By Will Graham
Perhaps there is no term so widely misunderstood in Christian circles nowadays as ‘worship.’ If you think that worship is something that believers do for an hour-and-a-half on a Sunday morning, you are in good company; but, I’m afraid to say, an erring company. Worship is much more than having a little sing-song once a week to keep our spirits up. When Abraham said he was going up the mountain to worship with Isaac, he didn’t mean that they were going to sing a selection of happy choruses.
So then, what is worship all about? How can we define it? The Hebrew and Greek biblical terms for worship convey two main ideas: 1) a physical sign of submission, such as the kissing of a hand or bowing down before someone. In this sense, the puritan Stephen Charnock spoke of worship as a ‘dog crawling on his belly before his master’ or, 2) It is a service carried out in obedience to God, for example, offering or serving others. True worship is obedience. From these couple of definitions, we can see that worship is something of an ‘outward’ phenomenon. It is something tangible, visible, identifiable and palpable. Worship cannot hide itself. Every time you get low before God, you are worshipping. When you bless your brethren in the Lord (or even the unsaved), you are worshipping.
Nevertheless, if we were to stop there with the ‘outward’ aspect of worship we would not be doing justice to the whole Scriptural corpus. The Old Testament prophets were constantly and zealously reminding the people of Israel that ‘outward’ worship and rituals were not enough to please God; the inner disposition of the worshipper had to be God-centred, God-focused and God-glorifying. This truth is precisely what Jesus reiterated to the Samaritan woman at the well, namely, that true worshippers worship ‘in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24). Any Holy Ghost filled saint can worship God anywhere and everywhere. You do not have to be in Jerusalem (or Samaria for that matter) to worship God! Why? Because worship is more than ‘outward,’ it is also ‘inward.’ God looks upon the heart. It is this all-consuming desire to give Him honour and glory in all things that constitutes true worship. Worship must be present in everything you do and everywhere you go.
Worship, then, is holistic. It is to affect all the spheres of our life, not just our church life or spiritual life. John MacArthur observed that, “worship cannot be... relegated to just one segment of our lives.” Our ‘inward’ passion for God is to spill over ‘outwardly’ into every activity and relationship that we have during the week. The Protestant Reformers rightly refuted the medieval idea of Catholicism that worship was only to be offered by the priestly class and mystic monks; they realised that every saint is a worshipper. We believe in the priesthood of all believers. This means that in your 9-to-5 job, you can worship God. When you play with your kids, you can worship God. When you tell your wife you love her, you can worship God. When you do the washing up, you can worship God. The Lord wants us to make sure that the glorious spirit of worship invades our whole life and inundates all of our words, thoughts and actions. True worship goes ‘beyond Sunday.’ Remember the words of Abraham Kuyper, “In the total expanse of human life, there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare: That is mine!”
The reason that biblical worship is holistic is because, as well as being inward and outward, it is ‘upward,’ or, in other words, ‘God-ward.’ If God is truly sovereign over all things, then everything you do can be considered worship (if your motive in doing that thing is to please God). Worship doesn’t have to stop when you sit down for your Sunday roast. Even when you eat or drink, do it all for His glory (1 Corinthians 10.31). This is a liberating thought. A ‘God-ward’ heart is a worshipping heart. Thomas Watson identified a ‘godly’ man as a worshipping man. He is to be raptured with delightful thoughts of his Master day and night. He never grows tired of contemplating the Majestic One.
Here’s a challenge for you: just try for a moment to think of everything that God entails; the purity of His essence, the mystery of the Trinity and the preciousness of His attributes and when you’ve done that (if you’ve been able to), meditate upon all that God has done: His wonderful work of creation (for example, the blue skies, the green hills and the countless beauties we witness in nature) and His free grace revealed in the sinner’s redemption. And when you’ve done that, think of all the worship that is due to Him for His infinite mercy, goodness, love and holiness shown to man and a myriad of angels since the dawn of creation and yea, even beyond that to eternity past.
And when you’ve arrived at that pinnacle, that is, when you’ve got the purest, most refined, most elevated, most sublime thought of God that mortal man has ever ventured to think; when you sense yourself almost crushed by the overawing grandeur of His incomparable and matchless splendour, then I invite you to lift your hands in the air and confess aloud: ‘This grand and priceless thought I have is not in the slightest bit worthy of my almighty God. It is an altogether feeble, loathsome and despicable thought! It is but a drop of water in a vast and boundless ocean. My God is so much higher! He is so much bigger! He is so much greater than I can ever think or imagine!’
This ‘God-ward’ attitude will bring continual bliss to the Christian heart. It is as we worship God-wards that life becomes paradise. You are in heaven before you even get there! This biblical worship, which is completely grounded in God, leads to what Andrew Murray called, ‘absolute surrender.’ It is no longer I, but Christ. It makes every day an endless Sabbath. The soul that lives in this state has been seduced by the irresistible beauty of our Triune God and sees attraction in no other place but in Christ.
Worship is ‘outward’ and ‘inward’ because it is ‘God-ward.’ If your understanding of biblical worship has been lacking, may God so revive your soul that your whole existence on earth may be converted into an incessant praise of our great God and Saviour. Worship, worship, worship, and when you’ve worshipped all you can, worship a little more! It is good practice for eternity. Make sure your worship is outward; make sure your worship is inward; and brethren, above all, make sure your worship is God-ward!