Worship is basically attempting to see the world through the “Light of the Word” and submitting to the sovereign authority of God through singing His praise and thanksgiving.
”A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell”.- C. S. Lewis
A 13 year old girl fasted for 68 days while drinking only water as part of a religious ceremony and her condition deteriorated to cause death resulting in a debate about religious practices. During various religious events of many faiths it is a common sight to witness people resorting to various acts causing physical pain to them to please the deity. Piercing of body parts, rolling on the earth to reach the place of worship and many more such acts are seen being performed by the worshippers. Getting sacred water from a place/river, by walking long distances on foot, to use it to cleanse the idol on a particular day with that water is another form. We decide to punish our bodies in such an extreme manner to worship and please god to shower his blessings on us. I was asked by a young boy about the importance of such acts as part of worship to please god. Does God enjoy His creation undergoing such penance?
Defining worship – Worship is any act of recognizing the sovereignty of God and honoring Him with love and absolute surrender to His authority. It is an expression from the core of the heart of the highest degree of priority that we give God in our life. It is not only for seeking Divine blessings for the future but to thank Him for what He has already provided to us. It is thus a continuous act and not a one time or a particular day/time event. Worship is to remember the natural and moral attributes of God and praise Him for the same. Worship is thus to praise God for what He is, for His love, righteousness, patience, kindness and goodness on the one hand and submission to His omnipotence and omnipresence etc. It should thus be a part of our life per se and not some special act enacted for God at a particular time to impress Him and others. It is praise Him and thank Him for what He is and what He has done for us and must take precedence over everything else in our lives.
Why should we worship? – God is complete and perfect in Himself and nothing can add to His stature as God. We worship God for what He is and not for anything else. “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and entire universe is a testimony of His love for all is not only beautiful but prefect in itself. “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord” (Psalm 96:11-13). Worship is acknowledging God’s love for He loved us first; in creating us and making all provisions for our life to be sustained on the earth. He is Almighty and in control of everything and deserves our praise. King David who has written so many Psalms to praise and worship God could look at himself and the Omniscient and Omnipresent nature of God to exclaim in awe “What is man that You are mindful of them, human beings that You care for them?” (Psalm 8:4). We are a speck of dust before God and through praise and worship we extol the Holy name of God who loves us despite our sinful nature.
Lord Jesus had performed the miracle of feeding five thousand men and their families to their fill with five loaves of barley bread and two fish and all of them mightily pleased. But “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make Him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by Himself” (John 6:15). God as Creator is the owner of all creation and through the process itself He displayed His divine power to create everything from nothing. Our worship should be for His worth and not His wealth on the assumption that He has and will provide us His riches for a joyful life for us. He does not require or demand worship but deserves this for His being.
When did worship commence? – “In the beginning God created heavens” (Genesis 1:1) and all that is in it- the heavenly Temple, the angels and all that we are not aware of. Since heavens are lit by God’s glory and all that is there was created in the light of His glory, everything has a uniqueness about itself. The angels are exceptionally powerful and everything is absolutely marvelous as was seen and described by Apostle John of the heavenly Jerusalem which description culminates with “The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass” (Revelation 21:11-21). The angels witnessed such great opulence around them and then witnessed the throne of the Almighty God and His glory and like King David realized their own nothingness in comparison. Out of reverence and awe they covered their own faces and their feet in the presence of the Almighty as seen by Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-4). This worship procedure of angels is exceptional and is the guide for us to follow. The angels cover their faces as an act of recognizing and accepting their glory and state as of no value in front of the Creator and their walk being merged as subservient to the will of God. Their repeated proclamation also declares the same fact “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3).
Who should we worship? – There is a question generally raised, should we worship Lord Jesus or the Holy Spirit in addition to God the Father. The Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are three in being but one in unity. Thus each deserves to be worshipped in Himself but our Lord categorically asserted that “I am the way, and the truth and the life” (John 14:6) and the way cannot be the destination but is leading to the same. In addition He repeatedly asserted “The Son can do nothing by Himself, He can do only what He sees His Father doing” (John 5:19). Lord Jesus is “our Apostle and High Priest” (Hebrews 3:1) and an Apostle reveals His Master and a High Priest must have a Master to worship. In like manner the promise of the Lord about sending the Holy Spirit defines His role as “Comforter / Advocate” (John 16:7) and He reveals that the ‘world is in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement about sin. Thus neither Lord Jesus nor the Holy Spirit desire worship nor should we since they both lead us to God the Father and the Lord’s promise is “Very truly I tell you, My Father will give you whatever you ask in My name” (John 16:23). The Lord and the Holy Spirit reveal prepare and guide us to be in the presence of God the Father and He alone is worshipped in and with the High Priest in heaven.
