What Is The Essence of Worship?

Posted by on Jan 27, 2015 in Blog, Sam | 0 comments

Several years ago, I joined a local business organization. Their stated intention was to help business people do their job better; a kind of coaching through semi-monthly seminars.

Contemporary Worship


At the opening and close of each session, we sang a song that went something like this: “Yes, I can do it; Yes, I can do it; I have a positive frame of mind.” (I kid you not—truth is stranger than fiction.) By the end of the evening, every face was aglow with expectation; and two weeks later, everybody needed another face-lift.

I also found their teachings to be less substance and more selling. Instead of nourishing tips on handling angry clients, I received frothy, double-shot lattes of motivational, positive thinking. The talks were inspiring but insubstantial; caffeine without fruit or vegetables. Or protein.

Then I began to wonder how close my worship-music experience paralleled that seminar jingle feeling; maybe a boost to my spirits to face another week, but mostly just a jolt of java.

Bear with me. Worshipful music is wonderful. But I began to examine the nature of worship. I asked myself, “What is the essence of worship? Does worship require music?”

I tried an experiment: I took a six month sabbatical from any form of worship music—personal prayer time, worship CD’s, and even singing during a church service—and I found I love it.

Song-free worship taught me how to worship better.

Because real worship changes us

Real worship is a two-way street. The English word, “worship,” comes from the Old English phrase, “worth-shape.” The worth of our subject shapes our souls. Everyone worships something—fame, wealth, or a good family—and the value we give it drives our lives.

Psalm 115 says the gods of the peoples have unseeing eyes, unhearing ears, and unfeeling hands. Then it claims, “Those who make them become like them, and so do all who worship them” (vs. 8). It says that the act of worship re-forms us in the image of the thing we worship.

If we worship success, we become arrogant (or depressed) and if we worship people-pleasing, the fear of rejection rules our behavior. Our object of worship controls our lives.

If we examine our biggest problems—our anger, deepest sadness, anxieties, or most uncontrollable behaviors—we will always find an object of worship cracking its whip. Our problem in life is that we functionally worship other gods, taskmasters with whips in hand.

So what is worship?

Real worship is more than singing praises; it is the act of giving away our hearts. Worship is attributing ultimate value to something; it thinks, “If I had that I’d be happy;” it is a deep belief of the heart that says, “That is all I need.”

Worship is what we most deeply value. It’s not just the times we set aside to sing praise songs. We are constantly worshipping. Moment-by-moment, we live for something. “Where our treasure is, there will our hearts and minds be also.”

Archbishop William Temple wrote, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.” What do we think about when we wait in line or drive to work? Where does our mind naturally drift when no external force (like TV, work, or screaming kids) engages it?

Our minds drift to what we most deeply believe we need. It imagines kids on the honor roll, our names in lights, bank accounts full, a different spouse, our bosses serving us, or our ministries suddenly exploding in success. Something deep down inside us believes that is our greatest need; that “that” will make us happy.

This is worship.

What do we do?

We need a change of mind; we need a vision of God that destroys the earthly religion of what we do in our solitude. We need an intense focus (of heart, mind, soul and strength) on the beauty of God. It means looking, gazing, meditating, and reflecting on the majesty of God

We can reform our worship by a conscious decisions to attribute ultimate value to the Ultimate Being who is ultimately beyond us; and yet who sits beside us on our front porch and lives within us as we wash the dishes. It is a decision to think and meditate on God. It’s worship.

Singing can be an act of worship, but it isn’t worship itself. It is ever-so-possible (and we’ve all probably done it), to sing a half-hour of godly worship songs—and even temporarily be inspired—and then return to our “normal” lives where we grasp for appreciation, praise, health, or financial peace.

Real worship, instead, is an inner vision of the reality of God, and giving all our hearts to him.

And worship music can open the rusty doors of our heart to spiritually see what the dust of the world obscures. The gods of this world constantly tempt us in Superbowl commercials and the success of others around us. Singing truths reminds us of how reality really works.

It is in the truth of the songs—which the music unveils—that changes us forever. We come to see the amazing God through singing of his Amazing Grace; and that sight shifts the deep song in our hearts to a new rhythm that remains. Even when the emotional high dissipates.

Substance over hype

That seminar jingle, “Yes, I can do it; I have a positive frame of mind,” was vapor-ware, a sales pitch to myself based on nothing but smoke and mirrors.

Worship of the real God reveals rock-solid truths to my heart: that he is all I need, that hehas done it, and I’ll never be the same. Only worship of the real God will really satisfying.

I’m glad I’m singing about God once more. It comes from a real positive frame of mind.


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