- Real Worship by Warren Wiersbe (Kingsway Publications 1987)
Get Your Act Together Cinderella by Michael Griffiths (I.V.P.'89)
Hallelujah by Herbert Carson (Evangelical Press '80).
There are hosts more, Wiersbe has a recommended reading list of some 30 books.
It is also certain that until we all reach Heaven Christians will differ in their practice of worship. Many schisms in churches, while claiming disputes on doctrine have in actuality had more to do with likes and dislikes of worship practices.
There is much truth in the apocryphal story of the six ship-wrecked sailors who, being found several months later, took their rescuers on a guided tour of their deserted Pacific atoll, before leaving for home. Two Roman Catholic sailors had erected a little shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary where daily they pleaded for grace to endure, until rescue. Two Jewish sailors had found a tree under which they recited the Torah and called on the Lord Jehovah for deliverance. The two Baptist sailors had also carefully founded places of worship and prayer - North Island Baptist Church and South Island Baptist Church!
1. Definition of Worship
A dictionary definition is “to show profound religious devotion and respect to; adore and venerate (God or any person or thing considered divine); to be devoted to and full of admiration for; to have or express feelings of profound adoration; to attend services of worship.”
- H.M.Carson “Worship is the declaration by a creature of the greatness of his Creator. It is the glad affirmation of the forgiven sinner of the mercy of his Redeemer. It is the united testimony of an adoring congregation to the perfection of their common Lord. It is the summit of the service of the angels and the climax of the eternal purpose of God for His people. It is man's supreme goal here and the consummation of his life in heaven.”
Olive and John Drane -Today Magazine Nov.'89 “Worship is all that we are, responding to all that God is.”
A.W.Tozer “Worship is to feel in the heart” and “to express in some appropriate manner what you feel.”
James Greenwood “Worship is the attitude of someone who has had a first hand experience of God.”
All of these definitions are helpful, each one seeking to capture the thought of a person or persons responding actively to One whose greatness and perfection far outweighs their own. Perhaps the well known story of the English essayist Charles Lambe, who while in conversation with some friends and discussing great figures of history commented “We have mentioned people we would like to have seen, there is One other. If Shakespeare was to come into this room we should all rise to meet him, but if that person was to enter, we should fall down and try to kiss the hem of His garment.” encapsulates the feeling that lies behind each of the definitions.
My own attempt at a definition of worship in a sentence is “ To declare that the Triune God is worthy and worshiping Him should lead to consecrated service by me.”
Yet it would be sadly true that time and again we really fail to be worshipers! The Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard touched a raw nerve when he commented on religious services “...it often seems as though the worship leader is the actor and God the prompter, in some dramatic production. God whispers into the leaders ear, telling him what to do next, the congregation listen and, at the end they applaud if they like the way he's led worship, or throw things if they don't.”
We really are a bit like that. How often our assessment of acts of worship is just a critical analysis of what was said, how long it lasted, who led, whether or not the music was to our liking, debates about the building and seating arrangements etc. Perhaps Tozer was right when he remarked:- “Worship is the missing jewel in modern evangelicalism!”
Now our poverty of worship would be understandable if we had no real guide to the “how and why of worship.” But that isn't so! We are not like the Athenians of Paul's day, with their shrine to an unknown God. God has made Himself known. We can respond to Him because He has drawn near to us.
Scripture reveals principles and suggests practices for worship. God has also given us the Person of His Holy Spirit to guide, empower, instruct, control our worship. It is important that each of us seeks to study Scripture noting the worshiping patterns revealed there, and while animal sacrifices in the OT become the sacrifices of praise for the Lamb of God in the New, the principles governing heart and life are equally clear under both Covenants.
2. A Bird's Eye View of Biblical Worship
The essential concept of worship in both OT and NT is “service.” This really should be so because the One who is worthy of our worship is the Sovereign Lord, Deut.6:13 “Fear the Lord your God, serve Him only.” A glance at the Book of Revelation with its heavenly scenes shows that throughout eternity His servants both Angelic and Redeemed people will delight to serve the Lord. Some of the words used in Scripture underscore this concept:- ‘boda’ in Heb. and ‘latreia’ in Gk. each signifying originally the labour of slaves or hired servants. In order to offer true worship to God his servants must prostrate themselves - Heb. ‘shachah’ Gk.’proskyneo.’
