What is worship? Well, the Psalmist tells us succinctly. It is giving unto the Lord the glory due his name (Psalm 29:1-2). Jerry Bridges, noted author of The Pursuit of Holiness and Transforming Grace, recently asked this very question and answered as follows: “In Scripture the word worship is used to denote both an overall way of life and a specific activity. When the prophet Jonah said, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God heaven, who made the sea and the land “(Jonah 1:9), he was speaking about his whole manner of life. In contrast to Jonah’s words, Psalm 100:2 says, “Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” The psalmist there speaks of a specific activity of praising God. This is the sense in which we normally use the word worship today. These two concepts of worship—a broad one and a more narrow, specific one—correspond to the two ways by which we glorify God. We glorify God by ascribing to Him the honor and adoration due to Him because of His excellence—the narrow concept of worship. We also glorify God by reflecting His glory to others—the broader, way-of-life manner of worship.”
To say it a little differently, worship is declaring, with our lips and lives, that God is more important than anything else to us, that he is our deepest desire, that his inherent worth is beyond everything else we hold dear. Lou Giglio has recently, and provocatively, explained: “Think of it this way: Worship is simply about value. The simplest definition I can give is this: Worship is our response to what we value most. That’s why worship is that thing we all do. It’s what we’re all about on any given day. Worship is about saying, ‘This person, this thing, this experience (this whatever) is what matters most to me . . . it’s the thing of highest value in my life.’ That ‘thing’ might be a relationship. A dream. A position. Status. Something you own. A name. A job. Some kind of pleasure. Whatever name you put on it, this ‘thing’ is what you’ve concluded in your heart is worth most to you. And whatever is worth most to you is—you guessed it—what you worship. Worship, in essence, is declaring what we value most. As a result, worship fuels our actions, becoming the driving force of all we do. And we’re not just talking about the religious crowd. The Christian. The churchgoer among us. We’re talking about everybody on planet earth. A multitude of souls proclaiming with every breath what is worthy of their affection, their attention, their allegiance. Proclaiming with every step what it is they worship. Some of us attend the church on the corner, professing to worship the living God above all. Others, who rarely darken the church doors, would say worship isn’t a part of their lives because they aren’t ‘religious.’ But everybody has an altar. And every altar has a throne. So how do you know where and what you worship? It’s easy: You simply follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your allegiance. At the end of that trail you’ll find a throne, and whatever, or whoever, is on that throne is what’s of highest value to you. On that throne is what you worship. Sure, not too many of us walk around saying; ‘I worship my stuff. I worship my job. I worship this pleasure. I worship her. I worship my body. I worship me!’ But the trail never lies. We may say we value this thing or that thing more than any other, but the volume of our actions speaks louder than our words.”
So worship is rooted in our deepest desires, and reflects those deep desires outwardly. This is important to note because of misconceptions of what constitutes “worship.” It is not uncommon to hear someone distinguish, for instance, between “worship” and the sermon. “We had a great time of worship this morning, and then the pastor gave a really practical message,” someone might say, with utter innocency of spirit, meaning it as a compliment, without realizing that the statement reveals that he may not know what worship is and means. In that sentence, “worship” stands for “experience” and probably for music. The songs and singing leading up to the morning message were moving, made him “feel closer to God” and thus that portion of the service is associated in the heart and mind with “worship.” But this is to confuse the meaning and action of worship with the effects or byproducts of worship. We do not come to a congregational service of worship in order to “experience worship” or to be deeply moved by the time of singing or to have some kind of an emotional catharsis. We come to meet with God and to give to him the glory due his name.
If one has any other goal in worship than engaging with God, coming into the presence of God, to glorify and enjoy him, any other aim than to ascribe his worth, commune with him and receive his favor, then one has yet to worship. For in Biblical worship we focus upon God himself and acknowledge his inherent and unique worthiness.