More Definitions of Worship

Today at Arrows College, we delved deeper into the theology of worship and creativity.  I was really inspired by the first session in which we surveyed worship through the Old Testament. Because of time constraints, we couldn’t look into individual passages in much detail, but I was thinking it’d be a great idea when I get some time to properly survey the Bible from Genesis to Revelation through the lens of worship. That will be a fairly big project to undertake in the future!

Anyway, in this post, I want to consider in more detail what “worship” means.

So far, we’ve had the following definitions.

Harold Best:

Worship is the continuous outpouring of all that I am, all that I do, and all that I can ever become to God.

Timothy Keller:

Worship is ascribing ultimate value to something in a way that engages the whole being.

Here are some more definitions:

Evelyn Underhill:

Worship is the total adoring response of man to the one Eternal God, self-revealed in time.

Archbishop William Temple:

Worship is the submission of all our nature to God.  It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of His will to His purpose—and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.

Warren Wiersbe:

Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are—mind, emotions, will and body—to what God is and says and does.  This response has its mystical side in subjective experience and its practical side in objective obedience to God’s revealed will.  Worship is a loving response that’s balanced by the fear of the Lord, and it is a deepening response as the believer comes to know God better.

Judson Cornwall:

Worship is an attitude of heart, a reaching towards God, a pouring out of our total self in thanksgiving, praise, adoration and love to the God who created us and to whom we owe everything we have and are. Worship is the interaction of man’s spirit with God in a loving response

David Peterson:

Worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.

Louie Giglio

Worship is our response, both personal and corporate, to God for who He is, and what He has done; expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live.

Having looked at all those definitions, it will be clear to you that it’s pretty difficult to comprehensively nail down the concept of worship.

During our worship survey, our group was asked to look at Micah 6:6-8 and answer the questions: (1) What worship is; and (2) What worship is not.  Lisa, Nicky, Serene, Hilary and I came up with some profound thoughts which I will try to synergise below. So these thoughts are not mine. Rather they are the combined work of a bunch of inquisitive thinkers.  Here’s the passage:

With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

First, what worship is not.  Worship is not about offering of things or possessions. It’s not about systems and formulae and rituals. Nor is it about quantity, quality or even extravagance. The prophet asks: what can I offer? Rams? Oil? My firstborn? I think we all agree that our firstborn is one of the most precious things we can offer. It not only signifies our affection, but also our help, support and our legacy. Notice that the offer of the firstborn is for “my transgression”. When it is “me-centred”, it cannot be worship.  So you can give your most precious thing, and it will still not be worship. Worship is not about our trying to buy God’s favour.

The key is your attitude.

The prophet poses the question: “What does the Lord require?” This points to obedience to God’s requirements. Worship is therefore essentially a lifestyle of obedience which manifests in outward actions: “to do”, “to love” and “to walk”. And it is not only about our being in proper relationship with God, it is also about our right relationship with the people around us.

It is only in that context then that offerings, lavishness and extravagance, when done towards God, have their proper place, be it the widow’s mite, Mary’s alabaster box or Abraham’s placing of Isaac on the altar.

And I think it’s apt that it’s never about our firstborn, but God’s firstborn. Jesus is the inspiration and progenitor of our worship. We love, because He first loved us. When we were unable and unawakened to worship and in a state of sin, Christ died for us. So, shall we offer our firstborn? No – the suggestion is that because God has offered His firstborn, He has now paved the way for us to worship! Hallelujah!

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