Worship? Why?

Someone suggested that we write on worship. Right now, that is like watching cooking shows while participating in a fast.

But, hopefully we will increase our already hungry appetite to return to corporate worship soon.

We are most fully human when engaged in worship. In fact, as we will eventually see, worship is a natural to us as breathing. We all do it … all the time. It’s part of the autonomic system of the human heart.

Worship is the end of redemption. When God called Moses to be the deliverer of his enslaved people, he gave him a sign. But it was a strange sign. It was a sign that he would have to wait on. “Trust me,” God says, “in the future, you will return to Mount Sinai, and my people will be worshiping me. Then you will know that I have sent you, and I am the redeemer.” (Exodus 3:12)

Worship as the end of redemption is the ultimate act at the end of history. “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.” (Revelation 22:3, ESV)

What is “worship?” When we say “worship,” we usually mean “that thing we do on Sunday mornings.” Or, maybe, “that thing we do when we are emotionally moved when listening to a song on the radio” (actually, this is close to the meaning of the word).

Worship is to give something or someone their proper worth (that is actually the etymology of the word “worship” is from the Old English). But etymology doesn’t always give us proper understanding. Sometimes we use words differently from how they were originally used.

So, let’s turn to the New Testament. The word that we usually translate as “worship” is “proskyneō.” In John 4, Jesus says that God should be worshiped (“proskyneō”) in Spirit and in truth.

But the word “proskyneō” is also used in other ways. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a parable about a man having to pay an unbearable debt. The man gives the master his proper devotion by imploring (“proskyneō”) him. Likewise, in Matthew 20, the mother of James and John honors Jesus while asking him for a favor. She kneels before him (“proskyneō”) to give him his honor. In both of these instances, they give the person their worthy by kneeling before that person.

So, worship is to give someone their worth. And therefore, worship is not primarily about what you get from it, but whom you give it to.

Or, to say it another way, we do not come to worship primarily to “get” from worship, but to “give” to God.

“There is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God … The way you forget about yourself is by focusing of God — not by singing about doing it, but by doing it.” (Carson, Worship by the Book, pg. 30-31)

There is a subjective experience of worship, but the subjective experience must become secondary to the object of our worship.

Thus, the subtle shift that can happen in our hearts is that what we are experiencing in worship becomes more important than who we are experiencing. “As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.” (Carson, 31)

This principle of worship is essentially important: God alone deserves the glory. But let’s be honest, that takes a massive shift of our hearts. We are naturally bent to put ourselves at the center of the story and our needs as the central focus of that story.

We need to be unbent. Or rather, made straight.

What (or rather, whom) we worship will either bend us more, or will straighten us so that we are more fully human.

In our next post, we will focus on how to refocus worship. But, here’s the teaser: we become what we worship either for redemption or for ruin.

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