I recently wrote an article for Acts 29 and thought I would share it with you.
An Earthly Understanding of Worship
Worship Arts Pastor, Terra Nova Church, Troy NY
Often I am asked for my definition of worship. We constantly strive to fit the otherness of God into a box we can understand and control. In his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer (1961) writes, “Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms”
(p. 8). I believe worship is a concept we will not truly understand, nor be able to define, until we kneel before the throne of God in eternity, and at that point, defining worship will be insignificant.
In my spiritual journey, the idea of worship has been a fluid one. As I see more of God, as I press deeper into Him, as more of Him is revealed through the Scriptures and His people, my worship of Him increases. Worship is like a canvas that is constantly being added to with small brushstrokes, until the picture becomes clear, and we see Him in full, and hear the words, “Well done”. So instead of limiting God by attempting to define what our ultimate reaction to Him should look like, I will instead paint a picture of what I have experienced thus far. With Scripture as our final authority, we will also look at what great thinkers, writers, leaders, and worshippers have said.
Worship is an active response to God’s revelation so that He alone is glorified.
“The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him” (Tozer, 1993, p.12).
Just any response is not enough; we must respond in a way that brings Him glory. Even our ignoring His initiative and revelation is a response; yet it is a response that is not desired. We are to turn and “follow hard” after God. The more we respond in this way, the more we will see who God is, which in turn will induce us to respond in an even deeper way.
“Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever”
Westminster Confession of Faith
“God is most glorified is us when we are most satisfied in Him” (Piper, 1986, p.9).
Worship is the overflow of a heart amazed by the otherness of God. This happens in our private moments and it happens in our public moments. It is demonstrated when we treat our wives kindly, when we take in the Adirondack mountains, when we paint, sculpt, or write, as well as when we speak or sing praises at the top of our lungs. When we experience how big God is, we then have no other choice but to fall on our knees before Him.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." - John 4:23-24 (NIV)
Worship is both Private (the personal daily interaction between the Trinity and us) and Public (we as a community responding to God in our midst).
“For where two or three gather together because they are mine, I am there among them." - Matthew 18:20 (NLT)
Worship is both Monastic and Missional, offered to an audience of one, yet declared loudly to the world around us how we feel about our God.
“And David danced before the LORD with all his might, wearing a priestly tunic. So David and all Israel brought up the Ark of the LORD with much shouting and blowing of trumpets.” - 2 Samuel 6:14-15 (NLT)
Worship is both Ancient and Modern. It is deeply rooted in the faith of our fathers, yet spoken in our culture’s language. We would be arrogant to think that the only mediums with which to worship have been created in the last quarter of a century. Historically, there have been truths spoken, lyrics written, and scenes painted that communicate truths about God. These offerings of worship are an important part of our spiritual heritage. We would do well to resurrect these ancient expressions because they teach us about God’s nature in a depth that, I believe, is not duplicated today. These truths are eternal and unchanging; however, if we are expecting the language of those truths to be timeless or universal, we are mistaken, and are limiting the incarnation of God. We must find a way to balance the past and present experiences of worship.
Worship is Holistic. It is an act that equally requires all parts of our being and senses.
Jesus replied, "The most important commandment is this: `Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.'" - Mark 12:29-30 (NLT)
Bob Rognlien (2005) describes the Heart as the volitional (what we choose), the Soul as the emotional (what we feel), the Mind as the intellectual (what we think), and Strength as the physical (what we do). It is a combination of these things that creates a holistic worship lifestyle.
He says, “As we explore what it means to worship God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we would be wise to remember that these words are symbols that point to different aspects of what it means to be human and that a unique combination of all four are integrated and inseparable within every person.” (Rognlien, 2005, p.41).
God is glorified in us, not only when we sing a praise chorus or hymn, but by the choices we make each day in our jobs, by the emotions we feel when our friend finds great prosperity, and by the pursuit of knowledge, which deepens our understanding of the Trinity and gives us strategies for a God-centered life.
Piper, J. (1986). Desiring God. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, Inc.
Rognlien, B. (2005). Experiential Worship. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress
Tozer, A.W. (1961). The Knowledge of the Holy. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Tozer, A.W. (1993). The Pursuit of God. Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications