What is worship?
Have you ever longed to go deeper in your spiritual walk but felt stuck? Have you been confused about verses like “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8)? The Bible teaches that God dwells in creation and that His Spirit is present in every believer, but for some reason this isn’t resonating with most Christians today. The Holy One desires for each of us to exchange a polite relationship with our Maker for something far more captivating. He longs for us to find comfort in an intimate relationship, where there is healing and restoration for all that has been lost.
We often think that being a Christ follower is all about serving God through Bible reading and doing good deeds. While these things are important, the Bible is not an end in itself. It is a resource to enlighten God’s children and lead them into an intimate relationship so they may taste the sweetness of the very God Himself in the core of who they are.
So how do we get to this place? I believe the answer is worship…because worship is the bridge between heaven and earth. Paul taught the believers in Ephesus, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence” (Ephesians 3:12). As we go boldly into His throne room in worship, we begin to experience face-to- face intimacy with our Beloved.
Several years ago I was in the depths of excruciating emotional pain while working through painful things in my past when my mentor, Linda Dillow, challenged me to commit to worshiping God twenty minutes each day for one month. She explained that worship is different from prayers of petition, where we ask God to do something for us or for someone else. It is also different from prayers of thanksgiving, where we focus on what He has done in the past. In worship, we simply adore God by focusing on who He truly is. These words from A. P. Gibbs helped me understand this more clearly: “In prayer we are occupied with our needs, in thanksgiving we are occupied with our blessings, but in worship we are totally occupied with God Himself.” (Satisfy My Thirsty Soul, p. 37).
As I took this challenge I was surprised to find that worship is much more encompassing than what I had previously experienced. I used to think that worship was the first twenty minutes of a Sunday morning church service when songs are sung to the Lord. But it is far more than that. The Bible clearly reveals that praise and worship are the primary vehicles for entering into communion with God. This can be done corporately, as believers gather together to ascribe to God the glory He deserves, and it can also be a personal experience. Both are important, but sometimes we are confused about individual worship.
Many of the words for worship in the Old Testament pertain to body posture—kneeling, bowing, prostrating oneself, singing songs, offering sacrifices, lifting up hands, etc. The Hebrew definition for worship literally means “to bow down and prostrate oneself before a superior in homage.” We are all created individually by God and have our own unique worship preferences. Some people worship with uninhibited expression while others are uncomfortable with any type of external response.
God is pleased when we worship with extravagant, demonstrative, passionate praise, but sincere worship is more than body language. Jesus taught that worship is the language of the heart. In the discussion between Jesus and the woman at the well, our Lord described what true worship looks like: “But the time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth”(John 4:23-24).
God is the sovereign King who created the whole universe. He doesn’t need anything from us, yet these verses reveal that He seeks men and women who will worship Him with unwavering devotion. To worship in spirit and truth means that we must remove any mask in order to be real and completely honest before God. We hide sinful behavior and shameful thoughts because we think it will keep us safe, but in fact, it is the death of intimacy. When we lay our shame before our Beloved and bask in His forgiveness, a stronghold is broken and we can live with great joy (Romans 4:7-8).
Surrendering our hearts in worship is no easy thing. When I first took this challenge, I mostly wrestled with God for control. I asked honest questions like, Where were You when bad things happened to me? Why didn’t You protect me? If I couldn’t trust You then, why should I trust You now? I was trying my hardest to press into the Lord, but I couldn’t get past the hard questions.
God is big enough to deal with our hard questions. Only when we bring all of our negative emotions out of the darkness and into the light can we see the truth. That is why we need to be sincere about our feelings and deal with them in a healthy way. When we find God’s presence in worship, we are able to hear with our spiritual ears and find the answers to our hard questions. And even if we don’t find the answers, the questions no longer haunt us when we are safe in His warm embrace.
I have come to realize that worship is telling God who He is, not because He needs to know, but because we need to remind ourselves of His true character. When I began the worship challenge I argued with God at first, but I would always end up praising Him for any attribute I could think of. In time, God gently revealed His true heart for me and I began to nestle instead of wrestle.
When I began the worship challenge, praying only words of praise and blessing to the Lord without giving any requests seemed impossible. I ran out of things to say after five minutes and wondered what in the world I would do with the rest of my time. Amazingly, as I continued to press into the Holy One, those twenty minutes became thirty and sometimes even extended to an hour. Before long I could hardly pull myself away from this glorious place where I found peace and rest.
As we pursue the heart of God in worship we move from a nominal Christian life to a radiant life filled with the glory of God. We will be overcome with passionate love as we begin to taste, hear and inwardly feel the manifested presence of the Holy One in our lives. Like A.W. Tozer we will recognize that,
“A spiritual kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing us, altogether within reach of our inner selves, waiting for us to recognize it. God Himself is here waiting our response to His Presence. This eternal world will come alive to us the moment we begin to reckon upon its reality.” (The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer p. 31).
Would you please join me June 27th?
Join me on June 27th for a seven day worship challenge to kick off the release of my book, Return to Joy? I promise that your heart will be refreshed if you worship for 20 minutes each day for a week. I am praying that worship will become a life-long habit as you recognize that everything changes when God comes near.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23).