanded to worship. This is not a negative burden, but a clear invitation to glorify the only One who deserves our praise, Jesus. He is holy and we are called to give Him thanks and praise. This is a joy for the redeemed.

Cindy Collier from Bible Study Tools shares, “It is a Biblical mandate that we worship God and Him alone. It is an act that is designed not only to bring honor to Him who deserves honor, but also to bring a spirit of obedience and submission to the worshippers.”

Psalm 96:9 says, “Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth.”

Our praise can be through songs. Psalm 100:2 says, “Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Before Jesus came, worship was in an earthly sanctuary. Hebrews 9:1 says, “Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary.” After Jesus came, the Holy Spirit entered our lives. Hebrews 9:11 says, “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.”

A Response to the Work of God

One of the first acts of worship we see is in Genesis 24:26-27. The servant of Abraham was asked to go find a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac. When the Lord showed up and brought Rebekah to the servant, he responded, “Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, saying, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my masters relatives.’”

Psalm 29:2 says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.”

After Jesus died and rose from the dead, He appeared to His disciples. They were in awe and worshipped Him. Matthew 28:9 says, Suddenly Jesus met them. Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.”

A Humble Posture of the Heart and Body

Whether you are physically positioning yourself to worship the Lord, or simply humbling your heart, worship is a humble posture before a holy God. We see many instances in Scripture where people were bowing down before the Lord.

Exodus 34:8 says, “Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped.”

Nehemiah 8:6 says, “Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”

Job 1:20 says, “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship.” 

Psalm 95:6 says, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”

We may physically bow down in worship to God, but we might bow down in our hearts. There is a beautiful posture of praise when we honor His name alone.

We also see the warning of the idolatry of worshiping anyone or anything except the one true God. Deuteronomy 11:16 says, “Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.” Worshiping another god is not just physically bowing down as some might think, but it is putting anyone or anything above Jesus in your heart and life.

Our Purpose

When the question arises, “What is worship?” A strong answer is: our purpose. We as humanity were to be made in the image of God. When we think about how a child reflects the image of the parent, we in the same way were made to reflect the glory of God. We were created to point towards Him with our existence. I would argue that our very purpose is to worship God.

We are called to worship Christ with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).

We will worship God always. Philippians 2:10 says, “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

Everyone will worship the Lord. Romans 14:11 says, “It is written: As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.

Sacrifice

We see worship in the Bible described as sacrificial. When the priests would give burnt offerings for sins, they were considered contributions for worship (2 Chronicles 31:2).

I think about the wise men who found Jesus to worship Him at the manger. They brought Him their best gifts as an act of worship. Matthew 2:11 says, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped”

Are There Different Types of Worship?

Corporate Worship

There is a beauty in gathering with other believers and worshipping Christ. People have been gathering to glorify God since the beginning. Psalm 102:21-22 says, “So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion and his praise in Jerusalem when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the Lord.”

The Bible teaches that there is order in corporate worship (1 Corinthians 14). The early church gathered together in house churches to praise God together.

Personal Worship

There is also personal worship. This is time to praise God in a private place. Jesus talks of going to close the door and pray in secret (Matthew 6:6). We are called to spend time with the Lord and glorify Him when no one else is around. This is a free space to declare Him glory and draw near to God. You might pray, sing, read the Bible, etc. Personal worship is a beautiful gift to the believer.

Ways of Worship

Worship can be done in many ways. The best definition that I have ever heard of worship was from a college professor who said, “Worship is loving God.” When we think about loving the Lord, we can go to Matthew 22:37 which says, Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” We can worship the Lord with all of our hearts through singing songs, serving Him, and living for Him, we can worship with our souls by prayer and praising Him, and we can worship with our minds in reading His word and pondering Him. Worship of God is vertical and then that relationship overflows into loving Him by loving others too.

What Isn't Worship?

Worship is not a ritual. Sure, there is order to praising our Savior, but worship is not a checklist. Worship is not about us. Many times, we can complain about not have a certain style of music or teaching at a church. It is easy to make worshiping God about how we feel or what we enjoy. However, worship is about Jesus alone. We worship Him because He deserves it and we are called to glorify Him.

Topher Haddox from Crosswalk shares, “There is nothing wrong with emotion being an aspect of worship. True reverence and reflection of the Gospel will often lead to tears of joy. After all, were human. The problem arises when we seek for our own emotional high as the goal—instead of glorifying God. We assert ourselves as the receiver and accepter of our own worship. In doing this, we count our own deceitful desires far more worthy of our worship than the Father. We become glory thieves.”

Why Is Worship so Important?

When asking, “What is worship?” We also ask why is worship so important? Because we are daily living in the grace and mercy of Jesus. There is not a day that goes by that is not a gift. We are called to give honor and praise to the only One who deserves it. When we worship, it humbles us, provides gratitude, and we grow in our relationship with Christ. Worship is a command, but it is also an enormous privilege. No matter what your style of worshipping the Lord looks like today, remember that worship is really loving God with our lives.

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What Exactly Is Worship?

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/arkira

Emma DanzeyEmma Danzey’s mission in life is to inspire young women to embrace the extraordinary. One of her greatest joys is to journey with the Lord in His Scriptures. Emma is a North Carolina resident and green tea enthusiast! She is married to her husband Drew and they serve international college students. She enjoys singing, dancing, trying new recipes, and watching home makeover shows. During her ministry career, Emma recorded two worship EP albums, founded and led Polished Conference Ministries, ran the Refined Magazine, and served in music education for early childhood. Currently, she is in the editing stages of her first two writing projects: a Bible study on womanhood and a non-fiction book on singleness. You can visit her blog at emmadanzey.wordpress.com