By Steven Clark Goad
Somehow I’ve managed to avoid the worship wars that have raged over the years. I’ve missed whether to have contemporary songs flashed on the wall by PowerPoint or hunker down with more traditional assemblies. (What is a contemporary song anyway? Weren’t all songs contemporary when they were first presented? But I digress before getting started.)
Perhaps my take on what worship is may have a part in my ability to avoid such controversy.
Origin of Worship
All of my concordances list Genesis 22:5 as the first mention of the word worship in Scripture. The account is when Abraham was about to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice according to God’s request. In this poignant episode, father Abraham tells his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” I can only imagine the heartache that was consuming the patriarch. Yet, in his gigantic faith, Abraham wanted to worship God one last time with his beloved son.
Did Abel worship God with his accepted sacrifice? No doubt. Did Cain offer worship improperly? Apparently. We are created beings and within us is an innate desire to worship our Creator. All civilizations have figured out some way to worship the being or beings they considered above and beyond them. Worship distinguishes us from the animal kingdom, though our pets seem to challenge that concept at times.
The Transcendent God
YHWH. The tetragrammaton caused the scribes to put down their quills and select another after writing the name of God. We see it in our Bible as the capitalized word Lord. God is awesome and so far above us that we often feel he is out of reach. His infinite presence is called elohim, el, elyon in the Hebrew and theos in the Greek. He is the omni- boss of the universe: omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. Yahweh is Spirit.
As a lad at my mother’s knee, before I could read, I memorized Scripture. All we had was the King James Version, so all my memory work was done in Elizabethan archaisms. Why mother had me memorize this verse as my first, I know not. But I did: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24, KJV).
As a kid I could rattle off that verse without batting an eye. I was 5. I had no clue what the words meant. I later learned the article “a” is not in the Greek. God is Spirit. Period. He isn’t “a” spirit or some spirit. God is the essence of what it means to be outside the physical realm we live in. He is otherworldly. So how do we worship someone so lofty as that?
As I matured I learned the context of this beautiful memory verse. Jesus was with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. He captured her immediate attention. She was probably nervous. She knew he was a rabbi or prophet or someone special. So she took advantage of the occasion and tried to get him off her personal life and onto the topic of worship. “So, Lord, where do we worship? In your holy temple or on our holy mountain, Gerizim?”
I relish our Savior’s answer. There would come a time when worship did not need to be in a temple or on a mountain. The temple would be each soul the Holy Spirit indwelt. Worship would be more a matter of the heart than a matter of locale and ritual. Some of us have yet to learn this marvelous truth.
Every Day, Everywhere
We have followed to a fault history’s template of what worship is. No wonder many of us are spiritually malnourished. We think worship begins at 11 o’clock sharp and ends at 12 o’clock dull. A young man said to me recently, “Worship is boring.” He actually said “church is boring,” but I knew what he meant. He seems to have missed what many of us have missed—that worship is far more than a couple of hours in a church building going through various motions and so-called acts/items of worship. It is far more than that.
I worship God every day in every way I might. I do not dismiss assembly, for it is vital to our spiritual well-being. It is required of us according to the Bible (Hebrews 10:25). But some of us, most of us perhaps, have forgotten the purpose for gathering as siblings in Jesus. It is for the provocation of love and good deeds. It is far more for us than for him. I worship God anywhere I choose. But the assembly is for us that we might encourage each other toward greater fidelity.
There is more than one word for worship. I know that. Scholars can do word studies that boggle the mind. Not being a Greek scholar myself, I am more dependent on the translated word in my native tongue. And my favorite of all biblical definitions of worship is found in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your true and proper worship” (NIV).
Pow! One day that single verse hit me in the solar plexus and altered my thinking tremendously. I must worship God with my life 24/7. Surely it should involve everything I do. When I play tennis I am not worshipping per se, but should I not play tennis remembering that I am a living sacrifice? Shall I not be a holy tennis player?
Worship is showing adoration to God. I know one definition of it is to throw a kiss toward God. I never could quite gasp the importance of that so much as I could being a continual living sacrifice. It’s really true that whatever we do in word or deed should all be done in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17). (Would eating pizza be included?)
Just what did Paul say in Romans 12 that our spiritual worship was? 1. To be living sacrifices. 2. To be holy. 3. To be pleasing to God.
How is that even possible in these carbon units we occupy that seem so eager to be distracted by the latest fads, fashions, and sports icons? It is only accomplished by altering our minds. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
Each day we have the challenge and opportunity before us—to renew our minds in order to offer true worship to our King. I’m ready. Are you?
Steven Clark Goad is a minister and freelance writer in Blythe, California.
Test Your Hymn Knowledge
• Last year a list of “The 25 Most Popular Christian Hymns” was created. Before you read it, see how many you can guess.
• See how many hymn titles you can match in these games: