Worship is a biblical word that’s difficult to adequately define. Like the exquisite perfume of a rose or the delightful flavor of honey, it’s more easily experienced than described. Yet the most important aspect of worship is not the human experience or expression but the object. We are told in Scripture to worship God only.
Let’s begin by reading Psalm 96:1-9.
According to hymnary.org, 211 hymns use Psalm 96 as the basis for their lyrics. Some of the best known are “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” “All People That on Earth Do Dwell,” and “Joy to the World!”
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name; bring an offering and come into His courts. Worship the Lord in holy attire; tremble before Him, all the earth.
To help us gain a deeper understanding, let’s consider the following descriptions of worship:
• The overflow of a grateful heart that is inundated by God’s greatness and goodness (Psalm 145:1-21).
• The outpouring of a soul at rest in the presence of God, having the perfect assurance of His acceptance through Christ (Phil. 4:4-7).
• The occupation of the heart, not with its needs or even with its blessings, but with God Himself (Deut. 6:5-7).
Both the Hebrew (sagad) and the Greek (proskuneó) words for “worship” convey reverence, homage, adoration, and prostration. The English translation could easily be pronounced “worthship,” ascribing worth to one who is worthy.
“We can admire without worshipping, but we cannot worship without admiring, because worship is admiration carried to infinitude. In the same way, we can honor what we do not worship, but we cannot worship the one we do not honor.” —A.W. Tozer
Worship is our divine purpose now and throughout eternity. Of all the creatures on earth, only mankind is capable of worship, because we alone have been made in God’s image and designed to commune with Him. Psalm 96 is filled with descriptions of the Lord that prompt the psalmist’s praise. Again we see that the focus is entirely on exalting God.
• Every experience, situation, or emotion can be turned into worship when we have a God-ward focus. Although emotions may prompt and accompany worship, they are not the goal. A deep awareness of sin, a humbling experience, fear and trembling, great sadness or loss, admiring awe, overpowering love, astonishing wonder, overwhelming delight and gratitude, or simply a yearning to know God more—any of these can lead us into worship.
• Worship is expressed in a variety of ways. In today’s Christian culture, we sometimes define worship as music, but it’s so much more than that. Psalm 96 mentions singing, but it also includes speech—proclaiming God’s salvation, glory, and deeds—as well as bringing Him offerings. The manner in which we worship can also differ. It can take place in solitude or a group, with silence or joyful exclamations, or in service and self-sacrifice.
• Worship is all about God. The deeper our understanding of God’s self-revelation in Scripture, the higher will be our worship. And since the Lord is holy, we must likewise worship Him in holiness. A lifestyle of sinful practices and attitudes makes worship hypocritical and useless. Since the goal of worship is to exalt and magnify God, we must also have a humble, submissive attitude.
• How would you define worship? Is your worship focused more on your experience or on God’s character?
• What attributes of God do you see in Psalm 96 that could prompt your worship?