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Defining Worship


The difficulty of worship for many Christians is squarely rooted in a terrible misunderstanding of that word. Consider how we often describe corporate worship events. We might say things like, “the worship was so moving,” or “you really felt the presence of God,” or “the music was awesome,” or “the worship was so sweet!” It isn’t that those statements don’t describe things that happen in corporate worship. And it isn’t that experiencing those things is bad. But our language does show us how our focus is unbalanced. We tend to see worship as something we experience rather than as something we do. The word worship actually comes from the melding of two Old English words, worth + sciepe. Worth is a word that means valuable, appreciated, or highly thought of, and sciepe is a word that refers to a condition of being. Therefore worship is an expression of how valuable or appreciated something is. It’s an honoring of the person or object in which we find value. We don’t experience worship so much as we give it.


David demonstrates this idea when he directs the spiritual beings of Heaven to worship God by “ascribing” to him the glory and strength that are due his holy name (Psalm 29:1-3 NIV).


David gives us a lot of ways that we can ascribe worth to God, or to honor him. In Psalm 96 he tells us that we can worship God by singing a new song, by praising his name, by proclaiming his salvation, by declaring his glory and his deeds to the world, and by bringing offerings into his courts, among other things. Worship is something we do, and not something we necessarily feel.


In both of those psalms, David makes a very curious and important statement that allows us to see exactly why we worship. In Psalm 29, he tells the angels to worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness (Psalm 29:2 NIV). He then goes on in the next several verses to describe that splendor in terms of the thundering powers of the voice of God. He uses the same phrase in Psalm 96, when he tells us to worship God in the splendor of his holiness (Psalm 96:2 NIV). He then goes on to speak of how all of the earth should tremble before him. Holiness is a word that means to be set apart. So David is telling us that we should worship God because he is set apart above all other things, and that he is so set apart and unique and powerful that it is splendorous. Because of this splendor, and because he is the most high God, he is deserving of our worship. We should consider him valuable because of his ultimate power, and how because he is good, he leverages his power for our good.


So discipline yourself to express to God the value you have for him. Make that expression the purpose of your worship rather than the experience. And when you do that, you might just find a more fulfilling experience.

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