Worship is not simply another of the ten practices of following Jesus, it’s more like the practice beneath all the other practices. You see, God is not after external compliance; he’s after our hearts. He wants us to engage in the practices of Jesus wholeheartedly because we delight in him and fully trust him to satisfy our lives.
1. The Meaning of Worship.
What do you think of when you hear the word “worship”? Do you imagine a dry, dull, compulsory act of honoring, serving, or praising God? Or do you imagine something vibrant and life-giving? Do you imagine worship as something everyone does, or just “religious” people? Many Christians (and others) associate worship with either a worship service or worship music. It’s just an event to attend or a song to sing. Others see worship as far more comprehensive.
The Old English word “worthship” meant to acknowledge someone’s worth. It meant giving to God everything he’s worthy of – like giving him “the glory due his name” (1 Chronicles 16:29).
In biblical Hebrew and Greek, worship had a dozen or more nuances – including bowing down in reverence, sacrificing to, serving, singing, seeking after, rejoicing, giving thanks to, glorifying, and more.
In summary, true worship is the response of all that we are to all that God is, all that God has done, and all that God promises. We see each of these categories illustrated at length in 1 Chronicles 16.
2. The Heart of Worship.
Jesus said the Father is seeking those who will worship him in spirit and in truth. We must worship the true God in light of his self-revelation in Scripture and we must worship sincerely from the heart.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism rightly articulates that our “chief end” – that is, our main purpose and goal in life – “is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Glorify and enjoy. These are not two distinct things but two interrelated aspects of one thing: worship!
To glorify God means to praise, honor, exalt, and extol the virtues of God. It means magnifying and calling attention to his greatness and goodness. But what is this enjoyment bit?
In every other facet of life, we always glorify someone or something by delighting in him/her/it. We delight in food, and drink, and sex, and entertainment, and vacations, and money. We proclaim the worth of things by celebrating them and building our sense of meaning on them. So why do we treat the worship of God so differently? Why do we attempt this hard sell of pretending that we’re supposed to reverence God and serve God, but not also enjoy him and delight in him?
Think about this. How do you glorify and enjoy a God who says, “I am the fountain of living water … I am the bread of life … I am the good shepherd … etc.”? You eat, and drink, and follow, and rest. You find strength, and joy, and flourishing in his care for you.
So we conclude that the heart of worship is not walking away from satisfaction and joy in order to honor God. Rather, the heart of worship is being fully satisfied in God – Father, Son, and Spirit – and sharing your delight with others.
3. The Renewal of Worship.
If you don’t feel that kind of satisfaction and delight in God, what can you do?
If you don’t feel that way about God, it’s guaranteed you feel that way about someone or something else. We’re all worshipers – so we all seek contentment and joy in something. What is that something for you? What do you look to and honor as:
- A source of your identity, self, or self-worth?
- A source of hope, meaning, or purpose?
- A source of rescue, protection, safety, or salvation?
- A source of satisfaction or contentment?
- A source of pleasure, joy, or delight?
That thing – whether it’s money, possessions, your career, the esteem of others, sports, sex, food, autonomy, your kids, your opinions, an ideology, or anything else – is the object of your worship.
Need some more help identifying those idols in your heart? Here are four simple tests:
- What occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about? What do your thoughts go back to over and over?
- Where do you spend your time and money effortlessly?
- What is your real, functional, daily salvation? What are you living for? What makes you feel alive, important, and successful?
- Look at your most uncontrolled emotions. What makes you livid, despondent, terrified, or ashamed – deeply and repeatedly?
Make a habit of stopping yourself throughout the course of an ordinary day and asking, “What am I worshiping right this moment?”
Repentance is not simply saying you’re sorry. It’s changing your mind, your perspective, your view of reality, to agree with God.
Confess that your idols (alternate objects of worship) are empty and vain. Turn around and walk away from them, acknowledging that they over-promise and under-deliver, and are simply not worthy of your attention and affection.
Trust God that he is worthy to be glorified. But also trust that he can and will fully satisfy the deepest and most human longings of your heart. Depend on him to be the fountain of living water in your life, in contrast to all the broken cisterns that hold no water.
Nature abhors a vacuum. You cannot simply empty yourself of false worship. You must turn your heart fully and frequently to Jesus. The old Scottish minister, Thomas Chalmers, referred to this as “the expulsive power of a new affection.”
Don’t just sit around and expect this new affection to magically happen on its own. Stoke that love and appreciation by spending time with the Lord and with his Word, meditating on who he is, what he’s done, and what he promises. Let those truths comfort, strengthen, and delight your soul!