How can we be expected to worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24) if we do not even know what it means to worship? There is so much confusion over this word and instead of worship bringing Christians together as one body, as it should, it often becomes the very thing that divides us. Here are a few things I believe we must understand about worship.
1. Worship is an act.
The Greek word most often (and I believe, most accurately) translated “worship” is the word “proskuneo.” This word literally means to prostrate yourself in reverence before someone. It is never used to describe a manner of living. It always denotes a specific act of reverent praise and adoration.
One of the most beautiful depictions of “proskuneo” is that of the twenty-four elders in Revelation 4:9-11.
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
The first word they use when they bow before God is “worthy,” which is where we get the English word, “worship.” So worship is the act of reverently bowing before the throne of God, declaring, “Worthy are you, Our Lord…” We see the elders worship again in chapter 5, as they sing a new song to the Lamb (vs. 8-10).
And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
It seems to me that John is figuratively describing what goes on in heaven when the saints are praying and singing on earth. The “bowls of incense” are the prayers of the saints and it stands to reason that the “harps” represent the songs of the saints.
Therefore, songs and prayers that reverently declare, “Worthy are you…” are the acts that can accurately be described as “worship” (proskuneo). When we assemble with the church to sing and pray, we are worshiping. When we bow our heads to pray during the day, we are worshiping. When we drive in our car, singing, “How Great Thou Art,” we are worshiping.
2. Worship is NOT about me…and it’s not about you either.
When we talk about “worship styles that we prefer,” it is obvious that we have NO idea what worship is all about. True worship has absolutely nothing to do with your preferences. In fact, when it starts becoming about your preferences, it stops being worship.
Worship has nothing to do with what moves you or touches your heart. True worship is the act of being so moved by God that you reverently bow before His throne and declare in prayer or song, “You are worthy!”
When we start fighting over “contemporary or traditional worship,” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. We obviously have no idea what we’re talking about!
Worship is simple, declare “with your lips” (Hebrews 13:15) that the Lord is “worthy.” That’s it. That’s worship. Stop jazzing it up. Stop giving it a “style.” Stop trying to make it “contemporary.” It is what it is. Stop complicating the issue, please. It is far too important for us to play games with it.
In John 4, Jesus spoke of worship that is pleasing to the Father. He said worship that pleases the Father is “in spirit and in truth.” That is ALL that should concern us, “Is my worship pleasing to God? Am I worshiping Him in spirit and in truth?”
3. Being a “worshiper” of God never stops.
At the risk of muddying the waters, there are several other words that are occasionally translated as “worship” or “worshiper.” These words have to do with our piety, service, and devotion to our Lord. These concepts are obviously not restrained to specific acts, but permeate every area of our lives.
So there is a sense in which faithful Christians’ lives could be summed up with, He or she is “a worshiper of God.” When I play ball with my boys, kiss my wife, or help a little old lady with a sack of groceries, I am not “worshiping”; but I am doing these things as a worshiper of God and because I am a worshiper of God. It changes how – and why – I do EVERYTHING that I do. At least, it should.
Our songs and prayers – our proskuneo – are in vain if we are not living as those who revere God and are devoted to Him. It cannot be said that I am truly “a worshiper of Jehovah God” if I pray to Him, but I’m simultaneously and intentionally living in sin (see Hebrews 10:26). Our prayers are meaningless if we do not live as worshipers of God.
So, let’s live today as devoted servants of God and let us also spend time in song and prayer, bowing before His throne in sprit and in truth, declaring that He is worthy!
I love you and God loves you,