One thing that I have always struggled with was accepting a gift. Do not get me wrong, I certainly do enjoy receiving gifts, I just sometimes do not know how to react in a way that is appropriate. If your reaction is not big enough when you receive a gift, the giver may think you do not appreciate it and you risk offending them. On the other hand, if you react too heavily the giver may think you are being insincere or overdramatic. The key is to respond in the appropriate way to adequately express thanks to the giver.
God has given us the ultimate gift. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We earned death by our own choices and sin, yet God gave us life through what Jesus did on the cross. Not only has he given us life through creation, but He has also given us life through the cross. How are we to respond to that gift? It is my conviction that the only way to adequately and appropriately respond to what God has done for us (in creation and the cross) is to offer Him worship with a convicted heart.
In times like these, what does that even look like? From church to church worship is vastly different. There are different practices, traditions and attitudes concerning the worship of modern churches in our culture today. Yet we should not be consumed with how others have decided to respond to the Giver, but we should simply seek to discover the pattern of worship that is revealed in the Word of God so that we may adequately and appropriately respond to God.
Worship That Looks to God is Focused on God
The Bible is clear we are to have nothing above God in our lives. The first of the ten commandments rings loud, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). We are not to exalt our spouses, significant others, children, family, friends, jobs or hobbies above or even close to the level that God is exalted in our lives. God, and only God, is worthy of worship. Jesus passionately asserted to Satan during His temptation in the wilderness, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10). In Revelation, it is recorded that John fell down in worship of angels on two occasions. Both times he was rebuked and was encouraged to “Worship God” (Revelation 19:10; 22:9). It is made absolutely clear that that only God is worthy of our worship.
Another consideration concerning this is that worship is not about me, it is about God. Worship is not about what we can get out of it, it is about what we can put into it (although we are certainly encouraged by our time together in the context of Hebrews 10:24-25, etc.). It is a time for us to honor God and give Him all the glory. He is to be to ultimate focus of our corporate worship assemblies. Worship is a time where we are to be completely focused on God and surrendering all of our attention to Him. To illustrate this think about how frustrating it can be to have a conversation with someone who is distracted and it is clear that you do not have their full focus. Imagine how God feels when our lips sing praises to Him yet our minds are focused on lunch, responsibilities at home or work, things that have happened during the weekend, why the preacher decided to wear that bright pink tie and so on.
The following song lyrics bring much meaning to the level of focus we need to have: “Your will above all else, my purpose remains. The art of losing myself, in bringing You praise.”1 All of our worries, troubles, and thoughts must be lost and put away for this moment that we surrender all attention to God. A friend of mine once told me, “the key to giving comforting and warm hugs is to envision giving yourself completely to the other person.” That is how we ought to offer worship to God give ourselves completely and fully to Him without reservation or distractions.
Worship That Looks to God Submits to His Will
Perhaps the most pressing concern of worship in our modern times is how we are to conduct ourselves in a worship setting. What are the acts of worship that we are to offer to God? Is there any standard? Some think that there is absolutely no standard for worship and that anything goes. Others think that you should worship in a way that best helps you commune and communicate with God. They claim it is not necessarily about what has been sanctioned in Scripture as it is about what most helps you relate to God. This idea sounds noble, appears very spiritual, and there is no doubt in my mind that those who believe this are very sincere. However, this is simply not the picture that is painted in Scripture.
We are not left in the dark to wonder if God cares how we worship. That which we offer to God must be “holy and acceptable” (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 12:28-29). Our worship is to be completely based on the truth (John 4:23-24). God will accept nothing less as seen in the offering of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16), as well as Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3). The fact that God demands us to offer “holy and acceptable” worship was true in the Old Covenant and is no less true in the New Covenant.
How then are we to know what is “holy and acceptable?” Jesus was given all authority (Matthew 28:18), and He promised that the Holy Spirit would come and guide the apostles in all truth which we know has been delivered once and for all (John 16:13; Jude 1:3). We now have the complete, inerrant Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3). We do not need to guess what is “holy and acceptable” to God or try to read His mind. God has revealed His will to us (2 Corinthians 2:6-13) and we must submit. Miller writes, “For true Christianity to be practiced, we must be true to God’s directions. We must be faithful to the book.”2
Has God failed to reveal to us how to worship? By no means (Matthew 26:26-29; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; Acts 20:7; Ephesians 5:19). The failure is with us, humans, to submit humbly to His will. We are often concerned solely with what we get out of worship. We judge congregations by the preacher’s ability, a song leader’s talent, whether or not the service is entertainingall based on whether or not worship “meets our needs.” The following words speak loudly, yet are counter-cultural: “If we want our needs met, if we really want to achieve personal contentment and satisfaction, the only bonafide, surefire way to do so is to conform to God’s will.”3
Worship That Looks to God is From the Heart
God has all of our focus and our lives in submission to Him, we must not neglect what might be considered the most important of allour hearts. We can give God all our time and carry out His will to the very last detail, yet if we do not have the right heart He will not accept our offering of worship. David acknowledges in his meaningful prayer of repentance to God, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17). Are we to take this to mean that God does not care what we offer Him? No, once we have the right heart before God then He “will delight in right sacrifices” (verse 19).
The conflict of whether we should worship in “spirit” or in “truth” is not a conflict at all. A person who truly offers “holy and acceptable” worship comes before God with the right heart and with the right actions. Johnson is correct when he says that worship is when “we honor God from the heart through actions proscribed by Him.”4
Worship that looks to God makes Him the focus, submits to His will and is from the heart. There are certainly difficulties that come along with this. It is completely counter-cultural and it takes continuous work, devotion and evaluation. If we want to restore the Church of the New Testament the Church Jesus bled and died for, we need to be committed. As Dan Chambers writes, “true restoration demands boldness.”5 Let us pray that the Church today will continue to pursue boldness to offer God “holy and acceptable” worship.
- Joel Houston, “From the Inside Out,” Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing 2005).
- Dave Miller, Surrendering to His Lordship, (Montgomery AL: Apologetics Press, 2012), 17.
- Dave Miller, Piloting the Strait, (Montgomery AL: Apologetics Press, 1996), 189.
- Mike Johnson, Bible 101: First Steps in Spiritual Growth, (Dallas, TX: Start2Finish Books, 2015), 50.
- Dan Chambers, Churches in the Shape of Scripture, (Franklin, TN: Faith Works Press, 2012), 92.
This article originally appeared in the Gospel Advocate in April of 2018.