First of all, let’s start with what worship is not: “worship” is not merely “singing” or “church music.” In today’s church culture, the word “worship” seems to have become a synonym for “church music.” Often, we members of the Worship Ministry receive a lot of great encouragement from genuinely appreciative people. It feels great when someone takes the time to track us down so they can tell us how much they enjoyed the “worship.”
Now, I certainly don’t want to negate or downplay their compliments, but to be honest, I’m often not sure what exactly they are complimenting. I don’t know if they meant they loved the guitar solo after the second chorus on 10,000 Reasons, or if they were particularly moved by the lyrics about God’s ability to carry us through our storms in the song Cornerstone. The point I’m trying to make is that the word “worship” has become a “catch-all” word meaning “some aspect of church music.” But, worship is so much more than that.
Don’t just take my word for it, listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 15:8-9, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain…” What Jesus is saying here is this: if our hearts are not in our worship, our worship is in vain—it counts for nothing. We can sing until our throats are sore, and we can empty our bank accounts to build houses for orphans, but if our hearts are disconnected from the process, we have not worshiped.
The good news is Jesus doesn’t leave us guessing what real worship is. Here’s what He says in John 4:23-24 regarding worship: “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” Jesus is saying that in order to genuinely worship the Father, we must do so from the spirit, and that emotionally-driven, Spirit-filled worship must be directly connected to an accurate understanding of who God really is.
Let’s look a little more closely at what worshiping in the Spirit and in truth means, starting with truth. Suppose you and I bumped into each other at a coffee shop, and we strike up a conversation. After a little small talk, you begin telling me how highly you think of my daughter, Trinity. You tell me how you love her dark, curly hair, how tall she is for her age, and that it’s hilarious how serious she is all the time. At this point, I would probably interrupt you to clear up a few details. I would explain that my Trinity has light, straight hair, is fairly petite for her age, and is about as silly and fun-loving as an almost-three-year-old can possibly be. But, you continue to praise my dark haired, and delightfully serious daughter, as you keep repeating, “she’s just so adorable.” This praise wouldn’t really mean much because it isn’t an accurate description of my daughter. It just isn’t the truth. You are praising what you have come to believe about her without gaining an accurate understanding of who she really is. It would be far more meaningful if the praise of my daughter came from someone who has taken the time to get to know her well, and honestly admired her for who she really is.
Unfortunately, we do this with God when we proclaim our love and affection without a genuine understanding of the truth about Him. If we are worshiping an inaccurate picture of God, it counts for nothing. Authentic and genuine worship must begin with an accurate understanding of who God really is, and just like any relationship, that only comes from spending time together. In order to better know God, we have to spend time with Him through prayer, reading and studying the Bible, and learning from more spiritually mature believers.
Once we have an understanding of the truth about God presented in the Bible, our heart’s response should be to worship. That’s what it means to worship Him in the Spirit. Genuine worship springs forth out our emotions. When we contemplate the greatness of God’s love, power and grace displayed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, our only logical response should be to worship Him with overwhelming gratefulness and love. Worship is the heart’s, Spirit-driven response to the truth we understand about our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
So, we’ve established that authentic worship must be in the Spirit and in truth, emotional and accurate, but what does that look like in our lives? In essence, we worship God when we love, admire, treasure, cherish, and simply find complete satisfaction in Him because of who He is and what He has done. Whether we are singing, building homes for the poor, or cleaning toilets, if we do these things with love in our hearts for God, we are expressing our worship to Him.
As I stated earlier, merely “singing” in itself is not “worship,” however, it can (and should) be a wonderful way to express our worship, especially in a church service because we can do it together. And, God wants us to sing; Scripture repeatedly tells us to sing praises:
“Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” Psalm 95:1-2
“Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!” Psalm 47:6
“…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:18-20
Singing is not the only way to express our love for God, but it is clear that God enjoys our singing and wants us to sing and make music to Him. In fact, the Bible contains over four hundred references to singing and almost fifty direct commands to sing. Music connects with our emotions, and God wants to connect with us emotionally as well as intellectually. He created music for the same reason He created everything else: to bring Him glory. I read a quote recently from Ronald Allen, author of Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel that stated:
“When a non-singer becomes a Christian, he or she becomes a singer. Not all are blessed with a finely tuned ear and a well-modulated voice; so the sound may not be superb—it may even be out-of-tune and off-key. Remember: worship is a state of heart; musical sound is a state of art. Let’s not confuse them.”
Next time you’re in a church service, and the band begins to play—before you start singing, ask yourself this: As I sing these songs, am I using this music, and joining with these fellow followers of Jesus, to pour out the love in my heart for the real, perfect, mighty, loving, grace-filled God, or am I just singing?