The Danger of Worshiping "Worship"
There are probably many things that come to mind when we hear that word. For most believers I would imagine there are immediate thoughts of our church’s team of musicians. Perhaps we recall memories of powerful moments as they led us in song. Or we may picture a gathering of worshipers in a living room singing together and enjoying God’s presence. It could also be that we think of the latest praise album that was released with our new favorite new song on it.
In the last 40 years or so we have experienced massive growth in marketable worship music. This movement seems to be constantly expanding as thousands of new albums are released every year. Worship music has developed so much in fact that it has become its own genre. It is not only categorized as such but has also developed its own consistent sound, dynamic, launguage and form. Worship music has become easily identifiable even before hearing the lyrics.
We should be excited about the amount of music that is being written, recorded and released. These songs are filled with powerful declarations of truth and they become our anthems, declarations and prayers. There have been many seasons of my own life that have been marked by specific songs that God has used to encourage me. However, it’s important for us, as worshipers, to understand that music is not the only form of worship. In fact, music isn’t even the most important form of worship.
It may surprise you to learn that none of the words that are translated as “worship” in scripture have music in their definition. The most prominent words in the Old Testament for worship actually mean to bow or to serve. The word that is most used in the New Testament for worship, proskuneo, has several meanings. My two favorites are, “to kiss the hand in reverence” and “as a dog is at its masters side”. Notice how none of those are musical? The truth is that what mostly happens when we gather together for corporate “worship” is actually what scripture defines as “praise”. There are seven Hebrew words for praise. They are beautifully laid out and defined in a book that was recently released by Darren Whitehead and Chris Tomlin called Holy Roar. I highly recommend it.
The point is that worship and praise are not the same thing. You may be wondering why that matters. You may even be thinking that it’s simply semantics and it isn’t worth paying attention to. However, semantics do matter because our words create culture. Right now a large portion of christian culture has an incorrect understanding of what worship is because we have created a culture where worship is defined as music. But worship is not music. If our definition of worship doesn’t line up with God’s, how can we be sure that we are actually worshiping Him? And if we aren’t worshiping Him, what is it exactly that we are worshiping? I believe that without a course correction the church at large is in danger of creating a culture where we are worshiping “worship”.
The Bible gives us a pretty clear definition of worship; it’s your life.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
I think the common mistake we make is in confusing our life of worship with our expression of worship. Worship is surrender, it is obedience, it is devotion. These are words that must be lived. They can not be in statement or song alone. They must have action to back them up or they are empty and meaningless. It’s like when a congregation sings songs about dancing but no one dances or when we sing songs about bowing down but no one actually does it. Singing it isn’t the same thing as doing it. This gets even more serious when we are singing about following God anywhere, surrendering all, trusting Him or giving Him our whole life but then as soon as we leave the “worship” service we don’t actually follow through with any of the words we sang. Are we actually worshiping Him or simply singing some nice songs?
Imagine with me that a man and a woman get married. The following day the man wakes up in the morning, kisses his wife and whispers that he loves her. He then leaves the house without any explanation of where he is going or any contact while he is away. He returns a week later disheveled and smelling of women’s perfume. Without giving any acknowledgment to the fact he has been gone for a week he embraces his wife, tells her she is beautiful, kisses her on the cheek and begins to sing her a song about how much he loves her and about all the ways he intends to show her that he loves her. He then leaves again with no explanation and this routine continues for months and then years.
Let’s imagine another man and woman get married. This time the man is around all the time but only engages with his wife by singing her songs about how much he loves her. All of her wants, needs and requests are met only with songs and never with action.
These are not examples of healthy relationships. Beyond that, I would question if either of these men truly love their wives. They are expressing that they do but there is no life activity to back it up. It seems as if they are really only in love with the idea of love. Love is not simply an idea or a concept; love is action. This is exactly the same problem that we run into when we place all the emphasis on worship expression (singing, dancing, playing instruments) but have no action to back it up. Real worship is the activity of your life. Worship expression is an overflow of that life activity. What does that mean? It means that no matter how many songs we sing, if we aren’t worshipping God with our lives we aren’t worshiping Him at all. We are simply worshiping the idea of worship.
“Yet 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.”
God is seeking worshipers. He desires those that will worship Him in spirit and in truth. That word for truth can also be interpreted as reality. Meaning, God is looking for those who will worship Him spirit to Spirit but also in the reality of their lives.
As I stated at the beginning of this article; we are experiencing massive growth when it comes to marketable worship music. The momentum on this expression of praise and worship is beautiful and powerful and it is reaching the ends of the earth. However, we run the risk of it all being for nothing if it is not the overflow of passionate believers worshiping Jesus with our lives.
How can we begin to take responsibility for establishing value for living worship in ourselves, our communities and churches? I believe it starts with each of us seeking God. A life of worship is not one size fits all. It may look a whole lot different for the single mom who is managing three kids than it does for the eighteen year old who is fresh out of high school or the pastor with twenty years of experience in full time ministry. We are often looking for form or method while God is longing for relationship and intimacy. Your life of worship will be the result of getting to know Him and experiencing His deep and profound love for you.
Here is a simple starting point that has helped me considerably.
Take a moment in the morning and ask God this simple question out loud:
“What is one thing I can do today to worship you with my life?”
My experience has been that after asking this question in the morning it comes up in my heart over and over throughout the day. I find that God then answers it in multiple ways. When He does, it becomes an opportunity for me to respond out of love, devotion, relationship and worship. This is the beginning of a life of worship.