The Heart of Worship

Worship is a vital topic, and when we examine the concept of worship, we find that there are a lot of ideas yet few definitions. For one individual, worship is a type of bowing or show of allegiance, and to another it is singing a song to God. There is also a tendency when speaking about worship to picture corporate worship, which is a beautiful gift from God, but still is a facet of worship. While these examples are certainly aspects or branches of worship, worship is more than that. The biblical reality is that worship is continuous. Worship is put into perspective when we recognize that genuine worship is glorifying God, specifically with our hearts, especially in his presence. Worship is a mode of living, a lifestyle, and disposition of the heart. 

Rather than believing that showing up to church and singing a song is worship, we must grasp how deep worship actually is. Worship is firstly a matter of the heart, one submitted to God, and secondly an expression of that disposition of the heart. Worship is found expressed throughout the scripture in the form of obedience, thanksgiving, praise, hymns, singing, confessions, communion, prayer, preaching, etc. All of these expressions are beautiful; however, if faith is not present, or if the heart is turned from God, it is in vain and improper. Worship should best be understood as a life in surrender to God in faithful obedience. 

Many of us, regardless of our particular confession, are familiar with the Westminster Catechism’s question, “What is the chief and highest end of man?” and its answer, “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully enjoy him forever.” The purpose of man is fulfilled in a life of worship, not merely a weekly attendance of lip service masqueraded as worship. Many of us are well familiar with 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”, and here we find this extension of worship to everyday life. Who do you live for and glorify? Idolatry – the worship of another god – is littered throughout the bible. In fact, it is noted as the great sin of humanity, and the question we must ask ourselves is, who do we serve when we leave our congregations? What idols have we raised up? Idols in the west tend to be ourselves as we make ourselves little gods and thus seek to bring glory to ourselves through a variety of ways, while ignoring the words of Christ: to lay down our lives and follow him (Luke 9:23). Most Christians are aware that sanctification is the conformity to Jesus’ image, and thus a life of following Jesus. What that entails, of course, is a life of worship: glorifying God. 

While I encourage a deeper study of Jesus’ words calling people to follow him, I would point us back to Luke 9:23 for this particular discussion. In this text, Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow him. Taking up a cross meant death. Surely, the imagery cannot escape us when we are told prior to that phrase to deny ourselves, and afterwards to follow him. We are to die to ourselves, daily, not just on Sunday, and follow Christ in a life of living for and glorifying God. That is worship. Following Paul’s theological treatise on the Gospel in Romans, we reach the point of practical application to which Paul begins with, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1). Our spiritual worship is to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God, laying down our lives for God, a theme found throughout the New Testament. This couples well with the text telling us to take up our cross, die to ourselves, and follow Jesus. The joke has been said that the problem with living sacrifices is that they climb off of the altar, and as true as it is, Paul reminds us that because we live in the power of the resurrection, we are servants of righteousness, slaves of God (Romans 6). Paul tells us that we are to give ourselves entirely over to God, which should be no surprise given the greatest commandment, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). 

 It is appropriate for such a reminder in our day of ritual without faith, and practice without heart, especially when scripture itself detests such practice. When examining the Sermon of the Mount in Matthew 6:1-18, Jesus addresses glorification of oneself in a system of ritual without heart. Jesus warns to not do acts of righteousness to be seen by man (6:1), to not announce when you help the needy (6:2-4), to not pray to be seen by men or babble ritualistically in order to be heard (6:5-7), and to not fast in order to be seen (6:16-18). These types of self-glorifying hypocrisies are still common today, but how much more so when we sing to God in corporate worship while our hearts are covered in filth? When we harbor anger, or apathy, when we come to praise without submitting our hearts, or perhaps when we spent the week living like the world? 

Jesus, in Mark 7:6-7, addresses this very issue in his quotation of Isaiah. While he denounced the traditions of man, he also denounced their heart, “And he said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’” (Mark 7:6–7). In many respects we have become such hypocrites in our worship, congregationally and in our daily lives, typically with thoughts similar to the prayer of the hypocritical Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14), that is, at least I’m not like so and so. 

 It is imperative that we understand worship properly, and understand that our lives are to be a life of worship. We sing songs, because it spills out of a heart that loves God, a heart that wishes to make much of God, glorifying him in praise. We follow Christ, in humble submission to the Father, to a life of glorifying God. It should bring us comfort that we have the Holy Spirit, sanctifying us, and helping us in this journey of self-sacrifice and obedience. Let us clean the house of our hearts and turn it towards God in our everyday lives, not letting lip service be our worship. When we arrive in corporate worship, let it be in the midst of saints who have been living out the same purpose, united in the same purpose, and expressing the same purpose: to glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

Article was originally featured through Deadmen before they shut down. I’d like to give a special thanks to Emily Urban from http://emilyurban.com for editing and providing feedback on this article.

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