It’s interesting to see the huge varieties in the way people worship. Some worship in total silence, while others sing and dance. Some raise their hands as they pray, while others get on their knees.
In the Bible, worship commonly involves prayer, offering of sacrifices, songs of praise, or the reading of the law. From these acts of worship derived the form of Christian worship we are familiar with today.
When we speak of worship, we commonly associate it with outward actions such as singing, prayer, and listening to sermons. But, from God’s perspective, these external expressions alone do not constitute true worship. So what does it mean to worship God? How should we worship God and let our worship be acceptable to Him?
It would be helpful to first re-examine the meaning of the word “worship.” The word “worship” means “prostrate oneself in homage.” It is a term that describes the action of a person bowing down before someone great. It is a sign of total humility and devotion. The Bible often uses this word in this sense.
However, the true essence of worship is not in the outward bowing down but the bowing down of the inner person. The place of worship is not nearly as important as the place of our hearts.
To those who only paid attention to the outward form of worship but forgot the true meaning of worship, this is what the Lord had to say:
These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Mt 15:8-9)
True worship is a heart-felt response to God’s greatness. It is the adoration of God and complete surrender from the heart. God cares much more about what drives us in our worship than the motions we go through in our worship.
Worship Begins with Adoration
To worship is to be in complete awe of God. Our only motivation to worship should be God. What brings us to our knees is our adoration of Him. Because His love, power, and wisdom are so far greater than ours, we are naturally moved to bow down to Him. If our worship is driven by anyone or anything other than God, it is not true worship. God alone inspires our worship. When we truly think about and feel who God is and what He has done for us, we cannot but fall prostrate before Him.
When I pray, I tend to have a habit of going through a list of thank-you’s and requests to God. Perhaps this is better than day-dreaming in prayer. But it’s easy for my prayers to fall into a series of mindless repetitions. When that happens, I am actually worshipping as an obligation rather than out of adoration for God. This kind of worship becomes superficial.
Have you ever experienced a moment when you felt in your heart that God was so awesome and great and that you were so small and worthless? That’s how Peter fell before Jesus Christ. When he and his fellow fishermen had done what Jesus told him and let down the net, they caught such a great number of fish that they filled two boats and the boats almost sank! At that moment, Peter fell down at Jesus’ feet, feeling completely worthless and sinful, and he asked the Lord to depart from him (Lk 5:8). No one told him to fall down before Jesus, but he did so because he was in awe in the presence of the Almighty God.
This is the way the psalmists in the Bible worshipped God. When they considered God’s loving mercy, His mighty deliverance, His works in nature, they marveled. From their inner-most being, they cried out to God in adoring wonder.
We can also experience this awe when we devote ourselves to God’s word and prayer. The times when I truly felt God’s presence in my prayers, all I could do and wanted to do was to praise God continually. There was no need for words. Pleas and requests felt out of place. In moments like these, I felt God’s infinite and indescribable greatness. His power and love completely enveloped me. His Holy Spirit gave wings to my prayer and lifted me directly to God’s mercy seat. An overwhelming sense of humility and gratitude took over. Hallelujahs just kept flowing from my heart out of my mouth, whether in the form of loud cries or spiritual songs.
It is no wonder that the living creatures, the elders, the angels, and the multitude in John’s vision could not stop praising God before His throne. It is no wonder that they continually fell down before the throne to worship.
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever. (Rev 5:11-14)
Now, this is true worship. They were in such awe of the everlasting Lord God for His greatness that they worshiped Him day and night. From their heart, they gave thanks and praise to the Lamb who was slain.
Sometimes, we feel uninspired even though we read the Bible, sing, and pray. This is because our hearts have not entered the King’s throne room. We have not lifted our eyes to behold God’s beauty and splendor. We are too busy to appreciate His mighty works of creation or the miracles we take for granted. We have forgotten to take note of the nail prints in His hands and the reason why they are there.
But if you take the time each day to ascend into God’s presence, He will inspire you and move your heart. Quiet your spirit and come before His feet to hear His words. Turn away from the short-lived attractions of the world and look towards His face. You will marvel at His works and His will. Give Him all your burdens and anxieties, and sit in His loving embrace. He will speak tenderly to you and comfort your soul with His Spirit.
God’s throne room is always open. Every moment of our lives is an occasion to worship. Even when you’re not on your knees in prayer or holding a Bible, you can still offer to God a true worship. Come into God’s presence any moment. He will never fail to inspire you, be it through a word of encouragement, a reminder of His eternal love, a warm embrace by His Spirit. There and then, you will fall down before Him in humble adoration.
Worship Ends with Surrender
The natural response of adoration for God is total surrender.
In John’s heavenly vision, the twenty-four elders sat on thrones, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads (Rev 4:4). They had been given great honor and glory. However, John records that they fell down “before Him who sits on the throne and [worshipped] Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne.” (Rev 4:10). The word “cast” means “throw.” These elders threw their crowns of gold down when they worshiped God! Before the majestic and splendor of God, the only place fit for their crowns was the ground.
Before our Lord Almighty, our treasures become rubbish (cf. Phil 3:8); our wisdom becomes foolishness; our strength becomes weakness (cf. 1Cor 1:25); and our righteous garments become filthy rags (Isa 64:6). As we come into the sanctuary and bow down to the King of kings, we cannot but confess our utter insufficiency and cast before His throne everything that makes us proud.
Our Lord Jesus taught us that true worship does not depend on where we worship but whether we worship in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:21-24). On the one hand, God wants us to bow before Him not only outwardly, but sincerely with our spiritual being and in complete truthfulness.
On the other hand, and taking our worship a genuine step further, it is important for us to surrender our spirits to His spirit and our truthfulness to His truth. Sincerity is not enough. A person can be sincerely wrong. We cannot worship and serve God according to our own ways and will; we must surrender to His ways and His will. That is worship, and it is a daily action.
Paul, likewise, explains worship in terms of total surrender of ourselves to God.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom 12:1-2)
Worship is to let go of ourselves and let God take control in our lives. It means conforming to God’s ways rather than to popular culture.
Many times, God’s ways and wills are far beyond what we can understand. We can only humbly submit to them with an attitude of awe. As Paul expounded on God’s election, he could not help but exclaim with praise and reverence:
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
”For who has known the mind of the LORD?
Or who has become His counselor?”
”Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?”
For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:33-36)
God’s thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours. He sees from eternity to eternity, while we don’t even know about tomorrow. He upholds the whole creation with His powerful word, whereas we cannot even add an inch to our stature. We can only entrust ourselves completely to our Maker and Lord.
Even when calamities strike us, true worshippers of God continue to bow their knees before Him. Job was such a worshipper.
Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong. (Job 1:20-22)
Job’s worship was one of total surrender. In the midst of sudden tragedy, he fell to the ground in worship and offered praise to the Lord. He submitted to God’s sovereign will without a word of complaint or resentment. This is the kind of true worshipper that the Father seeks.
A Life of Worship
Worship is not confined to the walls of a chapel. It does not only start or end with church services. Rather, it is a life-long bowing down of our hearts before God, adoring Him and surrendering ourselves completely to Him. A worshipper of God worships before the throne day and night, not just when he is in a church building.
Our God is the very reason for our existence. To Him and through Him and for Him are all things. He is worthy of all glory and honor.
May every day of our lives be filled with praise, thanks, and wonder. May our entire being be humbly dedicated to God for His service.