I asked my mom one night as she tucked me in bed, “What do you think heaven will be like?” She answered, “The Bible says everyone will worship God all day and all night.” I thought about church worship and about singing in the pews. I thought about how some people closed their eyes and threw open their arms as they raised their smiling face toward the vaulted ceiling. And I thought about how others stood rigid with glances darting; they barely moved their lips like they couldn’t wait to get the whole touchy-feely ordeal over with.
The disparity confused me. To be honest, it seemed like a boring way to spend eternity. I wanted to dance on rainbows and nap on clouds. And I wondered why God wanted our worship if all it consisted of was half-hearted pew-singing.
What Is Worship?
“If it were not for the traditional use of the word ‘worship’ amongst Christians, substantial arguments could be raised against its continued use,” writes Dr. Lee Campbell in an essay titled, “What is Worship?” Campbell says the American Evangelical community often operates out of a limited understanding of the biblical teachings of worship. Most American church-goers culturally associate worship with a twenty minute Sunday morning sing-along, but that is only part of the biblical definition.
Campbell points out that according to Greek and Hebrew translations, worship refers to a range of activities and outlooks from a humble submissive posture (kneeling) and reverential fear and adoration (proskyneo and shachah), to service and sacrifice directed toward God and his creation (latreia). This means worship embraces every aspect of our lives, as it weaves through the fabric of our daily acts, attitudes, and articulations. Let’s reframe.
What we do—whatever we orient our time, thoughts and energies around—is what we worship. Click To Tweet
Would you believe me if I told you everyone, everywhere, worships all the time? That it’s not just a church thing? And apart from our cultural understanding of worship, it doesn’t matter whether you’re an atheist or an agnostic; a follower of Christ, Buddha, or Krishna? Are you intrigued? Uncomfortable? Do you think I’m treading on shaky, theological ground? Good, stick with me.
“Human beings are not created to worship, but rather we are created worshiping,” says Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He says while what we worship and how we worship may vary from person to person, the act is the same. In other words, to live is to worship. It isn’t just a thing we do. Rather, what we do—whatever we orient our time, thoughts and energies around—is what we worship. And we either worship God, or we worship something else.
To give a picture of the all-encompassing, inescapable act of worship, Driscoll highlights a phrase from Philippians 3:19 in which Paul calls out the citizens of Philippi for worshiping something other than God: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame” (emphasis mine).
While the concept of worshiping your stomach might seem strange, Driscoll explains why it makes perfect sense: “If your stomach is in the position of glory and you think about food all the time; and you eat food all the time; and you plan to eat more food later; and you always have within arm’s reach a snack and a beverage and a drawer full of candy at work, what you’re saying is ‘I glory in food and I go to the fridge, like a temple, to worship.’”
“Stomach” is a euphemism for any number of things we put ahead of God. Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, we make sacrifices and create space, time and limitless excuses in order to satisfy what we crave most, often at the expense of our relationship with God. If our desire is to love, please, and worship God, perhaps we should examine the nature of our cravings. Do the things we desire focus our vision and draw us into closer relationship with God, or with ourselves?
So how do we make sure our worship is God-centered? Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love, explains in Moses’ time people believed their “center of being” was their heart. How does your heart respond to the thought of God? If it doesn’t stir in some way, it might be time for a good, old-fashioned “define the relationship” chat with God. I had one recently, and it wasn’t pretty—I yelled at him.
Once I calmed down, I realized God and I were not as tight as I thought. As I examined my feelings, I found resentment in place of gratitude; anger in place of peace. In short, I am like a petulant child when I think God is holding out on my requests and human desires. Instead of outstretching my hands to receive his goodness, I point an accusing finger. Rather than close my eyes to soak in his otherness, I glare in suspicion.
After my rant, a warm whisper buzzed through my chest, “I will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4), and with it came a new understanding of what this means:
In a letter to the Romans, Paul writes “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, this is your true and proper worship” (emphasis mine). If I’m going to be in a relationship with God, I need to wholly and actively participate in it. I need to carve out time, tell him how I feel (even if it isn’t positive) and be willing to fight for our relationship when it feels, to me, like it is dying. Not because these actions will somehow make God love me, or even like me more. The Bible says God already loved us before he made the world (Ephesians 1:4), that his love “surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19a), and nothing in all creation can separate us from it (Romans 8:38-39). Rather, because we’re motivated by our own love for him. In this messy process, he will satisfy me. Not with stuff and things and shallow wants, but with a growing relational closeness.
When I intentionally carve out a few specific minutes of quiet, his warm, buzzy whispers return. And my heart stirs in greater gratitude and grows its capacity to receive his love and utter mine back. No matter how feeble, limited, or fumbling, our humble attempts to refocus and reconnect with our maker are at the very heart of worship.
“We are each created uniquely to reveal a distinct facet of our outrageously imaginative God. We only need to glance down at our fingerprints to remember there is no one quite like us. Why would a God, who went to so much trouble to give us singular identities, expect us to express ourselves to him in duplication?”
Once we’ve reframed and refocused worship, we might wonder how exactly to express it. This is the part where the singing comes in. I hear you tone deaf, timbreless folks groaning and I have good news: Singing is just one worship expression.
We are each created uniquely to reveal a distinct facet of our outrageously imaginative God. We only need to glance down at our fingerprints to remember there is no one quite like us. Why would a God, who went to so much trouble to give us singular identities, expect us to express ourselves to him in duplication?
Maybe you don’t sing, but perhaps you paint or dance or act. Or maybe you’re not creative at all and express yourself in other, no less profound and valuable, ways. Our worship language is born out of our God-given skills and aptitudes. By being ourselves, without fear or shame, we give others permission to do the same. When we live out of our authentic selves, we acknowledge God’s supremacy and nod in agreement with him when he created people as a reflection of himself and called them “excellent in every way” (Genesis 1:31 NLT).
As we continuously and reverently fix our gaze on God, our intimate understanding and growing appreciation of him meld, reforming our mundane, everyday tasks into sacred expressions of worship. This worship is the most personal and genuine we can offer.