WHAT IS WORSHIP?
IT’S AN EXPRESSION OF RELATIONSHIP AND NOT OF RULES
The theme of this year’s “Spring Harvest” – which sadly could only be found online due to the Covid restrictions – was our “Unrivalled God”. It was accepted that there are many “gods” (small “g”) in this world but there is only one “God” (capital “G”), the maker of Heaven and Earth and the creator of all life. He is unrivalled and He only should we worship. Over the next four sessions I am going to be sharing with you my reflections on some of the teaching that they delivered, focusing on the who, what and how of worship
INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES: WHAT IS WORSHIP?
There are many different FORMS that worship can take: it can be through singing and praising, through extolling in spoken words, through writing poetry, through painting, through dancing, through serving, through sacrificing…
But what IS worship???
My contention in this series is that WORSHIP IS A RELATIONSHIP – AND THAT IT SHOULD BE THE RELATIONSHIP THAT WE HAVE WITH ALMIGHTY GOD.
There are many different types of relationship – some good and some bad. There is filial relationship – from a parent to their child; a sibling relationship – from brother to sister; a spousal relationship – that of a husband to his wife; a work relationship; a friendship relationship; a political relationship; and, I am afraid, abusive relationships.
But, only one – a worship relationship – is pure and complete. And we are going to be looking, over these four sessions, at what a worship relationship looks like.
Percy Sledge famously sang: “When a man loves a woman can’t keep his mind on nothin’ else; he’d trade the world for the good thing he’s found” and I think that this human metaphor is the closest thing I can find that explains what worship is. What is worship? In the marriage vows a man promises the woman he loves that “with my body, I thee worship” – it is as if he is saying “It’s all about you! No one else is ever going to get in the way. I adore you for who you are, and I shall live for you, love you, serve you and sacrifice myself for you”. That’s worship! If you have ever experienced that overwhelming, gooey, deep feeling of love for another person who become more important to you than anything else, then I think you are getting close to what worship is…
Worship is what you give yourself to – as the first, the most important, the most precious, thing or person in your life. It is felt through emotion, but it is a decision that is shown through commitment as emotions are notoriously fickle.
Worship has to be REAL. It cannot be forced on us through RULES (“you must bow down and worship me!”). It is expressed through RELATIONSHIP – because you are the most important thing in the world to me, I commit myself to you, I adore you, I serve you, I sing your praises to the world – for you are the most wonderful, awesome, beautiful person in all the world”.
So…you WORSHIP that which is No.1 in your life, that which you choose to live for and give yourself for.
WHO DO YOU WORSHIP?
IF WE DON’T WORSHIP THE RIGHT THING, WE’LL WORSHIP THE WRONG THING
There is a counselling strategy that asks a female to tip out their bag and a male to empty their pockets – the theory is that by looking at the contents of what they carry with them, it can be determined the things that are most important to them, that the contents laid out will “give you away”: your credit/debit cards and your cash will show where your security lies; your smart phone will show the importance of your social relationships (particularly in your use of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter); your photos will show the importance of your spouse and family; your keys will show your status; your work pass will show the importance of your employment; your paracetamol will show your dependence on worldly solutions; your iPad will show the importance of music and knowledge in your life.
This counselling technique is being used more and more in the church to show where your worship lies. Take care! Just because things are important to you – your house and your job and your family – doesn’t mean that you worship them.
Importance and worship are NOT the same thing.
But, if something or someone becomes the MOST important thing in your life. If they become the reason that you live and the one for whom you live – then you are worshipping a counterfeit god.
Look at the man who worships their football team. Look at the woman whose bedroom is festooned with pictures of Elvis Presley. What is important to them has become a god for them. And they worship them.
A person is born to worship – Isaiah 43: 21 tells us that God formed us to worship him – this is not forcing us – this is all about being in intimate relationship with him. This is reciprocal – it is good for us. and if we don’t worship Him (the “right thing”) then we will worship something/one else (the “wrong thing”).
So maybe we need to pause right here and take some “time out” for reflection – some time to look at the things that are important to us – our family, our work, our leisure activities – and ask whether we are worshipping them; to take some time out to look at our relationship with God – and ask whether He is truly the object of our worship – if He is the first in our lives.
PSALM 146: THE “WHO” AND THE “WHY” OF WORSHIP
The Psalms were true expressions of worship through intimate and honest relationship with God. The writers spoke of their pain and their joy, times of hardship and fear, and times of hope and anticipation. They teach us the “who” and “why” of worship; they bring us into the presence of a holy God – and none more so than Psalm 146.
Let us take this Psalm two verses at a time…
- Verses 1 and 2
Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
2 I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
This is known as a “Hallelujah Psalm” because it begins as it ends – “Praise the LORD”.
Hallelujah (the last 2 words – on the right) literally means “Praise the LORD” where Halal is a verb meaning to praise, to commend, to boast and to shine. So, praising the Lord means letting Him shine forth to the world, boasting about Him and commending Him as being worthy of all our worship. “Jah” is a poetical abbreviation of…
“LORD” is, of course יְהוָה, which is known as the Tetragrammaton. The use of this word (always shown in capital letters in the English translation) means there is no doubt as to the One that we are called to Praise – it is YWHW – Yahweh – the One and Only God – no-one else.
