The Open Secret to Satisfying Worship
by Sterling M. Durgy

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Christian worship is an activity that is often largely misunderstood in our time. Large numbers of people seem to think worship as a boring waste of time. Others seem to rate worship in terms of what they get out of it: inspiration, good feelings, or knowledge. Both of these views are off-base. There are two simple facts which, if understood, make Christian worship come alive:

First, worship is an act of giving, not receiving. It follows that worship results from a correct understanding of who we are giving worship to. God is like no other thing or being; God is greater than anything we can imagine. Paul observed that even some pagan philosophers agreed that in God "we live and move and exist" (Acts 17:28). We do so because God created us, and He created us to have a special relationship with Him. When we worship, we set aside time to come before the only true God, but in true worship we do so in a special way: we come before Him as creatures coming before their Creator -- the Creator of life. It is this God who makes life worthwhile, because there is no good thing that we have or can ever have that does not trace back to Him (James 1:17).

One of those "good things" we receive from God is salvation. Our sin causes a separation from God, "but God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). This salvation was purchased for us at great cost (1 Peter 1:17-21). Worship, then, must include acceptance of this gift, gratitude for this gift, and honor and praise to God for His self-giving nature.

Giving honor and praise to God might seem unnecessary unless it is remembered that in human society those who give of themselves for the sake of others are publicly recognized and thanked. How much more is God, Himself, worthy of the recognition of who He is and what He has done for us; and because God is a living God, He deserves recognition for what He is doing for us now and will do for us through eternity as well as for His acts in the past (cf. Ephesians 2:4-7, 1 Peter 1:3-9). One of Paul's prayers in Ephesians was that his readers would understand and appreciate God's continual work in their midst on their behalf (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Worship is an act of "coming before Him." God is surely available to us at any time, but in times of worship, we set devote time specifically to God. While we can do this alone, it is even more meaningful when we join with others to confess our common love for God through worship. This kind of corporate worship of God as Creator and Savior is exemplified in Revelation 4 and 5.

Second, worship is active, not passive. In Revelation 4 and 5, worship is given in words and in actions: there are songs and words of praise, and the elders fall from their thrones and bow down to God. The act of prostrating oneself before royalty and deity is an ancient custom. One of the Greek words for worship used in the NT, proskuneo, means to prostrate oneself (to "bow down" or "fall before").

All worship involves activity. Singing hymns and spiritual songs, reading Scripture in unison, giving money to the collection all of these are obviously active. But it is a mistake to believe that our role is to be passive in other parts of the service. When a pastor or other worship leader prays, they are not praying their prayer alone, but voicing a prayer on behalf of the congregation; this is not a time to sleep, but a time to agree with the prayer that is voiced, often silently, but sometimes with a verbal "Amen." When a sermon or homily is delivered, the worshipper should be following the message in reverence for God's Word, actively seeking ways to apply new insights to his or her life. Likewise, music that is presented is not just entertainment, but an act of worship; those who hear should focus upon the spiritual message of the song. Baptisms and celebrations of the Lord's Supper are times to focus upon our relationship with God, and to focus upon our fellowship with other Christians as well for God, through Christ, brings us into the family of God both in this age and in the age to come (1 John 3:1-3, Ephesians 2:13-22).

One day, Jesus asked Peter who loved more: someone who was forgiven a little debt, or someone who was forgiven a great debt. Peter answered that the one who was forgiven a great debt was the one who loved more. The debt in Jesus' example was money, but Jesus' real lesson had to do with the forgiveness of sins. If worship seems unattractive to us, it is time for us to evaluate whether we are truly grateful for the good things of life, and, even more, whether we recognize our own failings, the love of God that reaches out to us to redeem us, and the costly salvation from sin that God has provided for us. Dwelling on those things -- recognizing how great the living God is -- will prepare us for worship. If it is the evil of the world that takes our attention away from God, we can turn to Psalm 73 and make the journey the psalmist made from despair about the world to a celebration of God.

If we do these things we will not come away from worship wanting, but knowing that what we have done is what we set out to do: Recognized the reality, love, and generosity of the Creator and the Savior of their soul. Only then can we realize that we really did get something out of worship: a closer relationship with the living God, a closer relationship with the people of God, a worldview that will put our lives in proper perspective and a hope that will sustain us until we worship with the great congregation in the age to come. In addition, because we tend to become like what we focus upon, as we regularly focus upon God, we are drawn to become more like Him. True worship is the only way to receive all of these benefits.

Yet, even when realizing these benefits are his or hers, the person who truly worships the Lord will not come away asking "What did I get out of it?" but: "Did I do what I came here to do?"

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This page was last updated March 19, 2011.