We use the term “worship” in several ways. Some use the term synonymously with “church.” When a person says they are going “to worship,” they mean going to the church building where worship takes place. But we have to remember that worship isn’t a place; it’s an activity. I’d like to offer some helpful considerations for worship, what it is, and what we do.
First, worship means celebrating God’s worth. The term “worship” comes from the Old English word weorthscipe, meaning to recognize the worthiness of something or someone. Obviously, this is what we do with God. But we also have to push out all of the distractions and worldly competitors who vie for our praise, whether they be people, experiences, or the little idols we make out of things in our lives.
The Bible includes numerous stories of how God alone is to be worshiped by his creation. While tempted in the wilderness, Jesus told Satan, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10). Scripture also includes a couple of other instances in the book of Revelation where the apostle John attempted to worship angels. They rebuked him and said that God alone deserves worship (Revelation 19:10; 22:9). When we look at examples of worship in the Bible, we might look at the examples of the seraphim in Isaiah 6, the four living creatures of Revelation 4, or the host of heaven in Revelation 5. In all these places, the singular message of the worshiper is to celebrate the all-surpassing honor and glory that is due to God.
Second, worship involves more than ritual. When discussing the matter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4), she asks about the proper location where it should be carried out. Jesus says that worship should be carried out in spirit and truth. We no longer have any prescribed physical place to which we must travel. It also means that merely being present in the church building isn’t the same as being involved in worship.
Third, worship involves engagement. Some think of engagement in worship as the jobs done by those participating in the service: preaching, praying, Scripture reading, and waiting on the Lord’s table. All the activities in worship require the participation of everyone present. Singing is an act of praising God, to be done by all in attendance. One person may lead prayer or read Scripture, but genuine involvement requires the engagement of everyone’s hearts and minds. Observing the Lord’s Supper and giving both need some measure of reflection on our part, as does paying attention to the sermon.
Worship is a time in which we give God the praise he richly deserves. It is something in which we can delight because it reminds us of how great God is and what he has done for us.