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Worship 101: What is worship?

Worship music is a beautiful way to connect with the heart of God. Did you know that it’s not the only way Christian’s can worship Him?

I had a conversation recently with a friend who used to be on a worship team. They had stepped down from the team and told me they “didn’t feel God’s presence in the music anymore.” I asked them to elaborate and they said, “I just don’t feel it anymore. What’s the point in being on a worship team if I don’t feel like worshiping?” It made me wonder, what does worshiping even feel like?

Most Sunday’s when I lead worship, I don’t feel it either. I’m a perfectionist and my mind is constantly worrying about forgetting a chord or a lyric, or not smiling enough, or not praying correctly between songs. I can’t even focus on how I’m feeling about worship because I’m so focused on the performance of it all!

That’s exactly why I wanted to write about worship. I wanted to explore it for myself, but when I started studying it, I realized that there must be others dealing with this. I feel a little embarrassed that I had some wrong ideas about worship, even though I am a worship leader at my church. Thank goodness that God is a gentle Father who doesn’t condemn us for misunderstanding one of His beautiful gifts. He reminds us that we’re making things more difficult than they should be and helps us to find the answers in His word.

Worship can be a hot-button issue in the church world, right? There’s always a tension between traditional and contemporary. What type of music do we play? Do we use stage lights? Do we sing from a hymnal? Do we raise our hands or clap? Do we sit, stand, lie down, or dance? I’ve known churches to split because of this. Half the church wants to stay in the traditional world and the other half wants to become more contemporary. It can be a source of frustration, but neither side is wrong, technically.

That’s the problem I started seeing in myself. Many of us hear “worship” and immediately think of Sunday morning music or only listening to the “Christian” station on the radio. I’ve discovered music is not all there is to worship and Sunday service shouldn’t be the only time we worship. Would you believe me if I told you that worship doesn’t have to include music at all? What if I said that many people do not connect to God through music and worship in other ways instead? To explain that, I’ll break down how worship is defined, both biblically and literally.

What is worship?

The definition of “worship” is “to show reverence and adoration for something, typically a deity (god).” The root meaning of “worship” has been etymologized as “worthiness or worth-ship”—to give worth to something. In its very nature, worship is how we respond to the thing we value the absolute most! The thing we spend most of our time thinking about, doing, giving the most attention to, putting all our energy into; That tells us what we truly worship and too often, we are unintentionally worshiping something other than God.

Have you ever seen people at a college or professional sports event? People painted head-to-toe in their team colors, shouting and cheering their team on, crying tears of joy when they win or grief when they lose, and even getting into fights over the outcome of a game. Or how about going to a concert or music festival? People screaming their adoration towards the stage, hands raised in hopes that those on stage will notice them, clothing with the performer’s likeness, and every lyric to every song is memorized. Would you believe those are forms of worship?

These are mostly harmless, of course. There’s nothing wrong with cheering your team on or being excited to see your favorite band live. I do these things! It becomes an issue only when the “worship” of these other things overshadows your worship of God. When people around you recognize your love for your team more than your love for God, that’s a problem. If you can get all your friends to start listening to your favorite artist, but none of them have ever heard about Jesus or know Him as a savior, what have you accomplished? 

Let’s get a little more personal. Have you ever found yourself worrying about what your friends think about you, going so far as to change your appearance or your personality to what you believe will make them accept you? Maybe you think about money more than anything else? You find yourself driven by how much you can make because your parents were barely able to make ends meet when you were young. Perhaps you’ve been in a relationship where all you could focus on was your partner, then, the relationship falls apart and so do you. You completely forget how to survive without that other person in your life. Harmful as they can be, these are forms of worship, too.

God designed us to worship, but to only worship Him. Our worship should be a reaction to everything He’s done for us and a time to focus on Him. Often, our attention is pulled in so many directions and we get distracted. When life throws you a curveball or when you come face-to-face with the consequences of our actions, how do you react? Do you run to your friends, money, jobs, significant other, alcohol, or something worse? Or do you run to your Creator and let Him catch you? When life gets hard, whatever you immediately turn to is likely what you worship.

