Relationship: What is Worship?
Having been raised in a non-charismatic church, I had no idea there was any difference between worship and praise. Having now had the opportunity to worship with my charismatic brothers and sisters, I realize they do not either! Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I am a spirit-filled believer. I desire to be a part of the body of Christ and not to be separated by petty differences. Jesus Christ is Lord. Period. The last 20 years of my life have been spent pursuing God in a way I never dreamed I would. I came to the point where I was tired of the ‘death’ and ‘dryness’ of my religious traditions. When I plunged into the charismatic world, I became disillusioned at the ‘flakiness’ and lack of character I saw. What I soon realized is that I still wore the grave-clothes of both worlds. Inside I was dry and dying. Inside I was wishy-washy and in need of Godly character - the fruit of the Spirit. It was at my own recognition of these short-comings that I set out on a most incredible journey - to know God for myself. What I soon came to understand was that the deepest needs of my heart would be met in one way...that the answers to all my questions would be found through one means...that the only way to know God in the deep way I desired would become reality by one thing: RELATIONSHIP!
In the presidential election of 1996, the Clinton campaign kept one word in the forefront of their election team’s mind: It’s the economy. By keeping their focus, they were able to fend off the distractions of the opposition and to keep their heads together as a team, thereby spinning even the worst of issues to their favor by always changing the subject back to the economy. For me, relationship is the word God has spoken to my heart. I knew Jesus was Lord. I confessed with my mouth as much. I believed He was the Son of God and that He had risen from the dead. I knew all the right things to say and do. I just didn’t know that relationship was required...much less what it really meant.
Relationship, in its simplest form, means ‘to be connected or to enjoy kinship.’ To me, relationship is a two way street. I receive the life of Christ and I give back to Him and He receives from me! What a concept. No one had ever told me this was possible...at least not to the degree I have come to realize in my own life! Throughout the course of this book you will read that one word over and over - relationship! To know about God or to know He knows me is not enough. To have some type of interchange is where the rubber meets the road. A lack of relationship in the life of a believer can be pictured like this: The Sea of Galilee is full of life and freshness. It receives the rain and runoff from the surrounding hills and, in turn, nourishes the plant and animal life within its banks as well as the farmland of the surrounding area. The water within its confines flows out of the Sea of Galilee and into the Jordan River. The Jordan River is also full of life and sustenance as it winds its way to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea, in turn, receives all the same life-giving water yet it is dead! Why? Not to over-simplify, but the reality is that the Dead Sea is dead because, even though it receives ‘life’, it gives nothing back. In other words, the relationship between the two bodies of water is a one way street. As believers, we are called to live in relationship with Jesus Christ. He is real and alive and desires an intimate and ever-deepening relationship with each one of us. After all, didn’t Jesus say He would give us life...and that life more abundantly? Now that we have a picture of what this book is about, let us begin to define some very essential elements of how that relationship is to be carried out.
What is praise?
When I first set out on my journey to know God (way back in 1981!), I had just graduated from college with a degree in Church Music. Needless to say, the only job I could get at that time was that of a school bus driver. What I soon realized is that God had engineered all this to put me in a position to begin getting to know Him. Since I didn’t even know where to begin, I simply sat at the piano each day between my morning route and my afternoon route and sang my heart out to Father. At first, all I knew to do was to place my Bible on the piano, opened to the Psalms of David and cry out David’s words in song to Jesus. What I found myself doing, more often than not, was simply thanking God for all He had done in my life. As I look back on those times I now understand that what I was doing was simply taking my first baby steps. Much as a toddler who is first learning to walk towards the outstretched arms of his Daddy, I was doing nothing less than the same toward my heavenly Father! The truth is this: I had simply begun to praise Him through the expression of gratitude. What I found was spiritual legs on which I no longer had to crawl but could now walk - and, yes - run toward the Father with.
So, what exactly is praise? Most dictionaries give definitions of ‘admiration, appreciation, or commendation.’ I like the way Webster defines it: ‘admiration or gratitude expressed’. Gratitude or gratefulness is simply ‘being appreciative of the benefits one has received’. As I sang through the Psalms day after day, I discovered that whenever words of praise were used by David, they were almost always in the context of gratitude, extolling the ways in which God had benefited his life. In other words, praise is simply ‘giving thanks to God for Who He is and for what He has done’! Psalm 107:1-2 (two of my ‘life’ verses) reads:
“O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good: for His mercy endureth forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy;”
Another aspect of praise is simply declaring or telling others what God has done:
“Come and hear, all ye that fear god, and I will declare what He hath done for my soul.” Psalm 66:16
Having been set free from the sin of homosexuality in 1981, gratitude was heavily on my mind. I readily had an affinity with Paul, ‘the chief of all sinners’, when he said:
“And I thank Jesus Christ our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He hath counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy...” 1 Timothy 1:12-13
Gratitude expressed becomes praise. Praise becomes a springboard into the deeper places of relationship with Almighty God. Gratitude should be the attitude of every worshiper. Yet, the simple truth is that even a non-believer can express gratitude to God for something He has done. One can believe in God yet not know Him. In other words, praise does not necessarily require relationship. I have seen people, void of a life-changing relationship with God, receive something (like healing or financial needs met) and readily thank God for what He had done...only to go right back to the ungodly life they had lived prior to God’s intervention. We have all seen movies in which the ‘hero’ is lost at sea or in some dire situation. At some point he makes the statement, “God, if you get me out of this, I’ll change my ways.” Of course, they always make it and they ‘thank’ God verbally, but nothing else changes. Did they praise God? Yes. Did they have a relationship with Him? In both cases, I would say they did not. One can praise God and not know Him. But I believe one cannot worship God without a true knowledge of Him - without a ‘knowing’ relationship.