Completing verse 1 we are told that it is our “soul” which should praise Him. The word “soul” is the Hebrew word נַפְשִׁ = “nephesh” which speaks of the “whole person” – breath, thoughts, emotions. So we see that our worship of God is to be from the whole of our being – our emotions, our thoughts, our body, our speech, our actions. All that is “me” should be my worship to God. This is awesome! We begin to get a sense that worship is to do with everything that I am, and not limited to special times or specific acts of service or adoration.
This thought is picked up as we go into verse 2 where we are called to praise God all our lives and as long as we live. This is not the same thing said in two different ways.
We are never too young to worship, and neither are we ever too old. It is a life-long attitude and shows once again that worship is born out of relationship – and relationship is forever (or at least should be when it comes to God). So, we “sing praise as long as [we] live”.
I find the first phrase “all my life” more interesting. This shows that worship is not limited to set times – such as the Sunday service or our daily prayer times. Worship is relational and so is constantly. We would not say to our wife “I will adore you on a Saturday, and (if you are lucky) one evening in the week” and neither should we limit our worship of God.
The importance of this can be seen in the sad and sorry story of the American Anton LaVey (1930-1997), the infamous founder of the so-called church of Satan, who cited hypocrisy in Christian worship as being a major factor in his going over to the “dark side”. As a young musician he saw men attending bawdy shows on a Saturday who then were in tears at a “revival meeting” in church on Sunday and were then seen beating their wives on Monday. These men’s worship was based on rules and not relationship. Worship must be “all [our] lives” – all day, every day.
- Verses 3 and 4
Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Here we have it! WHO are you going to worship? If you don’t worship the right thing then you’re going to worship the wrong thing.
Who is it that is going to get my worship, who is going to get my life? Is it God in whom I CAN trust? Is it God in whom I CAN put my hope? Is it God who is going to get my submission, my adoration, my abandonment, my all? Or is it going to be the idols of family, work, pleasure and success?
Let us choose to worship the One who is worthy of our praise, the One who will never let us down. As verse 4 tells us, any other focus of our worship is going to eventually let us down: a spouse will die, a child will leave home, money will be lost, pleasure will grow dull – and then all our worship of them will be seen to be futile and pointless and a waste. Even the great apostle John had to learn this lesson – having seen and heard incredible things in the Revelation we are told (Revelation 22: 8-9):
when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. 9 But he said to me, ‘Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!’
- Verses 5 and 6
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them –
he remains faithful for ever.
So now we get to the section of the Psalm where the writer declares the WHY of worship. And we see that we worship not because of what He expects or demands but because of what He has done and what He now promises to do.
We worship Him because:
- We are so “blessed” – so fortunate, so “lucky, lucky, lucky” by all He has done…which is what…?
- He is our very present help in times of trouble
- He is our hope that all things will work out for our good and that in the end we shall spend eternity with Him
- He is the awesome and loving creator of all that there is – He is all-powerful and more than able to do anything that is needed
- He is always faithful – we can trust in Him to stick by us even when we walk away from Him, we can be certain that He will always keep all His promises to us
And there’s more…
- Verses 7 and 8
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
8 the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
- He is always on our side and is our protector – our shield and our defender
- He is our provider – Jehovah Jireh – and will ensure we have what we need
- He has set us free from the law of sin and death – our sins are forgiven, we have been shown mercy and He has poured out His Grace on us
- We therefore need to no longer fear
- He has opened our eyes up to see the glories of the Lord
- He wipes away every tear and there shall be no more death
And there’s more…
- Verses 9 and 10
The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The Lord reigns for ever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.
- He’s on our side even when we have lost everything, even when we are all alone, even when we are rejected by the people amongst whom we live and are treated like unwanted aliens
- And the wicked will get their “come-uppance” – maybe not today, but eventually
And then FINALLY, in verse 10, we are called to worship Him simply because of who He is. This reminds me of the words added to the end of the Lord’s Prayer – “For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, forever and ever, AMEN!”
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ON THIS…
The amazing thing about worship of God is that it is not about going through a process in the hope that we will get what we want; rather it is a relationship borne out of the truth of what we have already been given:
- We worship an idol in the hope that it will give us long life.
We worship God because He HAS given us eternal life.
- We worship an idol in the hope that they will give us love.
We worship God because He first loved us – before we even knew Him.
- We worship an idol in the hope that they will grant us great riches.
We worship God because He has already bestowed on us riches beyond compare.
All other worship costs…costs a lot…costs everything. When we worship anything or anyone other than the LORD then there is a price to pay for getting any benefit at all. It is rightly said that “you have to pay the devil” – whether your worship is “sex, drugs or rock n’ roll” there is a terrible price to pay – now and for eternity.
If you don’t worship the right thing then you will worship the wrong thing. Psalm 146 wonderfully shows us why the right choice is to worship God.
And worship of Him is not a LEGAL requirement but a LIFESTYLE choice.
And worship of Him is not about following RULES but about having a real RELATIONSHIP with Him.
And to have a real RELATIONSHIP with Him we need to cry out for a fresh REVELATION of who He is and all that He has done for us and promises to do for us in the future.
And so together we cry out…PRAISE THE LORD
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- What struck you most about this teaching on worship?
- What is your understanding now of the meaning of the phrase “Hallelujah”?
- OK…if “praise” is an outward, maybe even public, expression of worship – then what forms can our praise/worship take? Try and look at some of the ways that you personally might not feel comfortable with. Spend some time on this as we will not be looking at this topic in the 4 sessions on “Worship 2021”.
- Finally, if worship is the relationship we have with God, then…how are you doing in this? And how can you build up your relationship with Him?