￼I have heard so many times, increasingly more recently “letʼs worship together” or “weʼre going to have a time of worship”, before a congregation sings together and the term ʻworship setʼ used to refer to the songs that are going to be sung.
It seems there is a narrowing of the scope of ʻworshipʼ, there seems to be an idea creeping in to Christian consciousness that worship = singing; and only that.
It may just be lazy use of words or sloppy terminology, but if we arenʼt careful, we will start forgetting the importance of ʻworshipʼ being a way of living, not just the songs we sing together.
The first use of the word ʻworshipʼ in the bible is in Genesis 22, verse 5, when Abraham “said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
This is before the ʻsacrificeʼ of Isaac, I donʼt imagine Abraham was referring to him and Isaac going off and singing a hymn together, there is more evidence that Abraham was referring to the act of sacrifice he was about to undertake.
The second use of the word is in Genesis 24, it is used in response to generosity from Rebekah to Isaacʼs servant. It says in verse 26 & 27: “Then the man bowed down and worshiped the LORD, saying, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my masterʼs relatives.”
This is very clearly a prayer, a prayer of spoken worship.
Through the Exodus story, Moses constantly asks Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go (out of Egypt) so they could ‘worship God’. Clearly this is more than just singing, they could easily do that in Egypt. The worship was going to be a complete separation of the people from their oppressors and the toxic culture of Egypt, a time to truly worship God. The worship was to include sacrifice and burnt offerings to God (Exodus 10:25) and maybe other things, even Moses says to Pharaoh in v 26 “until we get there we will not know what we are to use to worship the LORD”.
Many of the references to worship in Genesis and Exodus include ʻbowing downʼ, a symbol consistently used to show reverence and deference to someone of higher authority or to indicate humility.
It is very rare in the scriptures that the word ʻworshipʼ is coupled with singing, not that I am saying that singing isnʼt worship, only Iʼm advocating a much wider use of the word than the narrow term that it seems to be becoming.
Worship breaks down to ʻworthʼ ʻshipʼ – the act of giving something ʻworthʼ, holding something in high esteem or honour and most of the references in the Old Testament refer to one Hebrew word ʻshachahʼ – meaning to bow / fall down / reverence / stoop. It has a wide range of possible meanings but all seem to point to putting yourself in a humble position and lifting up someone or something else. Incidentally, the other word that only occurs in Daniel, translated as worship (KJV) is ʻcgidʼ and has a very specific meaning – to ʻfall down / prostrate yourselfʼ.
The Old Testament definition of worship seems to be completely tied up in, putting something or somebody else above yourself and sometimes above anything else.
￼Obviously this is relevant and appropriate when thinking about our relationship with God but not always with other things.
The most common Greek word in the New Testament for worship is ʻproskuneoʼ, meaning reverance, to adore, to fall prostrate before, followed by less frequent but still very common ʻsebomaiʼ – to be devout and ʻdoxaʼ, meaning glory, honour or praise.
Again, no mention of singing in any of these uses. Donʼt get me wrong, Iʼm all in favour of singing, I think itʼs an important part of worship, but it doesnʼt seem sensible to refer to worship exclusively as singing when biblically, worship seems to be about a whole way of living and an attitude or posture toward God (when spoken of positively) or other things (when warned against).
Someone once said: “everything is an act of worship, you just choose what you are worshipping”.
I think thatʼs broadly true, we make choices daily what we are holding up as most important. It changes throughout the day and in different seasons of life, for some of us, most of the time itʼs God, and for some others, God gets worshipped very infrequently, perhaps only one day a week when we join others to worship.
Of course, Iʼm no better than anyone else, I need to point the finger at myself more than anyone else. I often worship myself above God – looking after my own needs, desires, vanity before I look to God. I often put technology in a position higher than God, preferring to answer emails or do other things on the computer / phone than focus on my Father in heaven. Some of us put our health or appearance up as an object of worship, some of us houses or cars, holidays, other humans… the list could go on and on.
I think that it is really significant that an act of sacrifice was the first event referred to as worship in the Bible.
Abraham was asked to worship God by sacrificing the thing most precious to him, the thing he had invested everything in, his son Isaac. What is more, it is crucial that we see how Abraham was absolutely prepared to go through with it. God said to him “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore… …and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me”. For believing God, and that being credited to him as righteousness, Abraham was known as a friend of God.
Could I, in the same way, be classed as Godʼs friend? I know I would have failed Abrahamʼs test, I canʼt imagine ever being able to get even close to agreeing to deliberately harm my son or daughter. However, we are called to make sacrifices, we are called to put nothing above God in the things we give worth to, the things we worship. More than that, worship really needs to be a whole approach to life, not just the singing we do together when we meet.
Romans 12:1-2 says it all, more succinctly than I could.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Godʼs mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Godʼs will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
￼Live life in a way that puts God at the top in every thought, word and action, thatʼs a life where your whole body is a ʻliving sacrificeʼ, thatʼs a life dedicated to loving God with ʻall your heart, soul, mind and strengthʼ.
Colossians 3:23-24 puts the idea of ʻlife as an act of worshipʼ into context for us: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
For me, too much of the time it is purely aspirational, but through Godʼs grace and the power of His spirit working in us, we can slowly move towards that idea for it to become more of a reality.
Life is an act of worship, not just singing. It might include a fair bit of singing, but please, lets not allow it to stop there and lets not make the mistake of subconsciously accepting that by using lazy language.
This first appeared as an article in the Endeavour Magazine December 2012 Edition (though the language was ancientified by the editor)