DEFINITION AND PURPOSE OF WORSHIP
February 1, 1986 Issue
By Jimmy Cutter
The American Heritage Dictionary defines worship as "the reverent love and allegiance accorded a deity, idol, or sacred object." The Greek words for worship combine the ideas of "falling down before," "paying homage to," and "serving." From these definitions it is obvious that worship involves recognition of worth in God, and the offering of our honor, praise, and adoration to the One who is altogether worthy.
This definition leads us to consider the purpose of worship. This is important because it strikes at the very purpose of the church. The health of our personal and congregational worship reflects our personal and congregational relationship to God.
To worship genuinely is to know God. To know God genuinely is to be in a king/subject relation ship with Him. In worship we acknowledge God's kingship in our lives and His right to rule over us. Worship is for God's benefit. He has the center stage. During worship we yield ourselves to God's rule and dominion. 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 gives us a biblical description and correct focus of worship:
Praise be to you, 0 Lord, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to ever lasting. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for every thing in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
Many Christians misunderstand the purpose of congregational worship. Many times our congregational worship has become an experience in which man is the focus. Worship has deteriorated into an "I didn't get anything out of that sermon" experience. Man has become the object of his own worship. He is there to be entertained and spiritually massaged. It hardly occurs to some that worship is primarily a matter of God receiving something from us our praise, adoration, and confession of dependence on Him as our Sovereign.
Causes for Misunderstandings Concerning Worship
In many churches Christians feel that they have been cheated at the services. Many Christians might say that a walk in the woods or a walk by a stream would have drawn them closer to God than did the services of the church.
Misunderstandings about the real purpose of worship has contributed to sterile congregational worship and has devastated the potential for growth in many churches. What are some of the factors that account for our misunderstandings concerning worship?
1. Our culture. This is perhaps the first reason many misunderstand the real purpose of worship. We live at a frantic pace. We live in an "instant" age. Television has taught us to expect instant gratification of our every desire and need. Patience in our society is a scarce commodity. It is hard to be patient even in "fast food" restaurants; somehow they are not fast enough. This characteristic of our culture has carried over into our spiritual lives and particularly in our worship, and in insidious ways.
The Bible repeatedly teaches us that we must "wait" upon the Lord in order to be blessed by Him (Ps 40:1; 37:7; Isa 40:31). Many times we rush into our congregational worship services. Worship by its very nature demands a preparation of heart. It involves refocusing our mind and heart from self, others, and cares of this life to God.
Physically we may be quiet but our minds are still racing. They are occupied with what went on before the services.
When we do mentally adjust to a quieter atmosphere, we may not focus upon God. We may look around us to see who is there or not there, we determine whether or not the singing is "on" or "off," or we fight drowsiness. Then we settle down to listen to the "main event" the sermon. We may or may not follow the outline closely, but we do listen eagerly for the words "won't you come while we stand and sing." These words signal an end. We look approvingly or disapprovingly at our watches. We walk out. We greet people. We get in our car and discuss the merits or demerits of the sermon.
How tragic! We have gone and been sung to, preached at, and informed about coming events, but we have not worshiped because God did not receive anything from us. We were in a hurry. We were not prepared. We evaluated our experience by how much we received.
2. An imbalance. This is another factor that contributes in our misunderstandings concerning the purpose of worship. Worship involves a balance of our intellect, emotion and will.
a) Intellectual response. Worship involves knowledge. We must know about God. We must know something about who He is and what He has done, before we can ascribe worth to Him. Unfortunately many often concentrate on an intellectual response. It is important but it is not the whole of it.
b) Emotional response. Emotional excess in some quarters has made many wary of any emotional expression. However, when we focus on the greatness, power, majesty, wisdom, and love of God it creates a joy, an exuberance, a liveliness that is the opposite of dead, ritualistic services.
c) Volitional response. Worship also involves our will. We must constantly submit our will to His will. We must voluntarily place ourselves under His Lordship and Headship.
3. A lack of private worship. This is a third reason why our worship services are often more form than reality. If we are not thankful, praising, worshiping people in our private lives, we probably will not engage in meaningful congregational worship.
Our whole relationship to God is to be characterized by an attitude and practice of thanksgiving. It is impossible to instantly experience fellowship with God at precisely 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Congregational worship is a continuation of what has already happened, during week, in our lives.
God wants our worship more than anything else. Congregational worship is an expression central to the purpose of the church. Worship is so critical to congregational health that it needs to be emphasized. Congregations need to be taught what worship is, its purpose, its function, and its place in the life of the body.
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