WEEK 1: worship
‘Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.’ (John 4:23)
Speaking with the woman at the well in Samaria, Jesus made a seemingly throwaway comment about God seeking people to worship Him. So what exactly is worship?
The most common words translated as ‘worship’ in the Bible relate to physical posture – lying face down, bowing or kneeling on the ground. Today we tend to use ‘worship’ to refer to times of singing in a service. We have worship songs, worship bands and worship leaders to help with our times of worship. Is this then what God is seeking – people to sing to Him? Voices to add to His heavenly choir? Or is there something more?
Back at the well, Jesus pointed out that physical location was not important, so why would other physical things like posture or singing be important? After all, ‘Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart’ (1 Sam. 16:7).
In this first week of studies we are looking at what worship is and why we should do it, together with how to worship and how it shapes our love for God. We are focusing on worship first, because this is the foundation for all other areas of spiritual discipline – indeed, it is the basis for our lives as God’s people.
Day 1: No God But You
‘You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.’ Exodus 20:3–4
Having led the Israelites to Mount Sinai, Moses went up to receive the laws that would then become the basis of everyday life for God’s people. What might they have expected to come first in the list? Prohibition against murder, perhaps, or adultery? In both first and second place, however, God demanded that He take priority in the lives of His people. They were to worship Him alone!
Sadly, as the history of Israel unfolds, we see how far short they fell. Again and again the Israelites worshipped false gods rather than the true, living God. Just a few hundred years later, the Israelites ‘served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines’ (Judg. 10:6). They turned away to every idol they could get hold of!
Now we could read this and assume it was some kind of madness – why on earth would the Israelites worship idols, when they knew the real God? But consider what such idols offered. These false gods promised wealth and security, prosperity and comfort, and for much less effort than following God’s laws. All they required was a little worship!
The word ‘worship’ comes from an Old English word that was more like ‘worth-ship’, and it referred to those things that we consider worthy of our time, our attention, our respect, our adoration – the things we give our lives to. Our worship, then, is what we give to those things that are most important to us, most worthy of our time and energy, whether God or idols. Over the centuries idols may have changed from crudely fashioned statues and mystic individuals to the more abstract forms of money, fame, work and such like, but they still offer the same things today as they try to draw us away from worshipping God.
But God is seeking our worship. He wants to be the most important thing in our lives, and this will only happen if we consider Him to be of greater worth than anything else this world has to offer.
Marriage is often used as an illustration of our relationship with God, and this is especially fitting as we consider what worship means. Imagine a marriage where one partner spends all their time with other people rather than with their spouse, or never pays attention while the other is trying to talk to them. What would this say about how much they care for their partner or the worth they place on their relationship?
As Christians, we have access to God, not in some abstract way, but as a concrete reality. The time and energy we commit to Him shows the worth we place on that relationship.