What is Worship?

IMG20057It seems we’ve argued for decades about the nature of worship. From the revival tunes of the 19th century to the Jesus Movement in the 1960’s, to the wave of Contemporary Christian music that still permeates much of Christian worship today.  But all of this is about music, time signatures and instrumentation.  And while these things have a psychological effect that can lead us to worship (such as the hypnotic effect of a steady drum beat), these are no substitute for true worship.

So what is real worship. I can tell you that that real worship doesn’t depend on music. In fact, music can interrupt authentic worship. I can remember many times of sitting quietly and worshipping in the presence of God during Communion, that is, until the music starting playing. Then it distracted me with half-remembered words of the hymn it was repeating.

There is this verse of Scripture which points to worship music, and points to what Christian music ought to accomplish:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
(Col 3:16)

Do you ever wonder why the Psalmist never recorded the music to the Psalms? Certainly if God thought certain tunes were worthy to use in worship, couldn’t He have found a way to help us record notes? And yet, the only thing we have in our Bibles are the lyrics to the Psalms, and certain notations where titles of long-forgotten tunes are recorded. And yet don’t we often quote the Psalms for their content? “The Lord is my Shepherd”, “Be still and know that I am God”. As Colossians suggests, the most important part of worship music, or music that helps us worship, is the lyrics, the words which are intended to teach truth.

When I was in school, I was told that the best way to learn certain facts, like the states and capitals, or the Books of the New Testament, was to put them to music. I learned my alphabet this way, and I sure you did too. I still know the alphabet song, and remembering the tune also helps me remember exactly what order the letters are. Music was designed to help you remember. That’s why we are better at remembering the songs we loved in high school than the facts of US History.

So Colossians recommends, use music as a tool for helping teach Scripture. Music will help you remember. This is also why church music needs to be sing-able as well as memorable. I have sung a few new Church hits recently, but if you tested me, I wouldn’t be able to reproduce them, because they aren’t really that easy to sing. But I can pick up my guitar and belt out “Amazing Grace” or “The Old Rugged Cross” no problem. Worship music is an easy first step to apply when trying to get into worship.

And important second step is to use that music to teach truth, which I really don’t see much of in modern worship music. I see a lot of choruses, repeating the same phrases over and over, but often find these choruses theologically bland. “I Love Jesus” times 20. Am I trying to convince myself that I love Him? Does He really want me to say that? Would my wife want me repeating that same phrase 20 times in a single setting? Why not tell Jesus 20 different reasons that I love Him? He died for me. He set me free. He paid the price. He sacrificed. I mean, just going through all the different reasons I love Him would be a proper theological exercise and spiritual reflection than repeating the same phrase ad nauseum. I feel we often run afoul of Jesus’ warning about vain babbling.

The third step to worship is that inner reflection, that personal response to the truth of Scripture. Than can be through a song, a hymn, or a spiritual song, but it can also be through verbal praises (“Hallelujah!”) or physical praises (lifting hands) or in prayer, (“Thank you Jesus for saving me and making me whole”) or just a worship perspective, seeing your position in God’s love and enjoying that. It might mean sitting down and writing a journal entry or a blog post. Worship is the moving of the heart toward God. It is emotional, involving the heart. It is relational, involving the spirit. It is motivational, involving the will. It is intellectual, involving the truths impacted into your mind. It is physical, requiring changes of posture or position.

The point of this post is this: Don’t rely solely on worship music to worship. Music is a part of worship, but only a part. It is a tool to help move you into worship. Don’t let your worship be just about the tool.

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I've been in ministry in the Christian Churches/ Churches of Christ for 20+ years. Finished my doctorate in Biblical Studies in 2015. Serve today as a Hospital Chaplain.

3 thoughts on “What is Worship?”

  1. Hi Aryn, I don’t know if this would be possible or not but I’d like to make a suggestion. Would it be possible to have a list of article titles somewhere on your page that you could click on and go straight there instead of scrolling through everything that you’ve posted over and over again? It would be very helpful, imo.


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