When Is Worship Real?

Just because your hands are up doesn’t mean it’s from the heart.

A man stands in church on Sunday morning with his hands held high, worshiping God. Amid the music he stands silently, breathing slowly, letting God’s grace, mercy and love wash over him. He feels peace, calm and joy, and he responds through worship.

The same man is walking to work on Monday morning. He is praying, silently, when he feels convicted by God. Walking silently, he lets God’s grace, mercy and love wash over him. He feels peace, calm and joy, and he responds through worship, thanking God from his heart on the sidewalk.

Is one of these moments more worship-filled than the other? When the man is in church on Sunday, does his worship “count” more? Do we need to have our hands held high and be singing the latest stadium-filling worship chorus in order to really encounter God?

There is a dangerous tendency in the church to compartmentalize aspects of our faith. For instance, we often “come into God’s presence” in church, which implies we leave it when we leave church. We “enter into a time of worship” when the band stands up, which suggests when we sit down our worship ceases. It is true that most of this is semantic—but the underlying concerns are real.

The concept of worship, in particular, has suffered from this. We know we can pray anywhere and it will not have a lesser value. To pray in church or to pray on the bus is the same.

We “enter into a time of worship” when the band stands up, which suggests when we sit down our worship ceases.

Yet worship seems more complicated. We tend to think of worship as the 15-minute song set preceding the sermon. We know at a deeper level that it is more than that, that it is a lifestyle attitude, but we continue to associate it with singing.

In the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, the word used for "worship"—shachah—means more to bow down than anything else. When the Israelites spoke of worshiping God, they understood it as bowing down before Him. Similarly, in the Greek of the New Testament, the commonly used word for "worship"—proskuneo—suggests the act of getting down on one’s knees and adoring.

There is no doubt that sung worship has a key role in a life of worship. It is a biblical response seen throughout Scripture. But while responding to God’s love and mercy through song is a powerful act, it can also be misused. The modern worship movement, with its lights, big bands and swelling songs treads a fine line between leading people into God’s presence and leading them to a rock concert. What makes the difference is up to you. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if the emotions felt during these times of worship are a response to God or a response to the music. But in that moment, you get to decide whether you are worshiping in your spirit or caught up in the show.

This is not to say that people do not meet with God this way, and in many ways our congregational worship is now more inclusive and more intimate than it has ever been. But the act of raising hands in church on Sunday does not, on its own, translate to a life of worship.

A life of worship involves seeing and searching for God in the day-to-day, responding to Him when we don’t feel like it and putting our entire life into the posture of bowing before Him—in our daily decisions, habits and occupations. Merely saying the words isn’t enough; the truths we speak of and read in Scripture must be lived out.

All of these moments work together in a life of worship, creating power to propel our words of praise into action.

A lifestyle of worship is like an engine. Engines are made up of multiple pieces, each working according to its own task. Some components are large and provide great bursts of power, whilst others are tiny connectors, allowing the larger pieces to work. Despite the size of the part or its role, there is one purpose: to create power.

Like an engine, a life of worship has different parts—some big, some small. There are the encounters with God in our communities, in our churches when we gather with others to communally worship God and thank Him for what He has been doing in our lives. Then there are the encounters we face everyday, whether we are struck by the beauty of creation, the need for grace in a broken world or the whisper of God in amongst our daily routines.

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All of these moments work together in a life of worship, creating power to propel our words of praise into action. Meeting with God through sung worship is no more important than meeting with Him on the road to work or when out with friends. It is the combination of these encounters, the foundation they create, that helps mold a life of worship.

Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” Worship that honors God is not necessarily marked by the most expressive Sunday morning singing. Rather, a life of worship is one that speaks of God, that listens to God, that sees God in the world and that responds to God. No one song can capture this or provide for this. God desires us to worship Him through all we do—words, actions, songs, encounters.

God loves to hear us when we sing His praise—and He indeed responds by singing over us (Zephaniah 3:17). We should continue to worship Him through singing, whether communally or individually, as we supplement this with daily acts of worship that give our words hands and feet.



Kenneth Baker commented…

I believe worship is living it...


Anonymous commented…

Worship isn't a building, it isn't a pulpit at the front, it isn't even a leader giving a sermon........Worship comes from and to places you would never imagine! That is truly God working in and through us. When we allow it to happen without thought, preparation or even a book.When worship is natural, then it is real. Practice what you preach. Worship is personal and public. Worship is a lifestyle full of acts everyday. Prayer unspoken as well as spoken. Worship is never giving in or up! It is -Standing up and speaking out or sitting silently and meditating on it! You know what worship is and so does our creator! And after all....isn't that who counts first and most of all!


Anonymous commented…

I had so much inner conflict when reading this article but really had so much trouble articulating why. Then I read these couple of Tweet's from Jeremy Riddle, worship pastor at Bethel Church in Redding, "If the chief end of mankind is to worship God and enjoy Him forever, 20 mins of worship once a week seems poor training for such a destiny..." He continues, "And yes...I am aware that worship is a 'lifestyle'. But this does not minimize the importance of our corporate worship times." And finally, "If the corporate declaration of God's praise wasn't immensely important, there would be some other activity going on around His throne."

These were my sentiments exactly, because I still feel like worship in music and corporately is extremely important.


Jenny Joy commented…

I enjoyed your article and relate to the "tug of war" that goes on in many Believers lives...I can look back on the 20 odd years I was involved in "worship teams and leading" and try not to cringe too much, as I see how narrow and futile(except for our egos) it all was...I only did what I was taught from the pulpit, and tried to please God and man...Thankfully , God in His Grace led me out from all that and I began a Freedom journey outside the 4 walls, from man made religion...One of the Many shifts in thinking was to do with "worship"...As the writer here brings out , worship comes in many ways...For Me, it's being totally in awe of one of His sunrises, to sensing His power in a storm or looking in amazement at yet another world under the sea snorkelling...to seeing His Love in the smile of a child...Or being moved by a song on the radio by Avril Lavigne...yep you heard me right...
How can we say to get together and sing songs about Jesus, like clones in a building on a Sunday, is worship? ...what about the ones who don't sing or play an instrument, or like music, but are touched by Him in other ways? We seem to always put God in little Religious boxes, that Thankfully He continues to Burst out of!!
I'm still peeling away a lot of crap, and the Freedom of Living Loved by an Amazing Father, and beginning to truly Love whoever comes my way, is one crazy good adventure! His Grace is Huge, His Love Unconditional... Relax and enjoy Him however He reveals Himself... :)


Anonymous commented…

Great post. For starters, I appreciate that it was written by a worship leader. For me, the "breakthrough" was when I learned more about the gifts of corporate worship and personal worship - Both are needed. Thanks James.

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