By Simon Presland
A non-believing friend recently asked me, “Why does God want to be worshipped? That sounds pretty prideful to me.”
His question caught me off guard. I worship God for many reasons. He is my Lord and Savior, and worship is one way I express my gratitude to him for giving me eternal life. The more I get to know him, the more I realize that I don’t just worship him for what he’s done, but for who he is—the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
Revelation 7:9-12 tells me that countless multitudes will cry out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” while all the angels fall prostrate before God, proclaiming, “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” I want to be numbered among that crowd. But my friend’s question caused me to wonder: Why does God want to be worshipped?
The Why of Worship
We know that Jesus’ followers worshipped him as the Son of God during his earthly ministry. The Bible commands us to worship him, and it tells us that he demands our worship. However, human nature is such that when we are commanded to do something, we may follow instructions, but we will likely do so begrudgingly. This is not what God wants.
I believe God wants to be worshipped because true worship is born out of relationship. God desires relationship with his creation; it is the reason he sent Jesus to die for our sins.
Knowing Jesus as our Savior fills us with awe as we realize the creator of the heavens and earth now lives inside of us by his Holy Spirit. We have an overwhelming sense of gratitude, a deep sense of the price Jesus paid on our behalf, and we fall in love with him. His all-pervading, all-consuming love that first drew us to him fills us to overflowing and we cannot help but worship him. Our worship is not something born of duty or obedience; it is given freely, openly, fully. That is the type of worship God desires.
When we worship God from our hearts, we glorify, honor, and praise him. True worship is a humbling and reverent action that exalts him on every level of our lives.
When we attend a church service, we often refer to a specific segment of the service as worship. We “sing and make melody with [our hearts] to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19, New American Standard Bible) and the “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” we sing create “thankfulness in our hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). When the service is over, it is common to hear things like, “Wow, that was a great time of worship” or “The praise and worship leader really brought us into the presence of God.”
This, however, is a limited view of worship. Just as in our personal lives, every part of a church service should be considered worship—from the opening song and greeting to the closing word and dismissal. When we gather together, God himself is in our midst (see Matthew 18:20).
In many traditions, the church service begins with an invocation. An invocation is an “invitation to worship” designed to open our hearts to God’s presence. It comes from the Latin word invocare, which means “to call upon” or “to appeal to.”
Invocations often begin with an acknowledgment of an attribute of God’s character. For example, “Father, you are holy. We long to worship you in the beauty of your holiness.” This type of invocation prepares us to enter into God’s presence. It quiets our minds and helps us to come to a place of reverence for him. As the invocation continues, it may focus on a specific purpose. For example, “We gather together today to glorify your name.” These words may evoke “amens” and “hallelujahs” from a congregation. These prayers can also create a “holy hush,” as the people enter into a deeper spirit of reverence.
Prayer and Offertory
An invocation infuses a church atmosphere with worship and sets the tone for the rest of the service. Some church traditions include a time of corporate prayer where an individual will lead the congregation in prayers of thanksgiving, intercession, and supplication. In other churches the congregation is invited to pray aloud in short sentences. However corporate prayer is offered, it deepens worship as communion and communication go back and forth between God’s heart and the hearts of the people.
When the time comes to collect tithes and offerings, it is often accompanied by an offertory, a song offering praises to God. Giving by itself is an act of worship, but an offertory helps to keep our hearts in a reverent attitude.
Preaching the Word
Preaching is an act of worship as the preacher has spent time in prayer, in study, in preparing his heart and his message. He offers spiritual food and water to a hungry and thirsty congregation. This could be why preaching has been called an “act of responsive love toward God.” It is out of an overflow of love for God that some of the most effective preaching occurs.
Often a church service ends with a song that helps us maintain an attitude of worship. Whether it’s through a song or through spoken words, the benediction at the close of a service is meant to remind us that God is with us wherever we go.
The word benediction means “good word or good speaking.” It is the pronouncement of blessing upon another. In the Old Testament a father would bless his children in the name of the Lord God Yahweh. For instance, Noah blessed his sons, Shem and Japheth (Genesis 9:26, 27), Isaac blessed Jacob (27:28, 29), and Moses blessed the 12 tribes (Deuteronomy 33).
In many church traditions today a minister will speak a benediction over the congregation. Richard Halverson, former Chaplain of the U.S. Congress and minister at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, offered one of the more famous modern benedictions: “Wherever you go, God is sending you, wherever you are, God has put you there; he has a purpose in your being there. Christ who indwells you has something he wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in his grace and love and power.”
You may wonder what a benediction has to do with corporate worship. Because a benediction is a pronouncement of a blessing, it actually leads to worshipping God. It is a reminder that God’s hand is upon our lives; his protection is with us; his divine provision is ours. Knowing these things are true in our lives, it is impossible not to worship him!
Whether private or corporate, worship ascribes to God his rightful place. All elements of our personal lives (how we do our jobs, raise our families, and treat our neighbors) and all elements of our church lives (how we use our gifts and talents and our willingness to serve) are reflections of our worship.
Psalm 29:2 tells us to “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” When we worship God this way, it will lead to a lifestyle of worship, both privately and corporately.
Simon Presland is a freelance writer in Clinton Township, Michigan.
Evaluate Your Worship
1. What types of worship do you use effectively to connect with God?
2. What types of worship do you struggle with?
3. What ways do you worship that other people see?
4. What ways do you worship that other people do not see?
5. How does your day go when you make worship a priority? When you don’t?
6. How does your worship practice change your relationship with other people in your life?
7. How readily do you see the fruit of the Spirit growing in your life?
8. When you worship, what are you focused on most: God, yourself, or others?
9. If someone asked you to briefly describe how you worship throughout the week, could you do it?
10. How has your worship changed since you first became a follower of Christ?