Worship. (It’s not just music.)

WORSHIP 'wər.ʃəp noun. Reverence and adoration suitable for a deity; also often demonstrated to a certain principle, person, or institution.
2. Feeling or expression of such reverence and adoration; the acts or rites which make up a formal expression, such as religious ceremonies.
3. verb. To perform acts and rites of worship.
[Worshiper/worshipper 'wər.ʃəp.ər noun, worshipful 'wər.ʃəp.fəl adjective.]

When Christians pray, frequently we worship God at the same time.

The ancients defined worship as acts of reverence and devotion, same as we do. Middle easterners would usually get in the “downward-facing dog” yoga pose, putting their heads to the floor before before their gods and kings. That’s how they showed obeisance, an old-timey word for ceremonially humiliating yourself in honor of somebody else. Kings got off on that.


From the Black Obelisk of Šulmānu-ašarēdu 3: Northern Israeli king Jehu ben Jehošafat of Samaria worships Assyrian king Šulmānu-ašarēdu bar Aššur-nasir-apli, to whom he paid tribute. Probably took place in 833BC; the stone dates from 827. Wikipedia

For convenience (and partly out of pride), westerners simplified this: You could kneel and bow, but head to the floor isn’t necessary. Or you needn’t go all the way down to the ground. Or at least bow or curtsy. Whatever satisfies the person you’re worshiping… and isn’t too difficult a posture for you to get into.

Westerners also added another definition to worship: We might feel worship. That is, we feel like someone’s worthy of reverence and adoration… but we don’t assume the position before them. This meaning was also invented for convenience; somebody might get caught not performing the appropriate acts of worship, but could claim they certainly felt worship, and shouldn’t this count just as much?

The United States banned nobility in our Constitution, so most Americans have the attitude we don’t worship anyone but God. Yet we still stand when presidents, governors, judges, or mayors enter the room. Some of us bow to visiting royals… and rock stars. We don’t always identify this as worship, but that’s exactly what it is.

But this wouldn’t be enough for ancient middle easterners: They expected you face down on the ground, doing obeisance to the king or gods. Or you’d suffer consequences. And in the case of the LORD, doesn’t he totally merit this level of respect? It’s why Muslims still get down and put their heads to the floor five times a day: God is most holy, most worthy.

Some of us Christians pray the very same way: On the floor, face down, honoring God. Posture’s important.

Worship versus service.

Christians figure bowing or prostrating isn’t the only form of worship. We figure service is a form of worship. When we do good works on God’s behalf, and love our neighbors like he commanded us, that’s worship too.

Well… we might’ve added that definition to worship, but the scriptures didn’t. They distinguish between worship and service.

Luke 4.8 NIV
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

And no, this isn’t just Hebrew poetry, where we’re repeating the same idea with different words. Because there are plenty of instances in the Old Testament which contrast the two. Namely how people worshiped the LORD, but insteada serving him, they served pagan gods. The Samaritans, fr’instance:

2 Kings 17.33, 41 NIV
33 They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.
 
41 Even while these people were worshiping the LORD, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did.

The New Testament too. Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of people who worshiped the LORD in temple and in public, but privately bent his commands beyond the breaking point, and taught it was okay to do so.

Mark 7.7 NIV
“‘They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”

Y’know, kinda like certain Christian hypocrites do: They’ll perform acts of reverence and honor to Jesus, but outside the church building they’ll only serve Mammon.

True, if we worship God we should likewise serve him. And prioritize our service to him instead of prioritizing our jobs, bosses, family members, public approval, our finances, our convenience, or our comfort. One should follow the other, just like good works is the Spirit’s fruit, and evidence of salvation. But they’re not the same thing—same as good works don’t save.

Good deeds and obedience aren’t worship. They’re the result of worship. If we worship God, if we truly revere and adore him, we’re gonna want to obey him; we’re gonna want to be good like he is. These things prove we’re not just going through the motions of worshiping God, but that we authentically worship him. “In spirit and in truth,” as Jesus put it; Jn 4.23 it’s not half-hearted or hypocrisy, but full-hearted and real.

Worship versus music.

Christian music which praises God, usually which praises him second-person with a lot of “you” statements (“You are holy, you did such-and-so, I love you,” etc.) tends to get called worship music, and for a lot of Christians it’s called “worship” for short. The unfortunate side effect is Christians, particularly newbies, get the idea worship music is worship: We worship God by singing Christian songs.

And it can be. Worship’s about acts of reverence and devotion, and of course the feelings of reverence and devotion—and few things trigger feelings like music. Some of us are easily gonna get whipped into a lather for God with some really rockin’ worship music.

Others not so much. Which is why they hate worship music; they see it as emotionally manipulative. And let’s be blunt: It is. Is this a bad thing? Depends on why music pastors wanna make us emotional, and since most of ’em simply want us to worship God, I don’t see this as a problem whatsoever. (Now if their goal is to make us think they’re awesome musicians, or want us to lower our defenses so they can preach bulls--- and heresy without question, big problems.) You want people to adore and revere God, music’s a useful shortcut. One God is fully aware of—and endorses! Didn’tcha notice the five-volume book of Psalms in the bible?

But again, music isn’t worship. Music inspires worship. People sing about how awesome God is, and it reminds us and gets us to love and honor him. If it’s good music, performed well, people won’t be distracted by the music and musicianship itself, and can solely focus on God. If the words are good content, and accurately describe God instead of naïvely distorting him, we’ve got a good picture of God in our minds instead of the usual pop-culture junk, and love him for who he is instead of what we project upon him.

And if you wanna do it facing the floor, or waving your hands in the air, praising Jesus like y’just don’t care—hey, do whatever honors God.

Ritual worship.

Obviously the bible describes a bunch of ritual acts of worship. Like ritual cleanliness, ritual sacrifice (largely stuff we as Christians needn’t do anymore), and various sacraments. When pagans think of worship, that’s generally what they think of: Us doing weird church rituals.

And yeah, we can do rituals as part of our worship. But back to Jesus’s idea of worshiping in spirit and truth: Do we practice these things in reverence and devotion to God, or are we doing them because “that’s just what we do”? (Or, in the story where Jesus spoke of worship in spirit and truth, “that’s where we oughta do it”?) Yeah we should do sacraments, ’cause God thinks sacraments are important. But more important is our attitude during these sacraments. We’re doing ’em out of love, not duty; with grace, not with nitpicking how other Christians don’t do ’em the same way we do ’em.

The core of our worship, the spirit and truth of our worship, should always and only be our love of God. It’s the whole point. Otherwise why do it? Why go through the motions? Why get on the floor, go to singalongs on our day off, eat tasteless crackers, or otherwise make these efforts?—and it’d better not be to make others think we’re holy or superior. If we love God, we worship him.

And from there, all else follows.