In our human existence, we do not have the choice either to worship or not to worship. Because we are created beings –“creatures” — we are hardwired to acknowledge in some way the source of our existence. That is, we either act out our trust in God, our Creator, or we bow down to someone or something of much lesser worth.
The word, “worship” is from an anglo-saxon root: weorthscipe – which means “to show the shape of our worths.” It says we will find some special way to acknowledge that which we count worthy of our reverence and trust.
But this impulse to worship with which all of us are endowed can be easily misdirected. The peril of such misdirection is a fundamental issue in the Bible. Look at the world teeming with idols so dramatically portrayed throughout the Old Testament and into the New. And observe today’s worship of cheap substitutes in place of the worship of the All Glorious God.
The gaudily decorated casinos spotted across the land, their thousands of patrons hunched over faceless machines as they call on lady luck to favor them, is a prime illustration of the worship impulse gone astray. Widespread search for deeper reality in the drug craze is another.
Less dramatically, one person worships nature; another a companion’s beauty; yet another, material possessions. We worship that which commands our allegiance or comes to dominate our wills.
Christians avoid the lure of these idolatries by practicing with diligence the worship of the true God revealed in Jesus Christ.
George S Gunn in his little book on the Psalms, Singers of Israel, identifies five goals we strive to achieve when we bow in divine worship. I offer them in adapted form.
1. In worship we aim to declare openly our adoration and thanksgiving. We may do it with words, like saying the Lord’s Prayer. Or, we may do it by gestures, like closing our eyes or kneeling or raising our hands or pausing in silence. Whatever the method, it is worship that is visible or audible.
2. In worship we aim to acknowledge and confess our sins. It is not necessary to live forever in a state of abject need or to be always confessing a condition of wretched sinfulness. The Gospel can do better than that and the Christian life is a life of joy. But whenever we come before God in worship there should be occasion to examine our lives for anything that displeases Him. Jesus said, “When you pray say … forgive us our sins, as we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Matt. 6:12).
3. In worship, we aim to nourish our personal faith amid all the problems, fears, doubts and reverses in life. There is always some private aspect of our life that distresses us. Job acknowledged, “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). The worship of the Living God is a wonderful antidote to despair in these areas because in true worship we remind ourselves potently of an all-sufficient God who comes alongside us in our troubles. (Psalm 46:1)
4. In worship we aim to give open witness to others and especially to the oncoming generations. A Christian who was diligent in attending public worship rain or shine was asked by a not-so-diligent fellow believer why she attended so faithfully. She replied, “I always want my neighbors to know which side I’m on.” It was one way of many for giving “open witness.”
5. In worship we aim to crown and complete our worship by “service, gifts and sacrifice.” When King David wanted to build an altar and worship God, Araunah offered to give him the land and sacrificial animal free of charge. King David insisted on paying him. He said, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24). The grace of God is free but the worship of Him is costly. It calls forth our willingness to serve and to give of ourselves generously in the face of human need.
For help with real worship there is no better starting place than the Psalms. James Gilmour of Mongolia, a fearless missionary wrote: “When I find I cannot make headway in devotion, I open the Bible at the Psalms and push in my canoe, and let myself be carried along in the stream of devotion which flows through the whole book; the current always sets toward God and in most places is strong and deep.”