What is true worship?
Worship is what we were made for. The Book of Revelation gives us a picture of a renewed heaven and earth in which there is constant worship. When all things are restored, there will be no more division between worship and life – it will all be one constant stream, an expression of our lives poured out in love to the King who has redeemed us and who will dwell with us forever.
But for now, we are on earth and God is in heaven. Although Jesus has come among us, we are not yet in the New Jerusalem; we don’t see him face to face. And so for us, living here and now, worship is still a separate activity from the rest of our lives, much as we might wish it were not so. Until Jesus returns, it will be that way. We ache for the day when we will be one with Him, but we’re not there yet.
So for us who live in this dying world, yet who belong in Christ and are waiting for his return, what should our worship look like? In his famous dialogue with the woman at the well in Samaria, Jesus spoke of true worshippers who would worship the Father in spirit and in truth. So then, what is a true worshipper? What characterizes true worship? What type of offering is pleasing to God?
This is a big question, but as one who loves worship and has sought for years to bring a faithful offering of worship to the Lord, I’ll try to briefly summarize what I have learned from the Scriptures and from my own experience. I’m certain that what I say will be inadequate, yet I pray that it will encourage you in your own pursuit of the God who alone is worthy of all worship and praise.
First and foremost, if we are going to be worshippers of God we need to understand that our worship must be genuine, not just a show. If we are worshipping to win points with God, to impress others with how spiritual we are, or to have a particular kind of emotional experience, we are missing the point. Jesus, quoting the prophet Isaiah, referred to God’s grief and displeasure with the Pharisees of his day who honoured God with their lips while their hearts were far from him. Being true worshippers means daily offering our lives to Him as living sacrifices. It means that we are learning to love God with our whole being – heart, soul, mind and strength – without pretense.
True worshippers understand that He truly is the only God; there is none other. True worship means praising God for who he is – his power, greatness and goodness – and thanking Him for his mighty works in our lives. It means acknowledging him as our Creator and Redeemer, the source and goal of our life. Since all of us are self-deceived to an extent, being a true worshipper means laying our hearts wide open before God, and inviting Him to identify the idols in our lives (anything in which we have placed ultimate trust other than God) so that we may turn away from them and place our trust in Him alone.
Even though God is far above us – great, awesome, and holy – true worship also means not staying at a distance from God, but drawing near to Him. When Jesus gave up his life on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn in two as a graphic illustration that by His sacrifice the way is opened for us into the presence of God. Jesus has given us access to the Father and He desires that we boldly enter in. Staying at a distance dishonours His sacrifice. He doesn’t want us to be content with less than the intimacy that He purchased for us! True worshippers understand that because of the sacrifice of Jesus, we are invited to boldly come before God with unveiled faces and behold His glory, unlike Moses who covered his face in God’s presence. True worshippers love spending time in the presence of the Lord, worshipping Him in the Spirit, knowing that as we linger in His presence we are being changed into His likeness.
In spite of this invitation to come into His presence boldly, true worshippers never take God lightly. Like the elders around the throne in the Apostle John’s vision of heavenly worship, true worshippers are in awe of God and his holiness. At the same time, true worshippers are those whom Jesus calls his friends. We tend to think of friends as equals, but Jesus redefined friendship for us when he said that we are his friends if we do what He commands. Yet he clearly was talking about a very intimate relationship, because He also said that He would show his friends everything that He had received from His Father. David wrote that God would show His secrets to those who fear Him. True worshippers – those who worship in spirit and truth – are those who are in awe of God and yet know themselves to be His friends, to whom He promises to reveal His plans and show His covenant faithfulness.
True worshippers are overcome with gratitude for the amazing gift of God’s mercy and forgiveness that has been poured out on them. Like the woman who came into the house of Simon the Pharisee, poured perfume all over Jesus’ feet and wiped them clean with her hair, true worshippers are so aware of their own need and so thankful for God’s kindness that they pour out love on the Lord, without worrying about what anyone around them will think.
True worshippers pursue God passionately. They can’t get enough of Him. Like the Beloved in the Song of Songs who went through the streets of Jerusalem at night looking for her lover, sick with love and filled with desire to pour out her love on him, true worshippers have a burning desire to lavish love on the Bridegroom who has claimed them for his own, has purified them and is coming to redeem them and make them forever His.
Like the Apostle Paul, I have to freely confess that I have not attained to all I am describing here, but I am pressing forward to make it my own. Daily I ask God to fill me with genuine love for Him and for those around me. More than anything else I want to be a worshipper whose offering brings delight to the Lord, so that when He returns I can welcome Him with joy.