The Meaning of Worship
In the ancient Mesopotamian creation epic Marduk is represented as choosing to create human beings to serve the gods. Marduk said he “shall be charged with the service of the gods that they might be at ease.” Through such service, mankind was to worship the gods by respecting them and meeting their needs. The idea that man could meet such needs makes the gods dependent on the service that man can give them. John E. Burkhart said, “For the Hebrews, God is God, whether served or not; and God deserves to be served, not for any reward to God’s servants but for God’s own worth. God does not require praise to be God; but as God, He demands it by right of being God.”
Essentially, Burkhart explains that the very reason one worships God, or the very reason God is deserving and worthy of being worshiped, is not because of some need flowing from his very nature. Rather, God is to be worshiped because he is, well, God.
Plato argued that “gods are not affected by our worship. They do not benefit from what we can give them and are beyond needing anything from us. They have everything and need nothing.” While Plato’s theological perspective seems to derive from a position of polytheism, his analysis of any hint of the depravity of God being a falsehood is spot on. God has everything and needs nothing. God doesn’t need our worship. God deserves our worship. And worship is our response to who and what God is!
Scripture teaches that God, who is set apart from evil and holy by nature, identifies with us so as to provide lovingly for our needs. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” We should worship God in recognition of his greatness. We should worship God in response to him as the supreme giver of all good gifts. Our worship is not to be based on what we can do for God, but on what he does for us. We worship God to show him our admiration, adoration, and appreciation. We worship God to demonstrate our devotion to him for all the wonderful blessings he bestows upon us…not least of which is our freedom in Christ.
Imagine if someone engaged in a worship assembly simply sang the words and music of the songs. Do you think God would be glorified by their worship? Or maybe this particular individual saw the prayers or partaking of the Lord’s Supper as just one more item on the to do list of our time of worship. Imagine this person not engaging their heart in any of the elements in worship to God. Is that kind of worship acceptable to God? While some may not care to admit it, our worship to God is only acceptable if it flows from a grateful heart. Forced activities and robotic responses are not considered worship by God. God deserves our devotion. He is loving and mighty. He is worthy of our worship. If we fail to worship him, we disregard and disrespect the deserving God who so graciously acts on our behalf. God does not need our worship, but we need to worship Him because of His goodness, graciousness, and greatness.
In our world today, and particularly in the religious climate of our society, many view worship as an opportunity to express their own desires and participate in their own “brand” of worship to God. Many would look at the Bible as merely a book which consists of cultural rituals and suggestions for proper worship in the first century world. If you were to ask, most people in our culture, and sadly many professing Christians (20% according to the Barna Group), would say the Bible does not contain moral truths that are true for all people without exception. Many would see the Bible as no longer relevant. So the result seems to be the development of various forms of worship offered to God, most of which include elements never expressly commanded or authorized by God. How is it that a person can come before God, pushing aside what God has prescribed as acceptable worship, bringing their own flavor of praise with little regard for what our most deserving God desires. Contrary to what many believe today, worship is necessarily feelings and emotions expressed in activities. Certainly our feelings and emotions are expressed as we come humbly before his throne. But worship is more than that. Worship is not just an outstanding performance or a display of human abilities and effort. Worship is not freedom of human expression. Worship is the pouring out of oneself upon the altar of God. It is allowing ourselves to be free from self-centeredness, and instead, being filled with humility and reverence as we approach our Savior. Worship is glorifying God, expressing our excitement, magnifying our Master, honoring the Holy One, blessing and being blessed, praising, exalting, rejoicing, and giving thanks. Worship is what God deserves, not what God needs.
True worship is based on reflective thought about what God has done, meditation of His greatness and goodness, and the realization of His awesome presence. Worship cannot be instilled from outside, but must come from within the human heart, a heart that is grateful for God’s loving-kindness. We are at our best when we reach up with our hearts to worship God. No other activity in life has such importance as experiencing fellowship with God in worship to him.