Remember that a slave had no rights or privileges of his own. Yet the ideal slave was seen as one who didn't serve reluctantly but willingly. Exodus 21 gives advice to Israel so that perhaps v5ff might be the experience of many. In Rom.12:1 this concept lies behind the appeal of Paul.
Tozer suggests that one reason for Christ's coming into our fallen world was “to make worshipers out of rebels.” How true that is! Adam's sin was to be as God. Man in his pride usurps God's right to be worshiped. Whether men make idols of wood or stone, or the idols of secularism, pleasure, intellectualism, business, politics the basic concept is an assault on the Sovereignty of God. The true worshiper bows the heart before the greatness of God.
Biblical worship endorses such elements as praise and thanksgiving and, at times, exuberant joy. The wonderful gatherings of the people in the Tabernacle or temple, the annual celebratory feasts (Unleavened Bread culminating in Passover; the Feast of Weeks celebrating the first-fruits of Harvest, and Ingathering or Tabernacles at the close of harvest). The musicians had a marvelous time, especially after the building of Solomon's Temple, when to quote the New Bible Dictionary:-
“...elaborate arrangements were made for the conduct of praise by the Levites, the Psalms
were used in the liturgy and in sacred processions with 'glad shouts and songs' Ps.24:4.
The singing was probably antiphonal, involving two choirs, or soloist and choir. Dancing,
from earliest times a means of expressing Praise, Ex.15:20;
2 Sam.6:14; was also used in the Temple, Ps.149:3; 150:4” (and just to read this latter
Psalm is to be mentally surrounded by a cacophony of music. There is no mention of
dance in NT worship and that may well be due to the fact that in Greek and Roman times
dancing played a major role in pagan ceremonies. Such connotations may have rendered
it unsuitable for Christian worship. )
The congregational praise of the OT was furthered in NT by the use of 'psalms, hymns and spiritual songs' Col.3:16. Doubtless among those would have been the Canticles recorded by Luke - those first Christmas hymns, Magnificat, Benedictus, Nunc Dimittus the songs of praise of Mary, Zechariah, Simeon. Some of the doxologies of NT Letters and possibly Eph.5:14; 1 Tim.3:16; 2 Tim.2:11-13. Feasts were also celebrated in the form of Love-Feasts 1 Cor.10; Lord's Table (Communion, Eucharist, Breaking of Bread) 1 Cor.11.
Always where true worship took place, and not mere religious exercises, there was evidence in the heart/s of the worshiper/s of a recognition that God was Sovereign and to be adored by His servants. Such an awareness would remind the worshiper of God's chief characteristic - HOLINESS (Isa.57:15) and therefore of the need for ATONEMENT if one as a sinner is to abide in the presence of God.
The whole structure of OT worship is rooted in the sacrificial system. Before a man could bring his burnt offerings, expressing his gratitude and commitment to God; his peace offerings, emphasizing his fellowship with God; before joining in the praise of the congregation, a man needed the assurance of forgiveness from sin. Therefore five days before the joyful Feast of Tabernacles came the most solemn day of the year - Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement -Lev.16. That day of course points up the need for a FINISHED SACRIFICE. If only one could be assured of forgiveness, if only such forgiveness could be an everlasting forgiveness - but how could that be possible?
Well of course we know the answers to such longings and questions - we live after Calvary. Lev.16 has given way to Heb.9/10 - Hallelujah! Both those needing forgiveness and those delighting in the assurance of such through Christ, need a Word from God. Therefore an essential part of both OT and NT worship centered on the reading and exposition of Scripture. That Word which has been given to our world over many years by God Himself. His love letter and our handbook for life. When the Temple was destroyed and Israel in Exile in Babylon SYNAGOGUE WORSHIP developed. The word means "a place of assembly" and as Jews were dispersed through the centuries, these became local places of worship. A synagogue could be built once ten or more local Jewish men could assemble for regular worship. The buildings were simple in style and furnishings and contained no altar, since sacrifices could only be offered in the Temple. The Mishna, a Jewish document dating from 200 BC outlines five parts of worship in a synagogue:
- 1. the SHEMA - " to hear" Deut.6:4;11:13-21; Num.15:37-41.
2/3 the READINGS - from both the LAW and the PROPHETS.
