As an actress walks down the red carpet many are awestruck and it might be rightly said that they “worship the ground that she walks on.” When a football player makes a game saving tackle or an NBA star wins the game with a buzzer beater, announcers often say that he will be worshiped in his city for days and even weeks to come. While these are misrepresentations of true worship, the idea of worship surrounds us in popular culture, yet true worship is much more serious and important.
Worship has become a popular word in “Christian circles” lately. Many people are seeking to add different innovations and dramas to worship to appeal to those who are un-churched, and don’t forget, it must also grab the attention of every “millennial” to be relevant. While man is often confused and misguided as it relates to worship, the concept of worshiping God is not anything new. The Greek word most often translated worship in the New Testament means to prostrate oneself in homage, do reverence to, adore.
Worship is as old as the first family, Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel, and in Genesis chapter four there is an account of them offering worship to God, and Abel with his offering was accepted while Cain’s was rejected (Gen.4:1-7). Abel offered his sacrifice by faith, according to Divine mandate, and this no doubt was the deciding factor in what led to his offering being accepted (Rom. 10:17; Heb. 11:4).
Jesus had a thing or two to say about worship, and I think that as the Son of God He knew more about pleasing God in worship than we ever will. Jesus on one occasion saw individuals binding things on others that were not bound by God, and He said that offering such to God constituted vain worship (Mt. 15:7-9). While talking with a Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus gave the criteria for proper worship—the criteria that has always been in place for acceptable worship to God, it must be done in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23-24). There has never been a time when true worship did not have to be in spirit and in truth.
Just what does it mean to worship God in spirit and in truth? When Jesus says that one must worship God in spirit, He means that one must have the proper attitude or feeling about worship in order to please God. It is possible to do the right things but to do it with the wrong attitude, and with such God will not be pleased. I’m sure we have all gone through a drive thru and had our order taken by an employee who seems less than happy to be there and makes the exchange feel more like a root canal than like buying dinner. While he or she may get the job done, the spirit or attitude in which it is being done makes it unpleasant. Jesus says the same is true of God as it relates to our worship.
The other part of our worship has to deal with it being done in truth. This aspect of our worship to God has to deal with the things which God has told us that He wants from us. While attitude is important in worship, it is not ultimate. We can feel good about offering certain things to God in worship and do them in the right manner, but if there is no New Testament authority for the act, it can’t be called worship because it cannot be practiced in truth (Heb.9:14-17; 1 Pet. 4:16). In the New Testament the things that we see being practiced as it relates to worship are: praying, singing, preaching, giving, and the Lord’s Supper or communion (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor.1:21, 11:23-30, 14:15, 16:1-2). The things prescribed in the New Testament for worship cannot be changed or added to with Divine approval, we must practice them in the manner which they are stated. However, while the truth aspect of worship cannot be changed, there is still the spirit or attitude part of worship that we can improve on to help our worship be more pleasing to God.
When people talk about improving worship sometimes they have in mind dimming the lights, restructuring the pulpit or podium, adding new flower bouquets surrounding the pulpit, or even a rock band. But none of these things really have any bearing on whether our worship is acceptable to God or not. These things don’t help worship to be any more in line with the New Testament, but rather appeals to what pleases us. The moment worship becomes about what pleases us, it ceases to be worship. Worship is about God. We are not supposed to be spectators to worship, we are to be participants. The preacher and those who lead us in various aspects of worship are not on stage, the pew member is to be as much involved in worship as they are, although the roles may be different. There are ways we can improve worship.
The best scores that I have received on tests in school have not necessarily been the material that I found the most enjoyable, but the test I prepared for the best. When Sunday is approaching and we know we have to come into the presence of God, we need to prepare (Lk. 14:28). As difficult as this may sound, don’t over extend on Saturday night in extracurricular activities, it becomes hard to wake up on Sunday when you gave the best of you away on Saturday night at the football game, or stayed up late night watching a show that could have been recorded. If worship will be meaningful to me, I need to make the preparation all week to meet God on Sunday. I should be praying and studying my Bible and inviting individuals to service, knowing that I will come into the presence of my Maker on Sunday.
This one should go without saying, but it must be said. It is extremely easy to drift off and think about what’s for lunch, or what somebody else is wearing, or who’s playing in the basketball game later today, all while trying to worship God. If I would worship God in spirit, with the proper attitude, I must fight for my mind and try to keep focused on Christ and what is taking place in worship (Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:2). Mouth the words of the prayer being prayed, follow along in your Bible, sing the songs and think about the words, write down any words to a song that you are not sure of and find out what they mean so the song will be more meaningful next time around. God doesn’t merely want our presence in worship, He wants our participation and our passion while we seek to give Him our best. You may not have the most eloquent preacher or sing the most attention grabbing hymns, but don’t let those things be an excuse, try and learn something new every time you come to the assembly. We have to pay attention because worship must be in spirit and you can’t do that with a drifting mind (Jn. 4:23-24).
With just doing these two things, preparing and paying attention in worship, you will see the worship you offer to God as more meaningful and more sincere than you ever have before. God is looking for individuals who will worship Him properly. We can’t worship God by giving Him something which He did not ask for (that’s not according to truth), but we also can’t properly worship God by giving God what He asked for in a manner which He did not ask for it (that’s not in spirit). The religious word will always be in a frenzy over what’s in and what’s out as it relates to worship. We ought to make sure that what we do is in the New Testament and that we are tuned in as we offer to God. God has prescribed the acts for worship but He also wants your heart.