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The Essence of Worship

Caravaggio, Abraham and Isaac, 1600.

David Ravenhill,  in speaking on worship, quoted his father Leonard as saying, “Prayer is preoccupation with our needs; praise is preoccupation with our blessings; and worship is preoccupation with God alone”.   Ravenhill adds that “The greatest acts of worship in the Word of God were never associated with music”.

So much of our culture has been saturated with the notion that worship is a part of the church service that happens Sunday mornings accompanied with music. We affirm that worship can indeed happen on a Sunday morning, but I would like to echo the sentiment of the Ravenhills that there is a vast difference between “praise” and “worship”, and that only a fraction of worship happens in Church.

Worship is tied to the who, what, when, where, and how, and even the “Why” of our existence.

“Who” shows the object of our worship. It is God and God alone that is the center of our focus. Worship of God must be exclusive and singular. It is all about Him.

“What” addresses what we do in worship. We give something to God. In the Old Testament, worship was often consummated by giving a sacrifice. A dove, sheep or some bovine animal was offered, reflecting some cost to worship. The cost involves something of value that you are surrendering to God.

“When”. For Abraham offering Isaac, it happened early in the morning. This doesn’t mean that all real worship happens only in the morning, but ideally when you can give it your best energy. For someone it could be at midnight, or at noon. The point is we do not give God the “remains” of our day, but the best.

“Where”.  For Jacob, worship happened in a field with a rock for a pillow. When his grandfather Abraham offered Isaac Jacob’s father on a mountain, it was considered worship though a temple did not yet exist. Somehow I don’t think that the 3 Hebrew children who were thrown into an implacable furnace heard worship music in the background like a music video. Their worship happened right in the midst of the fiery trial while taking a stand for truth.

“Why”. Why did God give us the ability to worship?    Because as David Ravenhill says, “Worship gets to the very root of who we are”.  There is something in worship that reveals our identity, and confirms our connection to the divine. But on a simpler note, worship makes us deal with “our root issues”. This is why Jesus said,  “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,  leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.Matthew 5:23–24 (ESV).

Making things right is all part of worship.  If a man is angry at his wife, God won’t listen to his prayer until he reconciles. 

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”1 Peter 3:7 (ESV)

There are so many meetings, functions, and fellowships that gather around the name of God where we interact with each other, sing songs, read scriptures, and hear a sermon, and sometimes eat. But how much of what we do is really worship? How much of it was focused solely on God, cost us something, involved our best, happened somewhere other than church, and touched the very core of our being?