How should we worship God? – King David “a man after God’s own heart” was a versatile musician and was used by King Saul to play the lyre to free himself from the evil spirit (1 Samuel 16:23). David instituted music as an important part of worship and detailed musicians to worship God in the Tabernacle with musical instruments. The Scriptures provide detailed instructions about our attitude in worship and various words are used for worship specifying our actions and behavior during worship. David was so overjoyed with the return of the Ark of God to Israelites that he leaped and danced in the procession where singers were singing praises to God. Lord Jesus commended us to love God with all our heart and that is where our emotions and feelings are. Worship is an exuberant expression of that love for God and it is vocal and full of joy. Hebrew words used for worship show various actions while worshipping God.
- Kara- “David wearing a linen ephod danced before the Lord with all his might” (2 Samuel 6:14)- expression of great rejoicing and celebration.
- Zamar- ‘To play upon stringed instruments to make music and accompanied with singing to praise God and create a holy ambience’ (Psalm 7:17; 9:2 and 71:22).
- Tehillah – “Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise Him” (Psalm 33:1). Spontaneous worship with singing of Scriptures to encourage and instruct each other (Colossians 3:16).
- Tephillah – “Hear my prayer, Lord” (Psalm 39:12) when prayer is sung as a hymn of worship.
- Taqa – :Clap your hands, all you nations, shout to God with cries of joy” (Psalm 47:1) as an expression of rejoicing in Divine presence.
- Towdah/Todah – “Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor Me” (Psalm 50:23) as an act of raising of hands, adoration, confession and sacrifice of thanksgiving.
- Yadah – “Then I will ever sing in praise of Your name” (Psalm 61:8) by extending or holding out our hands as reverence, humility and surrender.
- Barach/Barak – “Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Psalm 95:6) to humbly submit ourselves by acknowledging His sovereign status and be in awe of His presence.
- Shachah – “All the earth bows down to You” (Psalm 66:4) to prostrate oneself, to lie face down in homage to God.
- Hallal- word derived from root word Hallelujah as “Praising Jah or God”. “All who fear the Lord, praise Him” (Psalm 22:23) as an act of joyful and celebratory praise by making a show or raving about.
Worship is celebrating and rejoicing over the goodness and greatness of God and His love for us and institution of various festivals for the Israelites was to get all people at one place and join in the celebrations. God sees the motive behind anything than the act itself and worship without the heart being in it and carried out as a chore is futile. “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1) is the displayed attitude of King David. Do we go into the Church on Sunday with a thankful and a happy heart or to mark our attendance there and be seen?
How do we bring variety in worship? – The attention span of the millennial generation is about 7-8 seconds and the Church feels challenged to bring variety in worship to keep everyone engaged. The worship system established by God through various rituals as laid down in Scriptures involved all the five senses.
- Sight – Every aspect of the beauty of the Tabernacle represented through various colors, textures and symbolism had a meaning.
- Hearing – Music formed a major part and various instruments were used to sing hymns of praise and worship and the book of Psalms contains specific instructions for the mode of singing.
- Touch – Placing of hands on the head of the sacrificial animal, healing through touch by the Lord and blessing a person through placing of hands on the head and for imparting the gift of the Holy Spirit involved touching.
- Smell – The use of specially made incense exclusively for use in the Tabernacle/ Temple and burning of sacrifices emitted good aroma.
- Taste – Organization of feasts and presently the Holy Communion are symbolic acts of eating and tasting.
The essence and focus of worship must always be God alone and use of music and hymns create an ambience of heavenly spiritual atmosphere but must never take centre stage.
Essential elements of worship – The common ingredient of the two commandments given by Lord Jesus is “love” and during the entire period of His stay on the earth His style of worship contained certain basic fundamentals.
- Love – God’s purpose of creation is display of His love for His creation and His Son always displayed love for each and every person irrespective of his past or present state. Worship is to acknowledge as well as feel Divine love through our participation and get so filled to make the same love flow out to others in our dealings with others.
- Faith –“Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is” (Hebrew 11:6). Without faith and belief in God whom we worship, it is firing our weapons in the dark with no aim and no expected results. Unless we believe His being our worship will be like worshipping “The Unknown God” as the people of Athens were doing (Acts 17:23).
- Humility and Surrender–Lord Jesus has a special place in heaven as “a Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:6) and this our High Priest worships in heavenly Temple. Our worship must be in conformity with the heavenly worship and Prophet Isaiah witnessed that (Isaiah 6) with the angels worshipping God with their faces and feet covered as an act of absolute surrender to the sovereignty of God. Lord Jesus also maintained His sole dependence on God all along His Ministry on the earth, surrendering His will and self to God. Our attitude during worship and afterwards must be of humble submission to God and sacrificing our ‘self’ to Him to allow Him to use us for His kingdom works.
These are the absolute essentials for true worship of the living God and worship without these and worship of any other god is not only false but also futile. Prayer is an individual act while worship is collective and in a group, “I will give You thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You among many people” (Psalm 35:18).
Worship is an act of immersion in the depth of God’s love through letting lose our tongue for expressing gratitude in belief in God’s mercy to give us the words to do so. It is not to get recognition of men but seek and receive Divine grace to be fully drowned in it. It is to lose self to receive Him.