The idea of Christian worship is rooted in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word commonly translated worship means to bow down before a lord or master. In the New Testament, the Greek word commonly translated worship also means to reverently bow down, or even to lie down in submission before someone worthy of honor. Our English word worship comes from the idea of worth-ship or recognizing that someone is worthy of honor or praise.
To say it simply, the Christian idea of worship is to honor and glorify God in heart, word, or action, and to do it with reverence and submission. We know that God does not get the honor and the glory He deserves in this world. Many people ignore or mock God. Some even curse His name. We sense a great responsibility to speak the honor and glory that God deserves. God will be worshipped in spirit and truth among His people.
The goal and focus of Christian worship is God himself, not how it feels for the one giving worship. Worship is successful if God is honored in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), and the success of worship doesn’t depend on how the worshipper feels. With this in mind, we worship God as He truly is: the Triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
• Christians worship God the Father, as in Philippians 4:20 and many other passages.
• Christians worship God the Son, as in Revelation 5:12 and many other passages.
• Christians worship God the Holy Spirit, as in Philippians 3:3 and many other passages.
It is right for Christians to worship God as part of their personal devotion to Him. When we read the Bible it should be done in a spirit and atmosphere of worship. We reverently bow our heart and our will before His Word. When we pray we surrender to God, praying Your will be done. We also pray with words and phrases that give honor to God, speaking of His glory, love, holiness, and power. We sing to God in our personal devotions, understanding that He is honored by our song and devotion to Him.
It is also right for Christians to worship God as part of their gathering together. When Christians gather in groups that are small or big, it is good to gather in an attitude and atmosphere of honor and reverence to God. In that attitude and atmosphere their prayers are worship, the preaching of God’s Word is worship, and congregational singing is worship.
Congregational singing is a big part of our worship to God, but it isn’t all of it. We worship God in song because He wants us to. Psalm 30:4 is one example among many: Sing praise to the LORD, You saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. Music is a powerful gift of God, and the power of music often isn’t used for God’s glory. That makes it even more important that God’s people make sincere use of music to worship God in spirit and in truth.
When a congregation truly worships God, the experience may be life transforming. It’s important that we do not measure the success of worship by our experience, but it can’t be denied that true worship is often (but not always) a deeply moving experience. True worship can touch and transform us in unique and powerful ways as we intensely focus on God with true reverence and surrender. Powerful congregational worship also prepares God’s people to receive the Word of God in the work of preaching and teaching. Still, it is wrong to see congregational singing as just a warm-up for preaching – it has value all its own. Sometimes worship is the best response to make after receiving God’s Word, not before it.
Because music has the power to entertain, there is always the danger that when Christians gather to worship God in song, the focus shifts from worshipping God to entertaining God’s people. There isn’t anything wrong with music providing good entertainment, but we should be clear that entertainment and worship aren’t the same thing. It only becomes wrong when Christians think or say they are worshipping God when really they are only entertaining God’s people.
This is the wrong model:
• The congregation is the audience
• The worship leaders are the performers
• God helps the leaders perform for the congregation
This is the right model:
• God is the audience
• The congregation are the performers
• The worship leaders help the congregation perform for God
There is a big difference between the two models, and we should always have the right one in mind.