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How does someone truly worship?
Personal Questions - VBVM Staff - April 27, 2011
Q. How does one truly worship? Is worship learned or is it something that you just do naturally? Does it require a certain feeling or emotional state?
A. By worship, we assume you are referring to the practice of Christians singing praise music during a church service. Obviously, worship is a much broader concept than this narrow definition, but many Christians have come to see worship in this limited context.
Scripture, on the other hand, defines worship as obedience. For example, Paul defines worship this way:
Rom. 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.
Notice that Paul doesn't define worship as having anything to do with a mood or a feeling. It certainly isn't focused on singing or music at all. These types of "worship" are merely outward expressions of our faith and love for God, and though they may have some value, they are not the substance of true worship. True worship is obedience to God through His Spirit and His word.
Furthermore, our feelings and mood are counterproductive when trying to establish appropriate worship practices. Instead, we are called to praise and worship the Lord despite our circumstances. For example, Paul praised the Lord for hours after receiving a beating and while chained in a dark jail cell (see Acts 16). If worship were conditioned on emotion and feelings, Paul would never have found reason to praise God. Similarly, the writer of Hebrews instructed:
Heb. 13:15 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.
Our understanding of praise or worship shouldn't be merely a form of musical celebration contingent on having the right mood or emotion. The Bible says true worship and praise is rooted in a life of obedience and is a continual activity.
We can find a good example of this distinction in the Old Testament book of 1Samuel. The prophet Samuel admonished King Saul with these words:
1Sam. 15:22 Samuel said,
“ Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
Worship in that day took the form of burnt offerings and sacrifices given in the temple, and Samuel asks the King is it better to perform worship (i.e., to offer the sin sacrifices in the temple) or to obey the Lord? The answer is clear: it is better to obey God than to offer Him sacrifices. God's first and highest desire for His people is that we obey Him. If we fail to obey Him but come to "praise" Him in "worship," we are hypocrites.
Israel was once guilty of approaching God in worship with hearts that did not obey Him, and about those people the Lord said through Isaiah:
Is. 29:13 Then the Lord said,
“Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,
Is. 29:14 Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous;
And the wisdom of their wise men will perish,
And the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.”
God promises a great judgment against Israel for their conceit and hypocrisy.
Likewise, we today must be aware that how we spend our time singing or praising God's name in a worship service is important only if it is preceded by a life of obedience and service to Him.
If a believer is living a holy and sanctified life in obedience to the Spirit and the word of God, then such a person is also likely to find it easy to express their love and praise for God in a worship service, just as they do on a continual basis outside the church building. Their praise will come naturally from the Spirit's leading.
Conversely, if a Christian is not accustomed to walking with the Spirit and seeking God's counsel in His word and if they don't make a practice of worshipping as a daily (if not hourly) activity, then they will find any expression of worship difficult, including the kind that takes place on Sunday morning.
There is nothing magical about worship (setting aside supernatural manifestations of Spirit), because it should be the moment-to-moment practice of our life. When we attend a church service, we don't come to "worship." According to Scripture, we gather together for the purpose of serving and encouraging one another, learning God's word, and lending our voices to public confession, prayer and praise of God. These activities are made meaningful to God when they are done in a true heart that desires to know and obey God through His word. Taken together, this is true worship.
If you are interested in hearing more teaching on obedience as it relates to worship, we invite you to listen to our teaching on Obedience as Worship.