What is Worship?

When the church comes together to seek and honor God, it’s called “worship.” In many western churches, when we talk about worship, we mean the music. “The worship was moving, but the preaching wasn’t very good.” Most churches have a “worship team,” which is the band that leads the singing. I think we all understand that worship is a lifestyle, but that’s not how it comes across in church culture.

The Greek word for “worship” is proskuneo, and it literally means “to kiss the hand.” The image is like a dog licking its master’s hand. Within the culture, it was used to describe an act of reverence, to kneel before someone, to show homage toward a superior. Worship is a posture of honor.

If we’re really honest with ourselves, we know we’re supposed to come to worship to seek and honor God, but we do better at working to honor ourselves. We call our gatherings a “worship service,” but most attendees come to be served, not to serve. We complain if the music doesn’t appeal to us, we complain if the preaching doesn’t suit us, we complain if there’s no kids’ ministry, or if the youth group doesn’t meet our expectations. The church is like a club that offers various amenities to its membership. If a particular church doesn’t meet our needs, we’ll go find one that does. Most often this is not a malicious thing done out of spite, rather out of a sense of need, but it’s still fueled by pride and self-gratification.

Jesus said that the Father is seeking worshipers who worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23-24). I’ve understood this to refer to both the inner and outer life, both what we do and our motivation for doing it. Jews and Samaritans each had their own centers for worship (churches, if you will). Jesus’ statement comes on the heels of his conversation with the woman at the well about where the proper place for worship is. Jesus’ answer is that worship isn’t about where one worships, nor what one does, but rather why—what is the posture of your heart? What is the motive of worship?

I served as Senior Pastor to the same congregation for over 18 years. We could never really get away from the typical “opening song, welcome, two more songs, announcements, message, closing song” format. Announcements moved around a lot. Giving and communion were woven in different spots. But the people felt they needed the familiarity of a certain liturgy. Changing it too much always yielded complaints. Personally, I love walking into a worship setting that’s very foreign to my experience. It raises my sense of expectation and causes me to think beyond the limitations of what I already know. I seek God better in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Of course I still have my preferences, but my hope is that I will seek God and honor Him first in every setting.

Worship isn’t a liturgy. It isn’t traditions. Singing is worship, but worship isn’t limited to singing. In fact, if we sing the songs, but don’t live the life then we’re lying. Traditions that don’t teach what AND why become idols. Liturgy that doesn’t allow for the Spirit to move is a stumbling block. Worship is a perspective that informs and colors our life experience. Worship is the why behind what we do. We seek God, and we honor him.

Your job is worship. Your hobbies are worship. Your conversations are worship. How you interact with strangers and friends are worship. How you manage your family and household is worship. How you talk is worship. Your attitude is worship. How you spend your time and money are worship. Everyone worships. The question is, “Who, or what, are you worshiping?” There is a fine line between worship and addiction. Addiction is one’s desperate need for something, usually drugs, alcohol, pornography, or something destructive—something that can cost you your job, friendships, money, etc. Worship, on the other hand, is how we respond to the realization that what we are desperate for is God.

What does worship need to look like? More than an “order of service,” it’s an attitude—an outlook on life, a perspective, a motive. Worship is the “why” behind how we live, it’s a priority. I would even go so far as to say that worship is a worldview. Worship is looking for God in creation, in human interaction, and in every situation and circumstance. Worship is humility before God leading to mercy, grace, and compassion toward others. Worship is the story of your life with Jesus as the hero. Worship allows others to see God more clearly because of his presence and work in you.

When we worship together, maybe we sing songs, declaring together the greatness, goodness, and faithfulness of God. Maybe we read his word together and talk of his character, work, and our appropriate response. Maybe the most appropriate thing is to share our experiences with God (testimonies), or to lift up needs and concerns before God in prayer for one another, with one another. That’s the beauty of worship. It can look like anything!

Worship can lead us to sing, to pray, to sit in silence and listen, to help, to share our faith, to counsel and encourage, to strive to be a better parent… or a better son/daughter. Worship can lead us to remember through communion, to dedicate our live through baptism, or to rededicate our lives through confession. Worship leads us to understanding, and from there to repentance. What is worship leading you to do? How will you worship next?