Our English word “worship” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon term meaning “worth-ship.” Worship is actions and attitudes that show how much we value someone or something. The simplest definition of worship is to ascribe ultimate worth. Bruce H. Leafblad reminds us, “In true worship, love is the supreme affection, and God is the exclusive object of our greatest love. At its center, this divine-human encounter we call worship is a love affair of the highest and holiest order.”
How do you show your spouse or loved ones that you value them highly, that they are worth everything to you? Do you listen intently when they talk, engage them in conversation, lavish them with gifts, serve them, love them unconditionally, and build your relationship daily? Those are the same elements of worship which we shower upon our Lord. A.W. Tozer said: “The whole personality has to worship God. Faith, love, obedience, loyalty, high conduct and life all must be taken as burnt offerings and offered to God.”6
In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers stated: “Worship is giving God the best that He has given you. Be careful what you do with the best you have. Whenever you get a blessing from God, give it back to Him as a love gift. Take time to meditate before God and offer the blessing back to Him in a deliberate act of worship. If you hoard a thing of blessing for yourself, it will turn into spiritual dry rot, as the manna did when it was hoarded [Exodus 16]. God will never let you hold a spiritual thing for yourself, it has to be given back to Him that he may make it a blessing to others.”7
Because worship means “worth-ship,” worship is a continual lifestyle of showing God’s ultimate worth 24/7, all day every day. Worship begins every morning when we present the day before us to God for his use. In my first waking moments, before I even get out of bed, I say to God, “Father, this day is yours. Take it and use it however you choose. Transform me in your image. Walk with me through every moment today and use me for your mission and your glory.” This prescription for daybreak worship will ignite you to discipleship and mission as you walk in his presence throughout your day. And it will overflow into your corporate worship in church each week, too.
If we do not redefine worship as a minute-by-minute hunger for God’s presence, we may think worship is all about us. How often have you heard someone say they left a church because they “just weren’t being fed”? A true worshiper feeds on the presence of God 24/7 in trust and obedience. Then when we gather for corporate worship with the body of Christ, our worship together is powered by our personal lifestyles of daily worship. How can I do any less if I truly accept the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for me?
So the derivation of the word “worship” helps us start to understand it. But there is more to true worship than our English word signifies. The biblical words for worship are far more descriptive and hold more meaning. Let’s look at them.
“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” — Psalm 95:6, NIV
The Old Testament word for worship is the Hebrew word shachach (pronounced “shaw-kawh”). This word means to bow down, to fall prostrate in subjection before the one you worship. When I shachach, I expose my neck in unguarded vulnerability. In Old Testament times the weapon of choice was the sword. If I was walking down the road and encountered a soldier in the conquering army that ruled my land, I might bow down before him. This act of submission puts my life in the hands of the approaching soldier. As I expose the nape of my neck, he can use his sword to cut off my head or stab me in the back. But on the other hand, he can turn the sword blade sideways and lay it on my shoulder to bless me, saying, “Your subjection to me has earned my favor. Rise and walk along with me. I will protect you and guide you.”
In the New Testament, the word used for worship is the Greek word proskuneo, which means to “prostrate one’s self in subjection.” When we understand worship as falling before God in complete subjection, we draw closer to the heart of worship. Subjection presupposes the attitude of sacrifice, of giving up my right to myself.
In the Old Testament, sacrifice and worship were inseparable terms. King David himself once approached the altar with no sacrifice because he was at war. A bystander offered to give David his own sacrificial offering since the king did not have one himself. But David replied, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24, NIV). This attitude of personal sacrifice is too often missing in our worship. Can our acts even be called worship if they cost us little or nothing? The foundation of worship is always sacrifice—God sacrificing his Son for us, us sacrificing our lives for God, and the church sacrificing personal agendas for the good of the kingdom of God. We cannot allow church members to think of themselves as customers or spectators!
A.W. Tozer wrote, “It is certainly true that hardly anything is missing from our churches these days—except the most important thing. We are missing the genuine and sacred offering of ourselves and our worship to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Harold Best, dean of Wheaton College Conservatory of Music, wrote: “Worship this, worship that, conferences here, symposia there; source books, methodologies, cue sheets and, sadly enough, worship styles as litmus tests for spirituality. It just may be that, instead of worshiping, we have come to the dangerous condition of worshiping about worship or even worshiping worship.”
Shachach and proskuneo paint a poignant picture of surrender and subjection to God. The primary goal of worship is not passion but surrender. In their article “We Were Made to Worship Him,” Regi and Kimberlee Stone wrote: “God is simply looking for the kind of obedience that says, ‘Take my finances, my abilities, my children, my home, my prayers. Use them to bless others.’”
So… by definition… are you TRULY WORSHIPING??? — Mark Powers
Leafblad, Worship 101: Recovering the Priority of God, http://www.ozcorners.net/ worship/19-worshiparticles/30-worship-101-recovering-the-priority-of-god.
Snyder, Tozer on Worship and Entertainment, 4.
Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, January 6: “Worship.”
Strong, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.
Snyder, Tozer on Worship and Entertainment, 15.
Best, “When Is Worship Worship?” http://www.leaderu.com, (accessed October 8, 2008).
Stone and Stone, “We Were Made to Worship Him,” Perspectives on Worship: Vol 1, 203.