Worship can be such a loaded topic that it’s good to make sure everyone is on the same page. For many worship is the singing time during a church service. Sometimes it’s kept for specific types of songs.
In a sermon I once heard the preacher say that hymn music was glorious while contemporary forms pandered to people’s preferences. I want to be clear, when I’m talking about worship, I’m not talking about music or singing.
Whenever I am asked to define worship my answer is always the same.
Worship is our response to God as he reveals himself to us expressed by what we say and do in either individual and/or corporate contexts.
In fact singing isn’t even mentioned in my definition. It is an expression of worship but not the primary thing.
In a recent blog I offered 5 reasons why worship matters. I want to flesh that out a bit more by offering 3 key points of what I mean when I talk about worship.
1. Worship starts with God
It is so easy to think of worship solely as being our gift to God. This is not true. Worship only ever occurs when we see God for who he is. Eugene Peterson puts it this way,
‘Worship is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God.’
In other words, worship occurs when despite ourselves we turn our attention to seeing what God is up to and responding to this.
When we see God’s mercy, we respond with worship in whatever form that may take. When he calls us to do something, our worship is obeying. Our worship needs is an action that spring up from within us but it doesn’t originate with us – worship always starts with God revealing himself.
2. Worship is intentional and habitual
Coming together for worship, like we do at church, is an intentional act of worship. So is when we set time aside to be with God. Intentional worship can be seen everywhere in the Bible. I would even argue that it is perhaps the central activity of the New Testament church from which mission, discipleship, etc. was launched.
All this is to say that intentional times of worship are important. It helps us to see God in the midst of our circumstances and encourages us to continue to pursue him. But it isn’t the be all and end all.
Much in the prophetic books of the Bible is calling people to live within the Covenant God has made with them. They even go so far as to state that God rejects intentional acts of worship when it isn’t backed up with Godly living.
This is what I call habitual worship. I think it is the key point of Romans 12:1 where Paul calls us to offer every aspect of our lives as worship to God.
3. Worship is individual and communal
Our society is very individualistic and it is easy to see worship in these terms. We emphasise our individual relationship with Jesus. So many of our songs are written in terms of an individual – so often they use the word ‘I’. This isn’t a bad thing. There is a time for this.
There are times when we worship by ourselves. We can do this in our workplaces or houses. Once I even found myself worshipping God in the dentist’s chair. Our individual worship is how we incorporate God in the normalcy of life.
Communal worship is what we do when we come together. If the Holy Spirit is working our lives to make us more like Jesus, then coming together for worship helps us see God’s workmanship on display.
Worshipping together is a source of encouragement in for our day to day life of following Jesus (Acts 2:42-47; Heb 10:24-25). It also allows us to understand how we are united through Jesus. Being part of the body of Christ is more concrete when you’re consistently gathering to worship with fellow follower than when you are alone.
One of the challenges for many Australian churches is how to keep our communal times of worship on a Sunday from becoming merely a collection of individuals worshipping God. But this is a blog for another day…