What is worship?
Quite literally, the word ‘worship’ means ‘to acknowledge the worth of something. But what does that really mean? How does one find the true worth of something unless he gets to know that one? And how does one get to know the Creator of the universe in such an intimate way? I personally believe that worship is living out my relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Proverbs 3:5-6 says:
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”
In other words, if I will seek to know Him in, with, and through every are or aspect of my life, He will direct my paths. He wants to be intimately involved in my life! I had always thought God was a cosmic policeman whose only interest in me came whenever I messed up. Upon the occasion of my sinning, He would zoom into my life, zap me with some punishment, then zoom out again to resume His distant and controlling stance over me (much like the church-police or pharisee’s of our day!). What I have since come to see is that He is not distant at all, but is as near as I will allow Him to be. Not only that, but He speaks to me as I speak to Him. I sing to Him. He sings to me. I dance before Him. He dances with me. I bow. He cleanses. I fall. He picks up. I sin. He redeems. I seek to know who I am. He gives me my identity. Do you get the picture? There is way more to God than we have ever realized...or ever will.
If worship is simply living out my relationship with Father, how do I ‘flesh’ that relationship out? In simplest terms, worship is obedience to God. Obedience requires surrender of our wills to the truth of His will. Giving up ‘my’ will is not some loss of personal identity as we see in the practice of many cults. Obedience and our subsequent surrender means understanding that I desperately need God - even more than I need the air I breathe. The true reality is that I need Him to hold me to this earth, not gravity. Who made the gravity? Who made the air I breathe? Who gave me life in the first place? Who overcame homosexuality (that I could not overcome myself. I tried!) and bore it on the cross for me? I can do none of those things for myself. I certainly could not save myself. Only One could do that. Jesus Christ. The truth is that I need Him to meet every need of my life...and ultimately, He does!
Do you know God to the depths that you desire? Do you think you know all you need to know of Him? I admit, there are days when I find it difficult to hear God and to know Him in an intimate way. But isn’t the recognition and confession of that need the first step in a relationship? Communication. Worship is communion with God! Communion requires expression. Love not expressed is not love. Paul was faced with the same reality when he wrote to the church in Corinth. He confessed he did not know God as fully as he desired. And he even confessed he could only see God dimly at times:
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12
Worship is presenting our hearts to God and saying, “Lord, here I am. I cannot see you for the dust of this life has settled on the glass of my heart and I can only faintly see You. Would You please take me to Yourself and wipe off that dust so that I might see You and know You a little better?” Worship is trusting God enough to let Him take your heart and cleanse it - free it - of anything that separates you from Him.
Why do we worship or praise God?
God’s Word does command us to praise Him and to worship Him. Yet, God does not force us to love Him. The beauty of any relationship that bears fruit and life is that it is entered into of and by one’s own choice. God chose me. And He allows me the freedom to choose Him in return. Yet, because of the holiness of God, we know that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. That is reality simply because He is God. The beauty and awesomeness of our God is that He still never forces us to love Him. So why do we have a verses which command us to love and worship Him? I believe it is because He provided the law (His commandments) to be like teachers which guide us to the truth. Ultimately we need God and we need to know Him. Like a parent who commands his/her children to do their homework because he/she knows that child will need that ‘knowledge’ to succeed in corporate life at some point, Father blessed us with His law because He knew we would need to know Him if we were to truly succeed at life! He commanded us:
“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Deuteronomy 6:5 (See also Mark 12:30)
God is Creator. We are the creation. The creation always reflects the heart of the one that created it! If He loved us, then isn’t our heart’s deepest desire to love Him? Isn’t the heartcry of all mankind to know God? I believe if everyone were honest they would have to say that there is an emptiness - a void - deep inside that compels them to know their purpose for existence. For the believer, that purpose is more easily seen. Again, we see why the law is needed: to guide the unbeliever to see his or her need for something to fill that void...for something greater than themselves! All that was created by God was created to bring Him glory - to reveal that ‘createdness’ that is who we are. the only way to fully know and live in that reality is to come to grips and terms with a relationship with the Creator of all that is.
