The Meaning Of Worship
The most important thing a Christian does is to worship God. Worship is the foundation for everything else we do. As you read Hebrews 11, you discover a progressive spiritual experience in these men of faith. Arthur Pink, the well-known Bible student, points out that in Enoch we have the walkof faith; in Noah, the workof faith; but in Abel—the first man named in Hebrews 11—we have the worshipof faith. Our walk, our work, our witness, all depend upon our worship. And yet worship seems to be the one privilege (and responsibility) that we Christians neglect the most.
Worship is not something we do on a special day in a special place, although the worship in a congregation is important. “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together!” warns Hebrews 10:25. But worship ought to be the believer’s experience all the day long—fellowship with God, prayer and thanksgiving, meditation on His Word. I suppose more Christians would have a deeper worship experience if they understood better howto worship. As I understand it, worship is a personal experience with God that involves at least four steps.
According to Hebrews 11:6, God is a “rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” This means a desire on our part for communion with God.
Salvation is not the end; it is the beginning. Salvation is birth; but the baby does not stop with birth: it grows to maturity. Salvation means “getting married to Christ” (Romans 7:4); but the wedding is not the end, it is the beginning. What would you think of a man who married the girl he loved and then ignored her for the rest of his life? But is he any worse than a person who trusts Christ and is saved, and then neglects to spend time with the Father in fellowship and worship?
The person who is truly born again will have a deep desire to know God better. He will hunger and thirst after righteousness. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God…” (Psalm 42:1–2). Like Moses, the believer will pray, “Show me Thy glory!” True worship means much more than thanking God for His blessings. It means praising and adoring God for Who He is more than for what He does. It is singing “Jesus, I am resting, resting, in the joy of what Thou art” and really meaning it.
Why is it that so often we do not have this appetite for worship? We are excited by entertainment, by athletic events, by personal experiences with friends; but we do not get excited about fellowship with God. For one thing, we may think that worship is a sign of weakness. Unfortunately, many of our hymns of worship give the idea that worship is not a manly thing. We sing about “leaning on Jesus’ breast” and other mystical experiences, and somehow it does not seem to fit into our busy space age. It is unfortunate that our poor expression of worship robs us of the experience of worship.
Another cause is our satisfaction with the blessings to the neglect of the Blesser. It takes spiritual growth and maturity to learn to praise God even when He is not giving us the things we think we need. Like little children who expect a daily gift from their father when he comes home from work, we Christians sometimes get so wrapped up in the gift that we forget the Giver. Sometimes we are just too full of other things: our spiritual appetites have been “glutted” with the things of the world.
We need to cultivate an appetite for fellowship with the Lord. Seekingis the first step in spiritual worship. “When Thou saidest, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek” (Psalm 27:8).
Desire leads to discovery, because God always responds to the sincere, seeking heart. Jesus tells us that the Father is seeking people to worship Him (John 4:23). We commonly think of God seeking the lost, and He does; but God also seeks the saved. He wants them to fellowship with Him in love and truth. “Learn of me!” is one of our Lord’s invitations to the soul that hungers for spiritual reality.
We “worship Him in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:22–24). There is a great deal of “fleshly” worship these days, religious entertainment that bypasses the truth of the Word or the work of the Spirit in order to stir the emotions. Certainly the emotions are involved in true worship, but not at the expense of the intellect and the will. If we seek the Lord, we will find Him, and the whole personality will experience true worship—the mind, the heart, and the will.
Where do we find Him? Primarily in His Word. We sing in one of our familiar songs:
“Beyond the sacred page
I seek Thee, Lord;
My spirit pants for Thee,
Thou Living Word.”
To worship “in Spirit and in truth” means to find Christ in the Word and to rejoice in all that He is to us. Perhaps this sounds “mystical” to some people, but there is really nothing wrong with Christianmysticism. A “mystic” is simply someone who believes in an unseen world beyond the world of sense and sight; and he seeks to communicate with that world. As Christians, we believe that “the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). It is the Holy Spirit Who puts us in touch with the invisible world of spiritual realities, and He uses the Word of God to direct us.
Worship begins with seeking—desire; and it continues with finding—discovery. This leads to the third step.
Perhaps the greatest definition of worship is that given by Dr. William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury several years ago. Temple says: “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God; to feed the mind with the truth of God; to purge the imagination by the beauty of God; to open the heart to the love of God; to devote the will to the purpose of God.”
Worship, then, involves all of the inner man. As the Spirit of God reveals Jesus Christ to us through the Word, we surrender the entire inner man to Him. Unless God touches the conscience and makes us aware of our own sinfulness and His holiness, we have not truly worshipped. “Be ye holy for I am holy.” “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!” As the conscience is quickened, then the mind is enlightened by God’s truth. The people of Athens “ignorantly worshipped” their gods, but we cannot follow their example. We love the Lord with the mind as well as with the heart.
It is here that Christian doctrine comes in. If worship is only an emotional thing, it will never last. In fact, it will do damage; because if the inner man gets stirred, it must lead to action, otherwise the will is weakened. The mind, as Dr. Temple states, must be “fed” on the truth of God. This means the public reading of Scripture and the expounding of it. This also means the ministry of the Word through sanctified music. Music in worship is not entertainment; it is enlightenment.
The imagination also must be touched in worship. How ugly the imagination can become! Yet to contemplate God in all His beauty and holiness is an exercise that will purge the imagination and prepare it for God’s service. It is sad that the man of the world uses his imagination to create sin. “Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). A sanctified imagination, creating glorious things in the Name of Christ is a tremendous tool in the hands of God. Perhaps if we had more worship, we would have more artistic beauty in the service that we perform for Christ.
Finally, the heart and the will must be involved in the worship experience. “To open the heart to the love of God…and to devote the will to the purpose of God.” This parallels our Lord’s statement, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” A loving heart and an obedient will: these are evidences that the believer has enjoyed true spiritual worship.
Jesus said, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4:10). Worship and service go together: whatever a person worships and values, he will serve. (After all, “worship” really means “worth-ship”—ascribing worth to something. When we worship God, we are ascribing worth to Him.) If worship does not result in service, it is selfish; and if it is selfish, it is not Christian. Isaiah worshipped the Lord in the temple, and ended up becoming a missionary! Paul and Barnabas were worshipping and ministering in the church at Antioch, and the result was a missionary journey to the Gentiles.
I sometimes hear people say that one hour of worship on a Sunday morning really accomplishes very little for the world; but this statement is not true. Only God sees the tremendous things that happen in lives during the rest of the week because Christians have met together for one hour of worship. It is not quantity of time that counts, but quality of time. Isaiah’s one hour in the temple changed his life, and also changed many other lives. As a pastor, I know just a little of the help that people receive when they meet in God’s house with God’s people to worship the Lord. Believe me, true worship leads to sharing and service; it helps people carry burdens and fight battles; it results in blessing to multitudes of people.
These, then, are the steps to true worship: seeking (desire), finding (discovery), enjoying (delight), and sharing (duty). The whole man is “wrapped up” in the fullness of God as revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ! I say again: worship is the most important exercise in the Christian life. Everything else that we do is the result of spiritual worship—our walk, our work, our witness.
God is seeking worshippers. Are we seeking God?