What Is Worship?

Romans 12 : 1
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.


“So what is worship?” someone asks of us in small group. 

A long pause follows. Every movement is obvious and glaringly loud. I can hear the person next to me inhale as though they are ready to share an insight, but nothing is said aloud.

I think that I have an answer to this question, but putting words to it is difficult. I know there is a common misconception that worship is limited to the congregational singing we do in church services, but I am lost for words to explain it in its fullness. It is probably simpler than I am imagining, but also more complex. Isn’t it always that way? I am not sure how to respond to the question, don’t want to say the wrong thing. Why are some of the simplest questions the hardest to answer? 

I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the answer to this question important. I think, maybe, we were created to worship. If that is the case, then I need to be able to explain it.  

When I consider worship to be “good” on a particular Sunday morning, it is probably because I felt myself particularly moved during the music. I probably lost track of what was going on around me, probably engaged myself in the music by swaying or singing at a louder volume, probably expressed it on my face, expressed it in my body language. So, if I stand tall, sing to God confidently, move to the music, lift my arms, and smile wide, am I worshiping? Maybe, and maybe not. 

Matthew 15 :8-9
“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

My lips may move, my arms may be raised, and I may know all the words by heart. Ultimately, though, what is going on in that heart of mine is the point of significance. To worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24), the heart must be renewed, actively seeing and responding to Truth. There are feelings involved, but not emotions that I have worked up myself.

The good emotions felt during worship are those that well up as an appropriate response to the truth I have tasted and seen. So if, while standing, singing, swaying, I am doing so from a posture of heart that sees God’s glory and is responding in lyrical awe, then that is worship. 

But it doesn’t stop there! As my mind is continually being renewed by the Spirit, worship can take place all the time. Other than in spirit and in truth, there really are no limits.

The whole person, with all his senses, with both mind and body, needs to be
involved in genuine worship
— Jerry Kerns

Whether I am in the chaos at work, the crowd of the check-out line, the drudge of an early morning, or the quiet of my own room with a pen and journal in hand, I can see God’s truth and adore Him in worship. Those worshipful responses, flowing first from a heart of worship, are those that show God to be glorious and worthy. When I delight in God, choosing to honor Him with my whole self, with my whole life, that is my spiritual worship (Romans 12:1-2).