This is a question that’s been in my mind for some time – What is worship?
The word “worship” is used in many different ways in different churches. And it’s used in the Bible over 100 times. But what exactly does it mean?
While researching it I was struck by Psalm 66:4, which says –
“All the earth shall worship You
And sing praises to You;
They shall sing praises to Your name.” Selah
This is a common use of the word, to describe songs sung to God. And doing a little more research (I don’t know ancient Hebrew, but I can look things up), I found that the word for “sing” here can also mean to make music in general. In fact, the word may have come from the idea of striking, like with fingers on a stringed instrument. (So, those of us who sing and play guitar may have it covered both ways.)
I play on the Worship team at our church. When we play and sing, and the music is beautiful, it feels like an offering to the Lord. We are giving Him what we have, offering our best. It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.
However, worship is not necessarily music, and music is not always worship. Many times in the Bible when the word “worship” is used it does not involve music. Even the verse above from Psalms 66 says to worship AND sing. They can go together, but they’re not the same.
The churches that I’ve attended in the past have all had music: they’d have a song leader, a pianist, maybe an organist and even a choir director, possibly a guitar player and sometimes people playing other instruments, and might have had someone like a Director of Music Ministries.
But this is the first church I’ve attended that referred to the people who sing and play music as the Worship Team.
I understood the concept, of course: of music being a significant part of the worship, using it as a gateway to worship. And our Worship leaders do a great job of leading people into worship through the music and the songs.
However, hearing the word used this way left me wondering what exactly it means. That brings us back to the original question, What is worship?
A little more research, and I found that “worship” in the Bible means literally to “bow down.” That’s a different way to see it.
To me, this means to put God in His right place in our hearts and our minds, and ourselves in our right place. As one of our pastors said, “He’s God, we’re not.” He is the Creator, we are His creation. He is Eternal and Perfect, we are mortal and flawed. He is Infinite and Righteous, we are limited and born in sin. (And so on, you get the idea.)
So, for us on the Worship team, we need to remember that we’re there to worship God, and be an example of worship to the people in the service, not just to play music or sing. The purpose is to worship, not just to make music. We need to be worshipping first.
Everyone on our Worship Team loves music: if not, we probably would have chosen a different ministry. All of us are talented, and have musical skill. That’s as it should be – God gave us the ability, and the opportunity to develop it. We are giving back to Him from what He gave us.
But we do need to guard against our love of music becoming the reason we’re doing it. It could be a very subtle thing: we should be doing our best, singing or playing to the best of our ability, because God deserves our best. However, if we put our concentration on that, rather than remembering that it’s to Him and for Him, we risk it becoming about the music, not worship. And ironically, I think we would find that doing it for the love of music rather than love of God will be less enjoyable, because we miss out on the blessings and sheer joy that can come from worship.
Sometimes we will find that God uses us to do even more than we are able. I know that there are times when playing during worship I find myself playing things I didn’t know were possible, or that I’ve never been able to do before. It has to be the Spirit of God supernaturally using my limited ability to do something greater than I am capable of. It’s amazing, and awe inspiring.
But the awe has to be for what He did in His power, and not what we did. That brings us to another temptation that we may face as well, which is to be proud. We may be proud of our voice or our playing, or of our talent and abilities, forgetting Who it was that gave it to us, whether it’s natural or supernatural. We might want people to notice us, to get the attention for ourselves, instead pointing to the One who created us. We’re losing our worship. Fortunately, God gives mercy and grace, so when this happens occasionally he forgives us and still can use us in the ministry. However, we can’t stay there, if we’re going to worship.
Sometimes, though, the pride could make a person completely self centered, and wanting the glory for themselves. They can become a “diva,” who has to have everything be about them, always get their way, and to be “front and center” in the limelight. It’s no longer about worship, or probably even about the music, but about gratifying and building up themselves. This makes me think of something I once heard a young man, a Worship Leader for his church say, “I try to remember that Satan was the Worship Leader of Heaven.”
Fortunately, I don’t believe anyone on our Worship Team is like this. I understand that it has happened on the team in the past, though, and have heard of it in other places. We need to be careful not to “think higher of yourself than you ought,” as the Apostle Paul warned. Anyone who serves in a ministry position that’s noticeable or up in front of people may face the same temptation: but we’re speaking specifically about ministry in music, where it requires some native talent and skill gained by practice – the temptation may be greater there than in some other ministries.
So, to sum it all up – music can be an important part of worship, but music itself is not worship. And it’s the worship that’s truly important, not the music.
And, finally, while you may not be a part of the “Worship Team,” such as a singer or musician, you still can worship God. As it says in Psalms 66:4, “All the earth shall worship You.” The next time you’re in a place or a time to worship, remember to “bow down”. Whether it’s singing songs or meditating on Him, raising your hands because He is greater than you or bowing your head in humility before Him, dancing in joy or falling on your face before in Him in awe and wonder, worship Him. In your heart and mind put Him in His place above you, because He is the great God and you are His creation.
That’s what worship is.