by Gami Ortiz
There’s a tendency in this culture to separate worship from other actions or activities. We tend to relate worship in terms like, “We’re going to worship” or “when we worship.” Granted, they’re just forms of speech and common phrases, but they would suggest that worship has a beginning or end and that it is confined to specific actions. We’ve bought into that line of thinking to our detriment. In Scripture, there are several words used to relate the translated term “worship.” Some words have roots such as “to bow down,” “service,” and “to prostrate oneself.” Others carry more of the sense “to revere” and “to adore.” There’s a tendency to separate those aspects, but they’re all facets and elements of a single, complex activity. Biblically speaking, you can’t divorce the physical actions of worship from the heart condition.
What am I getting at? I think Harold M. Best puts it well in his book Unceasing Worship.
Too often Christians have only thought of worship in terms of particular musical styles or liturgical formats. But a proper view of worship is far larger than what takes place in churches on Sunday mornings. Worship is not limited to specific times, places, or activities. God is by his very nature continuously outpouring himself. Because we are created in his image, we too are continually pouring ourselves in various directions, whether toward God or toward false gods. All of us, Christian or not, are always worshiping, whether or not that worship is directed toward God. We are unceasing worshipers.
The idea here is that worship isn’t confined to a particular time or a particular place or even a particular activity. It implies that at any given moment, I am worshiping something. The question then is, what am I worshiping?
Sin perverts everything God created and intended. If God created us for his glory and for us to worship him, then be sure there is a perversion of that worship. And that is idolatry. If worship is something God alone deserves, that perversion or sin is to direct our worship at someone or something other than God. This is one of the biggest issues we see throughout Scripture. In the ten commandments, Israel is instructed not to put any gods before Yahweh or to construct for themselves any idols. In the period of the judges, the leaders of Israel are continuously tearing down idols and turning the people back to God. The kings of Israel struggled to stay faithful to the Lord, and the prophets told the people to get rid of idols over and over again. Then all across the New Testament we see it referenced. The text for this week’s sermon has John pleading, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
As the writer of Psalm 115 points out, we become what we worship. “Those who make them (idols) become like them; so do all who trust in them" (verse 8). We see this in (not so) subtle ways. Those who love money become greedy. Those who worship sex become lustful. Those who chase after power become corrupt. But those who love Jesus become more Christ-like. The reason is that what we worship becomes the lens through which you look at everything else.
If I’m being completely honest, there are times when my selfish actions paint a picture of me worshiping myself, rather than God. If this continues, in time, I will begin to look at the world through the lens of my own satisfaction, my own comfort, my own security, and how it serves me. Jesus addresses this when he says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.... No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:21, 24).
Once again, we see the heart being tied to the action of worship. We can’t separate the two. This heart after God requires us to know him. As we know him more, we respond to him. This leaves us with the following definition: Worship is a biblically faithful understanding of God combined with a biblically faithful response to him.
The implication is that worship is not just an intellectual assent (knowledge or doctrine). Nor is it merely an emotional response void of truth. It involves both knowing him and responding to him. For us to be able to respond to him, we have to first know him. As God has chosen to reveal himself to us through his word, we would do well to immerse ourselves in it. As we know him more through his word, we respond to that revelation in ways that Scripture lays out for us and as his Spirit leads us. Paul relates this in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”