Ivor Harris, Bristol
We may well ask ourselves whether this word has been debased in a sense through other usage, since we speak of "His Worship the Mayor" or the "Worshipful Company of . . .". When we come to consider the high spiritual significance of the word, our thinking turns to honour, adoration, respect, reverence, the giving of glory and esteem. The late Dr. A. W. Tozer defined worship as to "feel in our hearts and express in some appropriate way a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder". Whilst references to worship are scattered through the Bible, perhaps the best summary of all is found in John 4. 19-26, in the words of our Lord during His conversation with the woman of Samaria. Note His references to
true worshippers . . .
. . . worship the Father
the Father seeketh such to worship Him
they . . . must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Worship, in the real meaning of the word, is reserved exclusively for God. Perusal of the pages of Scripture put this beyond question. It is not for men, not for images, not for the host of heaven. It is certainly not for Satan as the response of our Lord to him shows, Luke 4. 8, this being a timely reminder in our day. Worship was not for the apostles, significant though their role was in the plan of God; Peter unhesitatingly turned aside the mistaken worship of Cornelius, Acts 10. 26. Nor is it for heavenly beings. "See thou do it not", the seer was told, "worship God", Rev. 19. 10.
Consideration of various passages of Scripture will enable us to glean numerous lessons on this important subject.
Worship is not necessarily audible. Perhaps we too often underestimate the contribution of those who participate silently when believers gather to worship God. It was a sister at the supper at Bethany, John 12. 3, whose offering of adoration (and worship?) resulted in the house being "filled with the odour of the ointment" at a time when others were variously occupied with service and communion, and when one had even introduced discord. The story of Abraham's servant in Genesis 24 seems to reach a moment of climax in verse 26 as he grasped how wonderfully God had worked for him, "and the man bowed down his head, and worshipped the Lord", It is likely that at that moment not a word was uttered audibly.
This is not to suggest that when Christians assemble for worship and praise long silences are to be sought. Sadly they often tell a story of barrenness and emptiness before God. Brethren should be leading the worship of the company effectively—they cannot so do without "the fruit of their lips giving thanks to his name", Heb. 13. 15.
Worship is not always acceptable. That this is the case we cannot doubt as we read the sharp words of the Lord Jesus applying to religious leaders with whom He spoke the comments of Isaiah long years before. "In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men", Matt. 15. 9. We may safely add that true worship is both sought and accepted by God, but the sham and the artificial find no acceptance.
Worship is not synonymous with joy. Some would have us believe that a state of enjoyment in believers is likewise indicative of worship. This is an incorrect conclusion. Although it is a fact that on many occasions when believers bring their worship to the Lord, they do so with great joy, there will be times when the dominant feelings experienced will be holy fear, wonder and awe at the contemplation of God. Matthew 2 tells us that the wise men rejoiced with exceeding great joy when they saw the star; it was when they saw the young Child that they "fell down, and worshipped him".
Worship will not be found alongside disobedience to God or hatred of one's brother. 1 John 2 illustrates the impossibility of the co-existence of hatred and any true and real relationship with God. Matthew 5. 23-24 pointedly tells of the need to ensure one is right with one's brethren before coming before the Lord. And yet from time to time we hear of those who meet with a group of believers, even participating in worship and praise, but being at odds with one or more— sometimes even to the point of being so estranged as not to speak! What kind of a sham is this?
Worship involves some conception of God and realization of myself. Is this not what happened in Isaiah's experience? It was memorable to him— he recalled it with clarity, Isa. 6. Peter, too, in the presence of Christ, knew something of this in an entirely different sense, Luke 5. 8.
Worship can be a follow-on from wonder. It was so in Matthew 14. 33. Disciples had seen the Lord at work, and their recognition of His identity led them to worship,
Worship can emanate from all kinds of folk and all age groups. Aged Jacob worshipped "when he was a dying", Heb. 11. 21. Daniel and his friends, probably in their teens when their captivity and enforced exile commenced, repeatedly showed determination to worship and serve the Lord alone. See Matthew 21. 15-16.
Worship is to be in spirit and truth,— brought to God through the Spirit, based upon truth (as the Lord had said, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth"). It is pertinent to mention that a greater acquaintance with, and observance of, the Word of God will aid us in our worship. Unfortunately, sometimes we know our hymn books better than our Bibles I
Worship is specially devoted to the Father, John 4. 23. The Godhead is the object of our worship but here the Lord laid special emphasis upon the Father's place, and we cannot overlook the way in which He addressed His Father. Note His prayer in John 17 : "Father, Holy Father, Righteous Father". We need hardly add that worship calls for reverence. Though we are thankful for simplicity and informality, we dare not let this degenerate into familiarity. Let us "serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear", Heb. 12. 28.
In essence our lives should be characterized by worship. It is not something to be set aside for special occasions, to be produced in haste and offered with carelessness. True worship of God as we meet on the Lord's day is more likely if we have enjoyed a true walk with God during the rest of the week.
Responsibility rests upon those brethren who lead assembled Christians in worship. They may, in so doing, lead along to peaks of worship and adoration when, though only one voice is heard, there is a unanimity and harmony as all share in ascribing praise to the Lord.
And yet there are times when one who is professedly leading believers in worship indulges in theological discourse only thinly disguised from an address to those present. Alternatively the controversial and contentious are put forward and the saints, far from being led in worship, are disturbed and distracted—the whole purpose is lost and true worship has vanished. When we lead in worship others present must be able to follow so as to add their Amen.
Worship cannot be worked up or forced, nor is it brought about by new ideas, still less by gimmicks. There are aids to worship—appropriate hymns. Scripture readings and sometimes the exposition of God's Word or even focussing the thoughts of believers upon a single phrase therein. There is no substitute, however, for being in the right attitude, mind and condition before the Lord. Given these, we shall want to worship and we shall come readily, turning not inward to our own inadequacies but upward to the contemplation of God, and how then can we refrain from worship?
How beautiful, how beautiful The sight of Thee must be, Thine endless wisdom, boundless power And awful purity.
O how I fear Thee, living God With deepest tenderest fears,
And worship Thee with trembling hope And penitential tears.