When Is Worship Real?
Just because your hands are up doesnÍt mean itÍs from the heart.
A man stands in church on Sunday morning with his hands held high, worshiping God. Amid the music he stands silently, breathing slowly, letting God’s grace, mercy and love wash over him. He feels peace, calm and joy, and he responds through worship.
The same man is walking to work on Monday morning. He is praying, silently, when he feels convicted by God. Walking silently, he lets God’s grace, mercy and love wash over him. He feels peace, calm and joy, and he responds through worship, thanking God from his heart on the sidewalk.
Is one of these moments more worship-filled than the other? When the man is in church on Sunday, does his worship “count” more? Do we need to have our hands held high and be singing the latest stadium-filling worship chorus in order to really encounter God?
There is a dangerous tendency in the church to compartmentalize aspects of our faith. For instance, we often “come into God’s presence” in church, which implies we leave it when we leave church. We “enter into a time of worship” when the band stands up, which suggests when we sit down our worship ceases. It is true that most of this is semantic—but the underlying concerns are real.
The concept of worship, in particular, has suffered from this. We know we can pray anywhere and it will not have a lesser value. To pray in church or to pray on the bus is the same.
Yet worship seems more complicated. We tend to think of worship as the 15-minute song set preceding the sermon. We know at a deeper level that it is more than that, that it is a lifestyle attitude, but we continue to associate it with singing.
In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, the word used for “worship”—shachah—means more to bow down than anything else. When the Israelites spoke of worshiping God, they understood it as bowing down before Him. Similarly, in the Greek of the New Testament, the commonly used word for “worship”—proskuneo—suggests the act of getting down on one’s knees and adoring.
There is no doubt that sung worship has a key role in a life of worship. It is a biblical response seen throughout Scripture. But while responding to God’s love and mercy through song is a powerful act, it can also be misused. The modern worship movement, with its lights, big bands and swelling songs treads a fine line between leading people into God’s presence and leading them to a rock concert. What makes the difference is up to you. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if the emotions felt during these times of worship are a response to God or a response to the music. But in that moment, you get to decide whether you are worshiping in your spirit or caught up in the show.
This is not to say that people do not meet with God this way, and in many ways our congregational worship is now more inclusive and more intimate than it has ever been. But the act of raising hands in church on Sunday does not, on its own, translate to a life of worship.
A life of worship involves seeing and searching for God in the day-to-day, responding to Him when we don’t feel like it and putting our entire life into the posture of bowing before Him—in our daily decisions, habits and occupations. Merely saying the words isn’t enough; the truths we speak of and read in Scripture must be lived out.
A lifestyle of worship is like an engine. Engines are made up of multiple pieces, each working according to its own task. Some components are large and provide great bursts of power, whilst others are tiny connectors, allowing the larger pieces to work. Despite the size of the part or its role, there is one purpose: to create power.
Like an engine, a life of worship has different parts—some big, some small. There are the encounters with God in our communities, in our churches when we gather with others to communally worship God and thank Him for what He has been doing in our lives. Then there are the encounters we face everyday, whether we are struck by the beauty of creation, the need for grace in a broken world or the whisper of God in amongst our daily routines.
All of these moments work together in a life of worship, creating power to propel our words of praise into action. Meeting with God through sung worship is no more important than meeting with Him on the road to work or when out with friends. It is the combination of these encounters, the foundation they create, that helps mold a life of worship.
Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” Worship that honors God is not necessarily marked by the most expressive Sunday morning singing. Rather, a life of worship is one that speaks of God, that listens to God, that sees God in the world and that responds to God. No one song can capture this or provide for this. God desires us to worship Him through all we do—words, actions, songs, encounters.
God loves to hear us when we sing His praise—and He indeed responds by singing over us (Zephaniah 3:17). We should continue to worship Him through singing, whether communally or individually, as we supplement this with daily acts of worship that give our words hands and feet.