To help us understand the nature of worship it is just as important to define what worship isn’t as it is to define what worship is.
By Doug Reed
To help us understand the nature of worship it is just as important to define what worship isn’t as it is to define what worship is. In this article we will examine some possible misconceptions concerning worship. Hopefully, this will draw us more deeply into the freedom of the life of praise.
Twisting God’s Arm?
Years ago in my Church’s youth group we sang a song called “Its Amazing what Praising can do!” The song conveyed the idea that worship is our method of getting God to work on our behalf. It implied that if we praise God, He will “show up” and do wonderful things on our behalf.
This idea troubled me. It seemed this song defined praise as sort of a divine arm twisting. If we are in trouble, all we have to do is praise God, and He has to do something.
Is worship our method of getting God to do what we want? One Old Testament story has been used to try to back up this very idea. It is the story of Jehoshaphat. Did Jehoshaphat use praise to move God, or was there another principle at work? Let us take a closer look.
It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar” (which is En Gedi). And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD. (II Chronicles 20:1-4)
A great army had come against the land of Judah, and Jehoshaphat was afraid. When we face difficulties, like the people of Judah, our first response is often fear. However, God does not want us to remain afraid. He wants us to move from fear to worship. In many respects fear is the opposite of worship.
When the people gathered together to seek God, Jehoshaphat prayed. In his prayer we see no begging or pleading—just a simple statement of Who God is and a boast in His faithfulness. In verse seventeen of II Chronicles 20 we see the Lord’s response:
“You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the LORD is with you.”
And in verses eighteen and nineteen the peoples response:
“And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the LORD, worshiping the LORD. Then the Levites of the children of the Kohathites and of the children of the Korahites stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel with voices loud and high.”
When God revealed He was with the people, their fear turned into a celebration. In this we see part of the nature of worship. Worship is not an effort to get God with us. It is a celebration of the fact that He is with us. The effort it took to make God near occurred 2000 years ago at the cross. Worship does not accomplish a work that is already done, rather it is participation in what is finished. Praise does not bring heaven down. It is living in the fact that God brought heaven to us through His Son. In a sense worship is not work but entering into rest.
We all know the rest of Jehoshaphat’s story. The next day the king sent the praise leaders into battle before his army. The Lord caused Judah’s enemies to turn on each other, and a great victory was won. What a beautiful picture of the triumph of those who live in the victory of Christ. Praise is part of our participation in that victory.
Is God flattered?
Why does God love worship? Does God need to be flattered? Is He like a human being that we can get on our side by telling them how wonderful they are? What would you think of a person who always wanted people to sing about them? It is funny how we ascribe things to God sometimes that we wouldn’t dare ascribe to a good human being.
Worship is about love not flattery. The word “worship” has the word “worth” at its root. Worship is ascribing worth to God. It is telling Him in word or song that we value Him more than anything, and He is the Highest of all and the greatest of all. When we tell someone they are most important, it is not flattery. It is love.
Worship is an expression of our love relationship with God. In worship we are given to God not to get Him to do something for us, but because we love Him. Our gift to Him is not a bribe. This is why we can worship the Lord no matter if deliverance comes or not. We worship Him no matter what, because we love Him no matter what.
God gives Himself to us because He loves us and has given us His Son. Worship is the natural response to the God who has given us His all. We give ourselves in return. It is the divinely inspired dance between the Infinite and the finite, the Creator and the creation through Jesus Christ that goes on everyday. Worship is love in action. It has nothing to do with flattery or ego.
We see a beautiful picture of this divine interaction in the book of Revelation. We see the 24 elders before the throne of God. They behold the Lamb of God who has given Himself to us. Their response to God’s love is worship. They ascribe glory and honor to the King of Kings. Then they throw their crowns at the feet of Jesus. Thus saying all you have given to us, we give to you. That is worship.
Is Worship exclusive?
Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”(Matt. 9:10-13)
Here Jesus quotes a famous passage from the book of Micah. God desires mercy and not sacrifice. Remember sacrifice was a great part of worship in that day. Was Jesus telling the Pharisees that God no longer wanted worship? Was He foretelling the end of the sacrificial system? I believe Jesus was speaking of neither, rather he spoke of the nature of worship. It was not a means to earn God’s favor, rather it was participation in the mercy of God. Therefore, we cannot worship God and exclude our brother.
Consider the Passover lamb. Every year at the Passover feast thousands of families would bring their Passover lamb to the temple. Josephus records that so many lambs were offered that it took thousands of priests to serve the temple. Many of the Pharisees no doubt thought their keeping this feast made them right with God. Consequently, they looked down upon those who did not keep the tradition. What they missed was that each and every Passover lamb that died did not point to their deeds but to the deeds of Another, Christ our Passover lamb. Their obedience did not bring God’s mercy, rather it was Christ’s obedience that brought favor. Participation in the Passover was participation in the mercy of God. It displayed the fact that mercy was a gift given even to the tax collectors of the day. When the Pharisees worship became self-righteousness, mercy disappeared.
Likewise, in our day worship still does not earn us God’s favor, rather it is participation in God’s free gifts. Therefore, if we feel superior to our brother because we worship more or better than he does, we do not understand worship at all. The life of worship should lead us to an ever greater understanding of God’s love and grace towards us. Consequently, it should lead to ever greater love and mercy for our neighbor. True worship does not make us superior. It makes us servants.
The life of worship is a life of freedom. It is not work but rest, not flattery but love. It is the experience and celebration of our union with Christ. Such a relationship with God leads to right relationship with our brother.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
For He is our God,
And we are the people of His pasture,
And the sheep of His hand. (Psalm 95:6-7)
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