“For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist.” Colossians 1:16-17
“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.” Revelation 4:11
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
Worship is an act of confession. Our outward life is merely a reflection of our inward life - who we really are (or at least who we think we are!). If we do not outwardly confess Christ, aren’t we really denying Him?
“Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33
Another aspect of confession - of relationship - is healing. James 5:16 says:
“Confess your faults (sins) one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
How does confession bring healing? If I went to a physician seeking healing for a certain ailment but would not tell him where I hurt, how could I be healed. Confession is not for the doctor but for the patient! Yes, God knows where we hurt...but do we trust God (the Great Physician) enough to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to be healed? Sin is the ultimate ailment. When the ‘cells’ of our heart have been rid of the ‘germs’ of sin by the ‘antibiotics’ of redeeming blood, life is no longer hampered and the flow of relationship is once again restored...and healing of the soul takes place. Do you see how confession is simply one more aspect or facet of worship? If we desire health in our souls, then, as with our physical bodies, we must feed our souls with the proper diet: a diet of relationship through the food of praise and worship.
“Praise ye the Lord: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant: and praise is comely (becoming).” Psalm 147:1
In other words, praise looks good on you. Praise does a body and soul good! If praise does that, worship - the depth of relationship - will do the same...and more!
What is another facet of worship? When Christ is lifted up, He draws others to Himself (John 12:32). As I have praised God publicly through my testimony of redemption...as I have sought to allow the intimacy I have come to know with my God to permeate my existence...others who have found themselves in like situations have come to seek Jesus because of what they have seen. As I have shared the intimate details of my relationship with Jesus, He has used that knowledge to draw others to see that their deepest needs can be met through knowing Him just as mine were.
What does God require of a worshiper?
God simply seeks to know those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). The most simple application of this Scripture is that He desires that whatever I express on the outside (the truth) should be a result of whatever is on the inside (the spirit). People will hear my words but will look at my life to see if there really is power or life in what I say (Ezekiel 33:31-32). God Himself looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Shouldn’t that tell us something about the truth of what it means to be a worshiper? Like a glass, here is my heart...and I see You rather dimly, but You see clear within me, cleansing every trace of the dust I’ve let build up that keeps me from what I love dearly...to see Your face more clearly...I just need Your love and grace...’til I see You face to face.
Face to face with Almighty God. That really is the deepest desire of every person. Some face that day with dread and fear, others with hope and longing.
Worship is communion or back and forth communication with God. God sees us - even the things we hide - and He still loves us. God desires that we have an honest and open relationship with Him. But to know God is to realize that we cannot know Him without being changed. Change is good - because His change brings us closer to the reality of who we really were created to be - more like Him, our Father. As with healing, honesty requires confession. Confession requires trust. Trust paves the way for relationship. Relationship is the conduit - the vessel - of life. God just wants us to be honest.
We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God. 2 Corinthians 4:2 (The Message)
God desires that we be either hot or cold. This is simply another aspect of transparency or honesty with God (Revelation 3:15-22). God desires a grateful heart expressed to Him and to others. Gratitude is like a spring-board into the depths of the pool of God’s heart (Colossians 3:17). A worshiper must worship out of love for the Father and out of genuine love for those he leads or desires to reach. Otherwise, his/her love is simply so much noise. (1 Corinthians 13)
Why do we need to worship in an outward way?
As I earlier stated, love not expressed is not love (John 3:16)! What is expression but the outward manifestation of or communication of something that we know or feel or experience on the inside? If I never told my wife I loved her or never demonstrated that love to her in some tangible way, would she know I loved her? My thoughts may be totally consumed with love for her but she would never experience those thoughts as relationship if I never shared or demonstrated them! Jesus demonstrated His love by dying for us! I have had someone say to me something like this:
“What if you were deaf and blind and could not move your physical body? How can you say that love not expressed is not love to someone who cannot express it?” If I were that person described, I would use whatever means I had available to me to express my gratitude and love for God. If all I could do was blink an eye or think a thought, that is what I would do! But that is no excuse for those of us who can freely move and say and do! We were given bodies with which to express. We were given emotions with which to express. We were given voices with which to express. On and on and on! God has made a way for us to express our relationship to Him and, in turn, receive relationship from Him through our physical members! My spirit and soul when coupled with the ‘apparatus’ of my body becomes a powerful tool of relationship with Almighty God this world needs to see and know and experience for themselves. God knows our heart, but the act of expression is important for life to take place. Worship is an act of communication and an expression of relationship.
Questions for meditation:
- What masks am I wearing to present myself to others in a dishonest way?
- What games am I playing to try and protect myself from people seeing my pain or weaknesses?
- Do I truly express my love for God in a tangible, life-giving way?
- Do people see me as superficial or sincere? What steps can I take to put off the insincerity and put on the truth?
- What would keep me from worshiping God in spirit and in truth?
- What is prayer...but talking to or communing with God? How can this truth be made more real in my life with Him?