What is Worship? How to Live a Life of Worship

Worshipping Together 2023
January 1, 2023
Douglas Allison

Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.  All nations will come and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.
- Revelation 15:4 (ESV)

What is worship? It seems a simple question, but if we are going to focus on worshiping together this year, we had better be clear on what it is!

At bottom, worship is not a difficult concept. In the most basic sense, worship refers to a simple act. Both the Hebrew and the Greek words for worship mean “to bow down.” A less common but related word in Greek that is sometimes translated as “worship” means “service,” as in service to God (cf. Heb. 9:1).

We all understand the act of bowing down. Ironically, we rarely perform the physical act. The closest we typically come to bowing down is when we pray. Perhaps some of us get down on our knees in prayer, while others have never considered it, and still others are physically unable to do so. Does the plain definition of worship mean that a person who is physically unable to bow down never worships?
Not at all. A proper understanding of worship does not take a wooden approach to the word. The act of bowing down is shorthand for a much broader act which, if done in spirit and truth, begins in the heart of a person and extends all the way to God.

Just consider the description of worship in the above passage. The nations will come and worship God. These words evoke an image in our minds of vast oceans of bodies bending over. And why? Because God’s righteous acts have been revealed. This happens in the context of God’s judgment of sin on the earth, where God’s wrath is being poured out. And it is God’s great power mixed with his perfect justice which prompts the unthinkable question of who would possibly not fear the Lord and glorify his name. God alone is holy. God alone is worthy of all worship.

This passage’s description of the nature and reasons for worship helps us to understand what we intend to communicate when we speak of worshiping together in 2023. All the nations will one day bow down at the revelation of God’s righteous acts. But we can already see God’s righteous acts. Currently, the gospel, if it is veiled, is only veiled to those who are perishing (2 Cor. 4:3). But we as believers are those on whom has shone the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). God has caused light to shine in the darkness of our hearts, which allows us in turn to see him for who he is in all his fearsome glory, holiness, and righteousness. If even the pagan nations will one day see and bow down in fear, how much more we on whom God has poured out his love in Christ Jesus and through his Spirit? For us, nothing could or should be more natural than worshiping God.

So when we speak of worshiping together, we are only resolving again to continue in what we do every week in our regularly scheduled worship services on Sunday mornings. But we also recognize that worship properly understood is a worship that goes beyond the times of our formal meetings.

When we speak of living a life of worship, we are referring to the fact that someone who recognizes God for who he is on a Sunday morning will also recognize the same on Monday through Saturday mornings, and our manner of life will reflect that.

If we understand worship properly as a subjection to God, a submission to God, a representation of our subordination to and reverence for God, then we can understand worship to be about making God the center of our attention and the dominating influence in our lives. A life of worship recognizes God as the controlling principle of our entire approach to life.

So as we enter 2023 together, let’s commit to worship God together. This is not a call to some niche aspect of the Christian life. This year, we are focusing on reorienting ourselves to one way of describing what the Christian life is all about. The Christian life is about worshiping God, about bowing down to God and showing him the reverence and honor due to him.

As we do so together, let’s commit to doing so throughout the entirety of our lives, not just on Sunday mornings. As God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, so there is not a single aspect of any of our lives which is not to be subjected in reverence to God. And as we focus on worshiping God together, we can look for our worship services together to fuel our worship as individuals the rest of the week.

Let’s encourage one another in this, and may each of us be all the more committed to living a life of worship to God as we come to the end of 2023.