What is Worship?
Over the past few weeks, I have received multiple questions that circle around the same main theme. Although using different words, the essence of each question is this: “People tell me that I should worship Jesus and pray to him. I am doing that, but my prayers are not being answered. Am I doing something wrong? What is worship? What is prayer? What can I do in order to have God answer my prayers?” I want to break this question down over the next few weeks. This week, we will look at “What is worship?”
The Bible says that humanity is made in the image of God. This doesn’t mean that we look like him in physical form and shape, but that we are designed to reflect who God is, like a mirror. As the mirror faces God, it reflects God. If the mirror faces away from God, it reflects something else. Church theologians back in the day referred to this idea of reflecting God as Coram Deo, living before the face of God. Living before the face of God is the essence of worship.
We are never not worshipping. We don’t turn worship on and off like a light switch. We are always living before the face of something, and whatever that thing is determines a great deal about who we are and what we do.
To simplify it, life is worship. The idea that there is a secular and a sacred is false and is the root of the hypocrisy that we all hate. If I claim to be a follower of God, then that should shape every area of my life, and should be so much more than what I do on Sunday morning. It should inform how I spend my money, how I interact on social issues, how I love people who are different than me, how I raise my kids, how I lead my family, and so on. This act of living life before the face of God, reflecting God in my everyday existence, is worship.
I want to point out that worship isn’t exclusive to religious people. Everyone is worshipping, but they just aren’t worshipping the same things. Some people choose to live for their career. Their entire lives become about their vocation, and they want to climb the corporate ladder at any cost. This will impact how they spend their time, how they lead their family, and how they raise their kids. What they are worshipping - success, in this scenario - also has a pervasive, transformative power.
Worshipping isn’t about going to church, singing the right songs, or even doing the right things. A worshipful life is one that is focused on and reflects the glory of God. The problem is that my heart, and your heart, is an idol factory. We are constantly inventing new things to live for, and we engage in this activity like a squirrel with one too many espressos. Our hearts are always bouncing back and forth from one thing to another.
If I can lovingly say so, herein lies the challenge with the questions that I have received. We don’t worship God to get anything. We worship God because we want God. To worship God in order to twist his arm so that we can find our car keys, get a raise, meet a spouse, or anything else is the very opposite of worship. Rather than living before the face of God, we are living before the face of [fill in the blank]. God is the prize, not the gift that he offers.
What we need is to have a new heart that is directed towards God rather than everything else. This is precisely what Jesus promises to those who surrender to his leadership. Looking forward prophetically to what God would accomplish through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we read this, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). This is not to say that if you follow Jesus you will act perfectly - far from it - but that God will ultimately change your heart where you couldn’t change it yourself.
What is worship? It is living your life - your everyday, fold the laundry, go to work, pay the bills life - before the face of God. It is realizing who God is, who you are, that he is the most important thing in the world, and living your life in response to that truth. It is the freedom to focus on him instead of getting caught on the treadmill of religious do’s and don’ts. It’s living the life you were designed to live.