December 2009 - Vol. 35

photo by Nico Angleys

Worship Is Our Service to God

worship of the Lord is at the heart of the Christian life

a scriptural orientation to worship, Part II

by Mike Shaughnessy

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
Who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the Lord!
- Psalm 134:1-2

At your service
The word "worship" comes from the Old English word "weorthscipe", which means to acknowledge the value or worth of something. When we worship God we are saying something about his worth. The words in Hebrew and in Greek, which we usually traslate as "worship", are rooted in our relationship with God and our behavior before him.

In English we normally translate one Hebrew word either by the word servant or the word worshippers. Thus in 2 Kings 10:23 Jehu calls together the worshippers/servants of Baal. "Then Jehu went into the house of Baal; and he said to the worshippers of Baal, 'Search, and see that there is no servant of the Lord here among you.'" It could also be translated: "Then Jehu went into the house of Baal; and he said to the servants of Baal, 'Search, and see that there is no worshipper of the Lord here among you.'" The word for servant and worshipper is the same word. In some translations this same word gets translated minister. The simple point is that in Hebrew, one of the words for worship portrays worship as service we give to a master. Here worship is rooted in the relationship of humility we have with God.

The same relationship exists in Greek and can be seen in the New Testament.* Revelations 7:15 says of the saints in heaven who are worshipping the Lord, "Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple." Their worship is described as service.

It is from this position as a servant that we can rightly honor God. It gives us the right point of view. We can have the mind of a servant. We can have the attitude of a servant and the behavior of a servant in worship. Our attitude can be. "I am here to honor the Lord God as a servant before my master." When we are honoring the Lord it is helpful to be aware of who he is and who we are. He is God almighty. We are his servants.

At the heart of the Christian life
The connection between the concept of being a servant and being a worshipper is important to us. Worship of the Lord should be right at the heart of the Christian life. Our life as disciples of Christ can encompass a wide range of service and activities, such as mission, evangelising and bringing people into radical discipleship, working for social justice, and promoting the unity of the Body of Christ. It is more than just a desire to live community life as the early Christians did in the Acts of the Apostles. Central to who we are and what we do is being the Lordís servants, whose duty it is to give him the worship he is due.

Servanthood is not a popular concept in the post-modern era. It involves humility. Like Christ, we must empty ourselves to become a servant, humble ourselves, and become obedient. (Philippians 2:5-8) The servant has duties to perform. He or she is expected to be faithful and responsible, doing what is required of him or her according to the mind of the master. One of the duties of the servant of the Lord is to worship. We do not worship because of what we have to gain from it, but because it is our duty. We live in a consumerist society that puts "me first", even in prayer!

The consumer asks, "What's in it for me?" whereas the worshipper is always "At your service." Doing the master's will is the work of the servant, thus it is right to think of worship as the work of a servant.

We are servants of the Lord.
He is our master Jesus Christ.
All our joy in you our God.
Lo we have come to do your will.
Worship is our work
I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats.
      - Psalm 66:15
Old Testament ritual worship involved some pretty serious manual labour, that is, labour demanding real physical effort.

Some of it was also gruesome, involving the slaughtering of rams, bulls and goats. It meant raising them, getting them to Jerusalem, butchering them, building the fire, placing the meat on it and saying the prayers.

The work of worship today is not so demanding in terms of manual labour. The work of worship mainly demands mental, emotional and spiritual effort. In order to worship well, one must pray with more than one's lips.

Do you ever sing a hymn at church and afterward find yourself unable to remember what the hymn said? Distraction is one of the chief problems we need to work at. One of the devilish things about distraction is that we are not aware of the problem when we are in the middle of it. It is only when we remember what we are supposed to be doing that we even realise we have just been distracted. You can't fight distraction when you are distracted. The main thing you can do is discipline your mind to avoid being distracted. This is mental work. It is only one of the ways we need to apply our minds in order to pray well. We also need to know what constitutes good worship so we can do it better ourselves. This too (including reading an article like this), is the work of worship.

Pray for the grace to pray well
We need to work at prayer spiritually as well. We must pray for the grace to pray well and then respond well to the grace the Lord provides. Praying is itself probably the best way to learn to pray. Praying with others, who know how to pray well, in addition, helps us to learn to pray well and motivates us besides. To this end it is good to prepare for our times of worship, as Paul exhorts:

Brethren when you come together, each one should bring a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. (1 Corinthians 14:26)
We also need to work on prayer "emotionally". We can cultivate the right sentiments and attitudes toward prayer. Recognizing where we have a bad attitude or wrong sentiments, then renouncing them, often will help us in our experience of prayer. Love of prayer doesn't just fall out of the sky upon us. Love of prayer, like love of another, is work. Joy in prayer takes work. Fervor in prayer takes work.

Now, if that sounds like a lot of work, it's because it is. Having said that, there is great joy found in worshipping God well. We were made for this. There is no higher use for our voices than singing the praise of God. There is no higher use for our eyes than seeing his face. There is no higher use for our hands than raising them to honour the Lord. There is no higher use for our minds than knowing God truly. Although worship is a duty, it is a joyful one.

Finally, it is important that all who are present participate. Worship is not something one watches others do. Each person contributes his or her voice, his or her hands, his or her mind. No one can do it for them and if they are not doing it, the corporate offering of praise and thanks is diminished. As servants of the Lord we all have an important role to play in worship, not just the musicians and the singers, but each one of us. Let us each bring in the full offering. (Malachi 3:10)

It is a great privilege to be called into this service of worship but it is also our duty. It is a great joy to serve the Lord with gladness (Psalm 100:2), but it is also work.

Although we may well have a good spiritual experience when we worship, our desire is to please God, not have a spiritual experience.

Bless the Lord oh my soul.
Let all that is within me
Bless his holy name.
      - Psalm 103:1
[Mike Shaughnessy is an elder in The Servants of the Word and the Director of Kairos in North America. Kairos is an international federation of outreaches to high school, university and post university aged people.]..
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