4. the PRAYERS.
5. the EXPOSITION of the Word read. A visitor who was suitably qualified could do this e.g. Jesus and Paul.
This was in effect to be God's providential preparation for the NT Church. The enmity of the Jews and the movement of God among the Gentiles would render the Synagogue a thing of the past for the early Christians. However the essential elements of worship would continue and historically much of our Christian worship is derived from that of the Synagogue service.
In one other but essential way NT worship differs from any that had gone before among the people of God. NT. and therefore Christian worship is TRINITARIAN in belief and practice. The Apostles were as surprised as anyone else in Judaism to discover that Jesus was God Incarnate. But the evidence of his Deity was clearly acknowledged. After Pentecost and the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in individuals and in the Church, further truth was revealed, and recognized. God is One and at the same time Triune. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit - co-equal,co-eternal. In terms of work the Father is first; the Son came to do His will; the Holy Spirit came from both to make the work of the Father and Son effective within the world. Our worship if it is to be biblical will be Trinitarian.
Behind all of this belief and practice lies something else: in a sense the very key to worship:- Matt.22:34-40.
- Worship must be an attitude of mind and heart.
- Worship too must bear fruit in our love toward God and our fellow-man.
- True worship will involve all that I am responding to all that God is.
- True worship should enable me to live differently in this fallen world.
- True worship will lead to glad service for the glory of my Master.
Now this surely means that thought and attention needs to be paid by me to how I worship. Worship can never be a mere religious activity. I must seek in dependence on the Holy Spirit to worship God in Spirit and in Truth.
3. The Practice of Worship
Some practical steps which we can take to enable us to worship in a more meaningful way will involve:
(a) AIMING HIGH IN WORSHIP....by this I mean having a longing to meet with God. Seeking God earnestly and acknowledging afresh the Kingship of Christ. Isa.55:6 and Matt.6:33 are key texts to bear in mind. How differently one would approach worship services if I consciously believed that I was going to meet my Sovereign. (Think how I would feel if called to an audience with an earthly monarch or president?)
(b) PREPARING TO WORSHIP:- Preparation is crucial yet how often worshipers arrive at Church with very little advanced preparation of heart and mind. Somehow we seem to imagine that by singing or speaking "God words", rubbing shoulders with others, that in some magical way the whole experience will be deeply satisfying. If it isn't then it has to be someone else's fault!
Preparation must begin early, in fact, much of what happens on a Sunday at worship should be the natural progression, corporately, of my personal encounters with God during the previous week. No amount of worship times can ever replace my daily quiet times with God. Thoughts about Sunday worship should help determine my use of Saturday evenings. Watching late night television is hardly a good preparation for being alert on Sunday mornings. Reading Scripture and praying for God's blessing on one's local church activities at some time on Saturday will surely add to our experience of God on a Sunday. Thought too needs to be given to Sunday mornings. The hustle and bustle often makes, just getting to Church on time, a real chore and can add to tension. Sadly we often are more concerned as to our dress than to our attitudes. For cooks Sunday mornings can be a particular hazardous event with seemingly mountains of work to be got through before (in Ireland) 10:30 a.m. and more hassle after morning worship. (usually around 11.00am) In many churches the last five minutes prior to commencement of worship can be like the rush-hour in any mainline railway station!
(c) WHOLE-HEARTED INVOLVEMENT IN WORSHIP:- now I know that
sometimes we can arrive at worship feeling battered from Satan's attacks. Yet I believe
that God does call us to active involvement in worship. Thank God too for His lovely
promises and the aid of the Holy Spirit. He actually will enable us to worship.
A moment of stillness; a silent prayer even for help; a reading of a worship hymn;
a verse or two of Scripture; use of the music; an awareness of my fellow-worshipers. Worshipers are all very different in temperament and abilities, yet variety and gift
should enrich rather than lessen our enjoyment of worship. Sitting where I can see, hear,
participate, resolving to worship together can all help my involvement.
Other practical steps can include carrying my bible to follow the readings; taking notes of
sermon headings and comments; praying with the pray-er; worshiping God in the
Offering; whole-hearted singing; thoughtful and meaningful gestures. Planning to stay for
the Breaking of Bread service. Thoughtful conversations with others before and after the
main activities and a deliberate seeking to personally allow worship to lead to God