Worship is a concept that isn’t always clearly understood. We might talk about having a wonderful worship experience or going to a worship service, but perhaps we should ask ourselves: What is genuine worship, and am I actually participating in it?
Therefore, I’d like to offer this definition of true worship to help you understand what is involved. Worship is the awakening of the conscience to God’s holiness, the feeding of the mind with God’s truth, the opening of the heart to His love, and the devotion of the will to His purpose. This corresponds to what Jesus called the greatest commandment. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
If our hearts, minds, and wills are not focused on and submitted to the Lord, our efforts of worship will fall short. The truth is that none of us will worship perfectly until we stand before God’s throne in heaven, freed from the presence of the sin that now indwells us. But during our stay on earth, we should aspire to offer God the highest worship possible.
But how do we do this? There has been so much conflict in the church regarding this issue that the term “worship wars” has been coined to describe it. The only way to end this battle is to go to the one source of absolute truth—Scripture. Only God has the authority to tell us how to worship. Therefore, there is no room for any self-styled method or approach. That’s why I want to deal with three questions regarding worship.
First, what is the proper motivation for worship? Psalm 100, which is a call to worship, gives us the answer: “Know that the Lord Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (v. 3). We come to worship both corporately and privately because of who God is. He alone is worthy of our adoration and praise.
In this single verse, two seemingly contrasting features of God are mentioned. He is our Creator who is transcendent—above, beyond, and separate from His creation. There is an infinite difference between us and Him. He is holy, perfectly righteous, almighty, all-knowing, and unchanging. God is self-existent, unaffected by the passage of time, and needs nothing and no one.
But the Lord is also identified as our Shepherd who loves and cares for us. Whereas a transcendent God is infinitely separate from us in nature, our Shepherd brings us into an intimate relationship with Himself. We are His, and He provides security, protection, nourishment, and guidance to those who belong to Him.
Our response of worship should include both these aspects of God. We must approach our Creator with humility, reverential fear, and exaltation, not with casual presumption. We destroy worship when our view of the Lord is too low, and our view of ourselves is too high. But we are also to come into His presence with confidence, joy, gratitude, and praise because through His Son we have been brought near, having received His grace, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.
Second, what should be our attitude as we approach holy God? Psalm 100 advocates that we come before the Lord with joyful singing, thanksgiving, praise, and blessing because He is good, His lovingkindness is everlasting, and His faithfulness continues throughout all generations. Yet when Isaiah saw a vision of God, he became starkly aware of his own sin and responded by saying, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” (Isa. 6:5). Both are legitimate forms of worship—one joyful and the other solemn—and both are necessary. If we only aim for celebratory worship, we may miss awe-inspiring reverence for a holy God. But if solemnity is all we experience, we could miss the security and joy of an intimate relationship with Christ.
Third, what effect does true worship have on us? Isaiah was forever changed by his vision of God—he saw his sin clearly, received cleansing and forgiveness, and offered himself in service to the Lord (Isa. 6:5-8). Even though we probably won’t have a vision like Isaiah’s, every time we open God’s Word or hear it preached, the Lord reveals Himself to us. The result should be an awareness of sin, purification through confession and repentance, deeper understanding of God, and a desire to submit to and obey Him.
Knowing all that is involved in the worship of God, would you like to grow in this area? Scripture tells us that when we truly worship, we please God (Rom. 12:1 NIV). There is a way to bring your worship to a higher level. Just keep increasing in your understanding, appreciation, and love of God in His many aspects. The deeper you go in knowledge of your transcendent Creator and loving Shepherd, the more honoring your worship will be. And isn’t that what we all want?
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. I pray that you will have a wonderful Thanksgiving as you celebrate the goodness and generosity of God. Worship can certainly be a private experience, but this season is the perfect time to come before God together as we thank Him for His faithfulness to us.