What Is Worship?
I tend to hear a lot of confusion about the definition of the word worship, reason being that there is no one “act” of worship. The ancient Hebrew texts have a vast array of words for worship and an even wider selection of action verbs that accompany them. I also find that the word is rarely used outside of the context of religion. Most non-believers would say, “Oh, I’m not religious, therefore I don’t worship.” If the complete definition of worship means to attend a religious service and sing songs, then no, they don’t worship. However, maybe this definition is just one conduit meant to express the state of our hearts.
So what does it really mean?
Our modern word for worship comes from the Old English weorþscipe, etymologized to worth-ship or worth. This means the definition of worship is to give or ascribe something its worth or value. Simply put, we worship things in accordance with the value we place upon them.
What is that thing that if you lost it, would make you lost? If you ever failed at maintaining or keeping or growing it, you would just never be able to live with yourself? A job? A relationship? Sex? Money?
The thing that you are most afraid of losing is the number one thing that is in competition with God for your worship. When we take the gifts of God and ascribe them the worth meant for the Giver, we are living a half-life of disappointment, regret, and pain.
We all, believers and non-believers alike, worship something, but there is only one thing that will forgive you every time you fail at it. If you blow a deal at your job, you may lose money. If you don’t get that promotion, you may lose confidence or status. If you hurt someone in a relationship, you may lose trust or even the relationship itself. To fail at worshiping something other than God always means loss.
On the flip side, if you fail in ascribing God His worth, His worth is still the same—everything. You don’t lose the opportunity to be near to God. His nearness, strength, grace, and power don’t diminish. The more we begin to worship something other than the One who created us, the more those idols will fail to satisfy the true desires of our hearts, and yet again we will have another opportunity to draw nearer to the God who never fails us.
The worship of God is not an addendum. As long as Jesus is something that you go to church to “get a little bit of,” He will be no less fulfilling as an object of worship than that relationship, or that career path, or that “stuff” you’ve acquired. While these things are fine and good, they actually serve quite poorly as objects worthy of worship. As Jesus says in Matthew, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (6:21).
We tend to reach for things in order to fill the gap between where we are and where we wish we could be, while ever so gradually, the gap gets larger and larger until all we can see is the gap itself, just begging to be filled with something life-changing and steady for us to walk across.
Jesus destroys your present reality. Not just once. He does it every day for the rest of your life. He says, “I created you, and I came as a human to serve you so that you would not be a slave to the things I have given you to enjoy, but so that you would see me in them.” You see, Jesus is not the means to an end. He is the end. The finish line.
The unique thing about worship is not only that you should not, but that you literally cannot worship multiple things at once. Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” You cannot ascribe God His worth and simultaneously turn around and ascribe money worth, or ascribe sex worth, or ascribe relationships worth, or ascribe power worth in your heart. It’s not possible. Why?
Because God is already worth everything. Because He opened up His arms on a cross and looked deep into the depths of your heart and said to you, “You are worth everything to Me.”
The worship of God means that you have been so profoundly moved by the Creator of the universe’s endless gifts, mercies, and love for you that you can’t help but reflect that truth to the world with your entire life. This is why we sing. This is why we love others. This is why we can’t help but change. Worship is a matter of the heart.
Written by Cory Quintard