In Praise of Worship

Could it be that our worship is not all God wants it to be?
Alive magazine, August 2005

What is it to be a worshiper of the one who created the universe? Given the way we do church today it’s not surprising that many see worship and singing as synonymous. Neither is it surprising to note that the ‘praise and worship industry’, if I can call it that, is big business.

Sometimes you get the impression that worship is primarily for us – to meet our needs, and that it’s about feeling good with yourself, God and the world. However worship, like a multifaceted diamond, is much more than that.

Certainly, singing praise is part of worship, in fact one of its highest forms as CS Lewis wrote: “All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise”. For Christians, praise of God is natural, however it is simply not all there is to worship.

When we gather in our buildings on Sunday mornings we call it ‘worship’ acknowledging that every part of our time is part of the act of worship. This includes our praying, confession, silence, being still, scripture reading, listening, taking notes, giving an offering, baptism, playing an instrument, communion, and greeting each other.

Sadly, we easily slip into thinking we have worshiped if we’ve been in the right place doing the right things at the right time. But, this is a very limited view worship. Worship is much more than an event within the four walls of a building.

Worship and being
Although most of us have never seen the Mona Lisa, the statue of David or the Sistine Chapel we do know who painted or sculpted them. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo are household names even though they died hundreds of years ago.

How come we know them today? Throughout the centuries thousands have admired them marvelling at their beauty and grace and acknowledging the skill, genius and character of the artists. The art remains a living legacy to the one that made them and so today in art galleries around the world, works of art are on display each revealing things about the person who created them.

This is the simple universal principal: created things display something of their maker. Whether that thing is a painting, or a sculpture, a birthday cake, music, a landscaped garden, or a dress, the principal doesn’t change.

The same is true of our world for it to has been created. That’s why in Psalm 19 the psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” The universe is a giant canvas displaying the work of a creative genius.

So in the same way a painting shows not only the work of an artist, but also the nature of an artist, so too creation declares the essential nature of the one who created it. Paul says the same thing in Romans when he writes, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”

Consistently, the Bible calls all things in heaven and earth to praise their Creator, whether they are heavenly creatures, angels, celestial bodies (the sun, moon, stars, waters), or the earth and its oceans, skies, and land. Living creatures are not exempted. Animals, birds, fish and bugs and everything that moves give glory to their maker.

This is the essence of worship and the foundation of all praise. That’s why you and I are intrinsically worshipers as we too are the handiwork of a Creator.

Worship as a lifestyle
Just as the Mona Lisa just needs to be the Mona Lisa; a star needs to be a star and a mountain, a mountain, worship for us is about being all we were created to be. It is as natural as eating or breathing; is not so much an activity as an act of being.

However, the Bible explains that men and women are a special creation of God. Male and female together are singled out above all creation in a special way. We are made in the image of the creator.

There is much to explore here more room than we have room for. But we can draw some profound implications for worship.

While all creation displays something of the creator, there are qualities or attributes of God that can only be seen through humanity. Questions like: What is the Creator like? What is the Creator’s name? What kind of God is the Creator? are answered as humanity lives out all it was created to be.

This means that God’s creativity, fellowship, community, mutual respect, justice, mercy, compassion and industry etc, are only fully seen in and through us as we live who we were created to be. (Sadly, the Bible is a record of how we don’t live this way, but that’s another story.)

In Genesis 1:26 we read that we were created in God’s image. It is important to understand the insight that we are to reflect the image of God in all we do – everything. It has as much to do with how we relate to each other as it does with music, and as much to do with that way we handle money as it does about singing.

This is the pattern we find in the New Testament. Worship is not a part of life, it is life. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 Paul writes, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  Importantly, nowhere in the New Testament do we find the idea that Christians went anywhere to worship. Archeologically there is no evidence that they had buildings purposely built and set apart exclusively for Christian worship. In fact it never says they ‘went to church’!

These early Christians had been liberated from the constraints of the old law and saw their lives as a continuous act of worship. As Romans 12:1-2 so clearly states: we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God – this is our reasonable act of worship.

Worship is a lifestyle where we reflect the image of our Creator in all we do. We exalt, honour and bless the creator at all times, the easy, the hard, and the joyful. As Martin Luther said, “A dairymaid can milk cows to the glory of God”.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t meet together, in fact the writer to Hebrews is very clear about this. However, the question is what should our gatherings be like? Interestingly, after saying we should meet together, Hebrews goes on to say that we need to encourage one another. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Throughout his letters Paul is clear that the overriding purpose of meetings is for the strengthening of the people, the church. In a stinging rebuke of the meetings of the church in Corinth, Paul makes clear that their lack of love for each other showed they were living inconsistently with what it meant to be God’s people.

Most people today would say we gather together to worship God, but the New Testament is clear. We don’t gather together for worship. It is true that by gathering we do worship God, but that is not why we gather. We gather for the purpose of encouraging each other.

As British theologian IH Marshall writes, “While it is true in the broad sense that everything which the Christian does will be ultimately directed to the glory of God, it is simply not the case that the purpose of Christian meetings was understood as being primarily and directly worship [in a ritualistic sense], homage and adoration addressed to God.”

When we gather together, we do so as part of the family of God – to meet with our creator and to meet with others. Our aim is help one another know, believe and follow him.

So what is it to be a worshiper of the living Creator God?

Despite what one might glean from our church services and Christian bookshops, whether or not you are a real worshiper is better determined by how quickly we forgive, how well we handle our finances, and what we do when no one is looking, than it is by our singing and music.

Worship is not confined to buildings, and it is much more than music or singing. Worship is what we do as we live for God in every aspect of our lives. So come on, let’s worship our creator!

[At the time of writing] Stephen is a former publisher of Alive magazine and now lives in Poatina Tasmania heading up Fusion Australia’s accredited training in Youth and Community Work. He is an accomplished ‘worship’ leader and songwriter. Stephen in married to Jenny and they have five children.

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