Here’s an important truth: proper worship begins with right theology. You cannot possibly worship God in an acceptable way unless you know God. This may sound harsh, but many people today are trying to worship a God they do not know and are, unfortunately, flaunting their ignorance of Him all over the stage.
Passion, sincerity, and even emotion are essential elements of acceptable worship. God is not pleased by heartless worship. He is not pleased by simply going through ritualistic motions. Jesus said, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'” (Mark 7:6-7).
But just because God is not pleased by heartless worship, does not mean passion, sincerity, and emotion are the only necessary elements of acceptable worship.
I believe the essential element, missing from most so-called “worship” today, is the element of reverence. In fact, reverence is so absent in many assemblies, it is absurd to call what is being done, “worship.” You see, the Greek word for worship is “proskuneo,” which literally means (source):
- to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence
- among the Orientals, esp. the Persians, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence
- in the NT by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication
God is King
Worship is not a wild party. Worship is coming reverently before a King. Much of our culture doesn’t understand this idea of reverence because we have a skewed theology. We don’t understand our Lord is the King of Kings. We think God is our buddy and our pal.
When God revealed Himself to people in Scripture, no one jumped around, partying like a wild fool. The reaction of everyone was essentially the same – reverence, fear, and awe. When people understand who God is, they don’t turn the spotlight on themselves, they turn the spotlight on God. When people understand who God is, they don’t turn the volume up, they get reverently quiet. When people understand who God is, they tremble and fall prostrate before Him.
I know this is making some of you angry. You want to say, “But Wes, don’t you understand, it is so archaic to believe in a God before whom we need to tremble?! That’s the God of the Old Testament! That’s not the God of the New Testament!”
Learn to Tremble and You’ll Learn to Love Him More
Listen to me, I beg you! You cannot understand the depth of God’s love, until you understand how “terrifying” He is. Until you humble yourself before Him, until you fear Him, until you tremble in His presence, you cannot possibly understand how amazing it is that He would send His Son to die for you. Until you understand how deserving we are of His wrath, you cannot comprehend the amazing nature of His grace!
James wrote, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10).
Live and Worship with Reverence
Part of the reason people don’t worship with reverence is that they don’t live with reverence. The same theology that influences the way you worship, also influences the way you live. Most people say they believe in God, but they live as if He doesn’t exist or He doesn’t care about the choices they make.
The word translated, “worship” in the passage below has more to do with your service, your devotion, and your life, but it certainly should apply also to the way you worship God. Listen carefully to the words of Hebrews 12:25-29,
See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
I love you and God (who is a consuming fire) loves you,