The idea of “worship” was never that clear to me. Sometimes I didn’t feel I was worshipping God because I had no feelings when I was at church (then, of course, some well-meaning Christians would make me feel worse by hinting about how unspiritual I was). Sometimes I would want to worship so badly that I would go along and act the part of the dynamic worshipper, hoping the feelings would follow. I felt like a fake sometimes, and other times it was just okay. Some people said worship was singing songs and reciting scriptures; other said no, worship was about what you did with your life. Some people said it was a mindset of “ascribing great worth [as in worth-ship]” to Jesus. And then there have been those very few times in my life when I was overcome by the love of God and really can’t describe the experience.
So I did a study of the words commonly translated “worship” in the Bible. Here are four scriptures with the four most common words:
In the Old Testament (hishtawa) — to fall prostrate religiously or in the course of duty
Exodus 3:12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
In the New Testament (proskyneo) — to worship, pay homage, show reverence; to kneel down (before)
Matthew 14:33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
In the New Testament (latreia) — service to God
Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship.
In the New Testament (leitourgia) — service to the community
2Corinthians 9:12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.
What I derived was that worship is basically two things: REVERENCE & SERVICE.
The REVERENCE part leaves all sorts of room for strong feelings within the course of worship—sometimes you fall face down because you can’t stand up! It also leaves room for very little feeling within the course of worship—sometimes you pay homage or kneel out of respect for the Lord.
The SERVICE part doesn’t require feelings at all—you serve God and others, period. Sometimes you feel wonderful when you are serving Him and others, sometimes you don’t.
Let’s also look at a couple of the terms that David used when He wrote this song some three thousand years ago:
Psalm 34:3 Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together. (NIV)
Psalm 34:3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together. (KJV and RSV)
glorify (& magnify) is from the Hebrew, “gadal,” v. to grow up; to make great; to magnify; to grow long; to honor, glorify
exalt is from the Hebrew, “rum,” v. to raise up; to lift high
David was writing about God’s goodness. This is the psalm that contains the famous line, “Taste and see that the LORD is good!” We glorify and exalt God because He is so good to us (especially in light of what we deserve). When we magnify something, we make it look larger, increasing it out of proportion. If we talked about our own character and activity out of proportion, we would be guilty of stretching the truth; but when we magnify God, we can’t go wrong. We simply cannot say too much about God’s goodness and love. Even if we exaggerate how terrific the Lord has been to us, we don’t know the half of it.
He is doing wonderful things for us that we don’t even notice—we are like the toddler who has no idea the time, expense, and energy that her parents have put into her care and protection. So, we can freely and joyfully join with David who calls us to lift God’s name up high. In glorifying and exalting God, even the sky isn’t the limit.
By fantastic mercy and amazing grace,