The good news is that the Bible tells us how to redirect our focus and worship back onto God. It’s an outward expression of inward surrender and there’s no wrong way to do it. It’s wonderful and necessary for refocusing our minds on God. He doesn’t require some complicated, perfect, spotless form of worship. He just wants your heart, exactly as it is, and your full attention. 1 Chronicles 16:23-31 covers many ways we can worship God and why we should worship Him. I’d also like to point out: not every verse says to “sing” or “play music” either.

Verse 23: Let the whole earth sing to the LORD! Each day proclaim the good news that he saves.
Verse 24: Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.
Verse 25: Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise! He is to be feared above all gods.
Verse 26: The gods of other nations are mere idols, but the LORD made the heavens!
Verse 27: Honor and majesty surround him; strength and joy fill his dwelling.
Verse 28: O nations of the world, recognize the LORD, recognize that the LORD is glorious and strong.
Verse 29: Give to the LORD the glory he deserves! Bring your offering and come into his presence. Worship the LORD in all his holy splendor.
Verse 30: Let all the earth tremble before him. The world stands firm and cannot be shaken.
Verse 31: Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Tell all the nations, “The LORD reigns!”

The three ways here that the author of Chronicles (believed to be Ezra) gives us as forms of worship is singing, telling others, and writing. The main forms of communication are covered here: music, publication, and interpersonal conversation. That’s not the whole list, though! You can worship with interpretive dancing, acting out a play, working on your neighbor’s car, building a house, sitting quietly by yourself and reading your bible, journaling what you’ve learned at church, working hard at your job with a grateful heart, or praying. Prayer is a powerful form of worship.

Then, the author gives us several reasons why we should worship God. All other gods are only puny idols and our God is mighty and to be feared. Our God made the heavens and earth. Our God is glorious, strong, joyful, merciful, and worthy of praise. The earth trembles before Him and rejoices because of Him. He reigns! The bible says He loves us, knew us in our mother’s womb, has great and mighty things planned for us, will never leave us nor forsake(abandon) us, and because of Jesus’ sacrifice, He forgives us of all sins and opens the doors of heaven to us. Doesn’t that make you want to jump up and shout and clap and raise your hands and scream “THANK YOU!” at the top of your lungs?

That’s worship. Worship isn’t about us, it’s all about Him. It’s is a powerful weapon against our spiritual enemy. It’s comforting when we need God to move in our lives. Worship draws us closer to the mighty God who made everything who longs to wrap us in His arms. Worship is unique to everyone. All that matters is that you worship God and enter into His presence with whatever gifts you have, no matter how big or small. Giving God everything you have is true worship.

(1) And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
(2) Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Romans 12:1-2 (New Living Translation)

If you play an instrument or just the radio, worship Him that way. If you work with your hands to fix or build things, worship Him that way. If you’re good with finances and you can teach others to budget wisely, worship Him that way. If you’re gifted in praying for others, worship Him that way. If you’re good at writing or teaching, worship Him that way. If you’re into bodybuilding or fitness, worship Him that way. If you’re a homemaker, a stay-at-home mom or dad, stuck in bed or the house, or you work from home, worship Him that way.

Wherever you are, whatever you do, whoever you’re near, no matter what time of day or year, and no matter your circumstances, worship God with all you have and all you are and be amazed at the many great things He can do in your life. Worship is the song you write with the way you live your life.

By Serena Bond

Since her time on earth began, Serena has loved music in all its forms. She plays guitar, piano, and sings along to everything. When not writing about music, she is a worship pastor at her church, wife to her loving husband (also a pastor), avid tabletop and video gamer, and a feisty gnome druid, Quil, in her D&D campaign. She also enjoys annoying her cat, Yuri.

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