When you see the word, “worship,” what immediately comes to mind? I would guess that it is something to do with church music. The word is a rich and deep word, but to most of our modern ears, it conveys singing along to lyrics on a screen. A “worship leader” is the one who leads the songs in a church service. A worship time typically indicates a period devoted to singing. Worship, defined by the church culture today, is largely confined to music and singing.
Sadly, that definition falls far short of what the word truly means, and often leads us into thinking that when we are singing songs in church that we are worshipping God. As I often have told students over the years, worship does not mean singing spiritual songs.
The classic definition of worship is to attribute ultimate worth to someone or something. What we give the highest priority in our lives is truly what we worship. For instance, a man can faithfully attend worship services, but be very stingy with his money and gives very little of it for Kingdom work. His focus of worship is not God, but his money because to him it is the most important.
Another example is a mom of a college student who has sent her daughter off to college. One day, the daughter comes home and asks permission to go on a mission trip with her campus ministry over Christmas Break because she feels the Lord is wanting her to do so. The mother rejects the idea because she wants her home for Christmas as has been the family tradition for the life of the child. What this mom is worshipping is her family tradition because, if the Lord is leading her daughter to skip out on the tradition, then that is what she is to do. Can one worship the Lord and disobey him or force others to do so?
We can worship the Lord through singing, but if our hearts are truly devoted to something or someone else, then our singing is meaningless to the Lord. Hear the words of the Lord found in Amos,
I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,I will not accept them.Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.Away with the noise of your songs!I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river,righteousness like a never-failing stream!Did you bring me sacrifices and offeringsforty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?You have lifted up the shrine of your king the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god which you made for yourselves. Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus, says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty. (5:21-27 NIV)
The narrowness of our definition of worship often blinds us to those things that actually have captured our hearts. To guard against this, we need to examine what are the true priorities in our lives. Do we prioritize our comfort so much that we would be reluctant to give it up if the Lord called us to a place or situation that would be very challenging to us, such as moving away from family and friends, to engage non-Christian neighbors in order to share the Gospel, or to begin giving tithes to our church that are large enough to truly impinge on our current lifestyle? Do we prioritize the safety of our emerging adult children so much that we are willing to stand in the way of them following the Lord wherever he leads? Or do we so value seeing our grandchildren that we object to our adult children following the Lord to a different country far away?
True worship is to have an undivided heart. We’re all in for the Lord and will submit our desires and longings to him. Thus, when we’re forced to make a choice between what we want and what the Lord wants, we humbly submit our desires and give to him what he desires. This is what it looks like to worship the Lord. Like David, let us pray for an undivided heart, one totally devoted to the Lord above all else.
© Jim Musser 2019