Sunday, September 21, 2008

Searching for the Meaning of Worship

What is the state of worship today? What is the state of worship at your church? How about with you personally?

For too many people, worship has been captured by a tourist mind set. Let me explain that. For these people, worship is understood as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure. We go as convenient, by our schedule, according to what fits our needs, desires, and wants. We simply “tour” what takes place.

For others, worship is just a weekly jaunt to church—no real meaning to it, just more of a ritual, something you have to do. It’s Sunday, you are supposed to be in church. If you aren’t, the devil will get you!

For others, worship means an occasional visit to a special service—Easter, Christmas, a holiday celebration, a special musical, etc. You know, large crowds, unfamiliar faces coming to soak up the specialness of the moment and season.

Some people, with a bent for Christian entertainment and sacred diversion, plan their lives around special events like retreats, rallies, and conferences. These people go to see a new personality, to hear a new truth, to get a new experience and so, somehow, expand their otherwise humdrum lives.

Isn’t it sad that we will try anything—until something else comes along?

Do any of those descriptions of worship describe your attitude toward worship? Your church’s attitudes?

A look at the original language of the Bible and the origin of the word in English helps us understand the meaning of worship. The primary Hebrew word for worship is Shachah—which means “to depress, i.e. prostrate (in homage to royalty or God): bow (self) down, crouch, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, do (make) obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship.”

There are three Greek words that describe worship. First, Proskuneo—meaning “to kiss, like a dog licking his master’s hand, to fawn or crouch to, homage (do reverence to, adore): worship.” That word occurs 59 times in the New Testament. It originally carried with it the idea of subjects falling down to kiss the ground before a king or kiss their feet.

Secondly, Sebomai—“to reverence, hold in awe.” This word is used 10 times in the New Testament.

Thirdly, Latreuo—“to render religious service of homage.” This word is used 21 times in the New Testament.

The word in the English language literally means to ascribe worth to something.

As you think about going to a service of worship today, whether you have yet to go or already been, do those words describe what you anticipate taking place or what took place? Or, was the activity of a worship service just that, an activity?

I hope you will spend some time in thinking about the genuine meaning of worship, both individually and corporately. I will be praying for you as you do.


  1. So this might seem less than humble, but I super love when I read a post that is meant to convict and I am not convicted. I worship God daily. I don't need music. I don't need a band. I don't need other around me raising their hands or bowing their heads. I don't need it. All I need is the Spirit's leading and I'm all about praising God. Sometimes it makes me cry. Sometimes it makes me so excited. Sometimes it gives me goosebumps from head to toe. So many emotions take place all at once and I have to tell you I can get absolutely addicted to it because it fills me so full.

    Happy Sunday!

    Heidi Reed

  2. Steve,

    I read this before heading out yesterday morning. And while I had already been having my private worship - I was on the way to the corporate one. I was praying as well.

    A woman sang a very moving and touching song in our corporate worship time. And yet, I must confess... when it was over it made me sad. The woman received a standing ovation for at least two minutes. Not all in the crowd stood. I was one who did not. It would have been wrong for me to stand. There are times when listening to God makes one unpopular. Travis was told by some individuals in another part of the space it would be rude not to stand. I disagree. I guess it all depends upon whom one is worshipping and who they are listening to.

    It also makes me think about a couple of weeks ago... I was asked why I didn't raise my hands when a particular song, "We raise our hands." Worship should not be about going through the motions. If it is... it is not true worship.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post Steve. And for the prayers!

  3. Camey...good to have you comment again...been missing you...and your posts!

    I agree with you here. I've never been a big hand raiser...maybe that comes from my background, of being very conservative. The church we attend, many in the church raise their hands, some stand when no one else is standing.

    I'm okay with that--as long as what is bubbling out is Jesus and a love for Him and not an expectation that their action is what's expected.

    In church...or at home...I worship as I feel led--not the way others expect me to. Worship is about Jesus and Jesus alone. It's not about the musical beat, the lyrics, the standing/sitting, the music leader, etc. It's about Jesus.

    And, a standing ovation...well, if I had been there, there would have been at least one other person not standing--great job or not matters not to me.

    What's next? A standing ovation when the preacher makes a good point? :) Now, that, I might be in favor of! :)

  4. Cool discussion and mostly I agree with what the three of you have said. At the same time, I am in a church where barely anyone raises their hands, they seem to find it difficult to clap and certainly no-one bows down. I would not have a problem with this if they were that dull in real life, but they are a reasonably animated bunch who actually get really excited at sports games. (lots of clapping, shouting and jumping / dancing.)

    If their sports teams are "worth" all that emotion and effort, then what must people read into their lack of participation in praising GOD.

    The other issue that I am grappling with is the clear disconnect between what the bible actually says and the word "worship." Almost all of the times that I see "worship" in the OT it means the people/person bowed down to GOD or fell on his/her face. And the majority of the NT verses are using a similar greek word also referring to a posture of submission.

    I would rather see congregations flat on their face before GOD, than singing and raising their hands, but I will be elated if they can start by raising their hands! The best we can do is to love them and lead by example.

    May we increase in humility and love before GOD.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I can't wait to read what you have written.