Essential WorshipCommissioner Phil Needham explores what worship is and why it is so essential.
There is nothing more important in the lives of followers of Jesus than worship. There is nothing that better defines what their lives are about.
So, let’s talk about worship itself. What is it, and why is it essential? Some have described it as “worth-ship.” In other words, it is the ongoing discovery and celebration of who God is and what He is worth. What He is worth is supremely revealed in Jesus, and in worship the Holy Spirit reveals this worthiness of God-in-Christ to us. In our worshiping we come to know God better in Jesus through the Spirit. And in knowing Him better, we love Him more.
I am not saying that consistent church attendance on Sundays is a guarantee of any rightful claim to be called a true follower of Jesus—although I do think that regular participation in the worship of a community of believers is essential for any Christian. I cannot imagine how a disciple of our Lord can make it without being part of a worshiping fellowship that helps him or her open their heart to a loving God, clear their mind with gospel truth, strengthen their faith, receive the community’s encouragement and support and clarify their mission. As the Apostle Paul put it, we, all of us, are integrated parts of the one Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12).
We are Essential to Each Other
We Christians are not loners. It is in our nature, and it is our necessity to come together to worship the God who makes us one. In His presence, we receive the gift of His Word, confess our sin, renew our hope and encourage each other (Hebrews 10:19-25).
Behind it is a larger plan. God’s plan, through Christ and in the power of the Spirit, is to save the world (John 3:17). He sends His Spirit into the world to be close to His people (John 14:16-17). Who are “His people”? They are His disciples who gather for worship to humble themselves before Him, know Him in new ways, give themselves to Him more fully, encourage each other with love and prayer— and then to disperse with His blessing.
This dispersal is not a conclusion, as if everything stays the same until we meet again. It is a sending—even a commissioning—to go out and bless the world (Galatians 3:8), including even our enemies and persecutors (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14). To live the life of Jesus wherever we are by presenting ourselves as living sacrifices, risking non-conformity in a sinfully conformist world (Romans 12:1-2). To be “little Christs” with sufficient credibility (Luke 6:40). To draw people to our Savior and help them begin the journey God has always intended for their lives.
It Has to Start Somewhere
We do have to show up, and there’s something to be said for that, especially in a culture that is increasingly making it more inconvenient or exceptional to make the time for worship.
In their worship, some churches place the greatest emphasis on God the Father, others on God the Son (Christ) and still others on the Holy Spirit. But optimal worship explores the worth-ship of the One Holy God who is also Three. In worship a community of believers is seeking to know how better to live in the pervasive sovereignty of the Father, follow the lordship and leading of the Son, and find the unity and expanse of love in the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:1-6). Worship is, and must always be, about the Trinity.
Moving Beyond the Mask
The biggest threat to worship is when we plan it or participate in it with a view of God that is either dead wrong or somewhat warped. We may gather on a Sunday morning to worship a God whose primary concern (we believe) is to meet our personal needs—whereas the God of the Old and New Testaments has the whole world on His heart (Isaiah 42:6-7; Matthew 5:14; John 3:16). We may gather to worship a God shaped in our image or by the culture around us. We may be crafting an idol that supports our own brand of self-righteousness, or the values of some popular culture we have adopted, or our own self-serving driven-ness to personal success—in other words, an idol that mirrors our masked self-centeredness. The true and living God, however, is not an idol we can exploit for our own ends. He is the God who humbles us with His love so that He can remake us in His image. This is what happens when we truly worship.
The days of our week between Sundays are essential to our worship. We come to worship with hearts full, questions needing answers, the joys of the week and failures as well, our desire for the fullness and love of God, our need for wisdom, our need for the love and support of our community of faith. All this we bring to worship, employing the privilege of hearing and humbling ourselves before the Word of God again, confessing our failures, receiving forgiveness—now ready to be sent out again.
Ah, but not sent out to leave our worship behind and to get on with doing things, making practical applications. No, sent out to bring our worship with us, to live a life of praise (Psalm 34:1), see God in the world around us (Acts 17: 22-28), know Christ in our fellowship with one another (Matthew 18:20) and meet Him in “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). Our calling as disciples of Jesus is to live a life of worship. Hymn writer Horatio Bonar pledges it this way: “So shall no part of day or night from sacredness be free/but all my life, in every step, be fellowship with Thee.”
Our whole life is our worship, and our worship is our whole life.
This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of The War Cry.