I have recently heard many sound definitions of what worship is. One is that worship is offering that which is acceptable to God (c.f. Romans 12:1). Another thought I meditated on further was that to obey someone or something is an act of worship. I was very interested in the discovery that all throughout Scripture, it seems that the essence of worship is obedience. From these definitions, it is clear that worship is broader than just a musical style or a part of a church service. Therefore, it is paramount that we do away with any notion that worship is just one small action, or one aspect of one’s life, or one particular section of a church service. The whole of one’s life should be one of worship. In my own studies, the closest thing to a working definition of worship I have come to is this: Worship is the complete surrender of oneself in service to the will of another.
While I do not agree with Pastor John Macarthur’s “Lordship Salvation,” I think he has an excellent way of explaining the relationship Christians are supposed to have to Christ as Lord, and we as His slaves. The Bible speaks of our relationship with Christ in many ways, but one of the prevailing metaphors is that of a slave (Greek: doulos) and his master. Where I would differ with Pastor Macarthur is that he seems to teach that we must submit ourselves to the lordship of Christ at the point of salvation, but that if we do not perpetually (throughout the whole of our lives) submit ourselves to His lordship over every aspect of our lives, than we most likely were never saved in the first place.
I would say that when we accept Christ as Lord and Savior, we do indeed make a decision to enter into service to Him, as our Lord and Savior. However, I believe this is a one-time decision, and if it is genuine, then we are regenerated, justified and secure in Christ for eternity, completely independent of whether we continue to obey Him or continue to want to be saved. No one can snatch us out of His hand, and we cannot jump out! However, I believe that while we make a decision in a point in time to be saved from damnation by the awesome grace and mercy of our loving God, I believe that from the moment of salvation on, there is a war raging around us, and within us, a conflict of allegiances, a struggle for our worship (Romans 7:15). The question we are constantly faced with is, “whom will you obey?” I believe that, though bought out of the slave-market of sin by the blood of Christ, and placed into the service of Christ (Romans 6:18), even Christians can choose to disobey Christ, and to obey another. In so doing, we are essentially giving ourselves back into the slavery of sin, even though we still legally belong to Christ (Galatians 5:1). This is a conflict in our worship.
When we confess “Jesus is Lord,” we are simultaneously confessing ourselves as His slaves. As slaves of Christ, it is our chief end to serve, obey, and glorify Him. This is the essence of worship.
So how does this play out in every-day life? I believe that to worship something is to place it’s worth above that of everything else. In the case of personal worship (that is, worship of persons), it means to place the will of that person above your own will, or the will of any other person. So, to say that we worship God means, in the broadest sense, to place His will above all else. Under the umbrella of this definition then come things like desiring His glory, but this is a result of our placing the highest worth on His will (since He wants to be glorified, among other things).
A practical example of this is in 2 Samuel 11-12. After David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then murdered in order to cover up his sin, God told him through the prophet Nathaniel that Bathsheba’s baby boy was going to die, as discipline for David’s sin. When the boy became ill, David fasted and spent the night on the floor pleading for God to allow the boy to live. After this continued for a week, David’s son died, but his servants were afraid to tell him, because they thought he would do something desperate. But when David found out the boy had died, he shocked his servants by getting up off the floor, washing and anointing himself, eating a meal, and worshipping God. When his servants asked why he had responded in this way, David said that while the boy was still alive he had pleaded with God because he thought that perhaps there was a chance God would have mercy. But once the baby had died, David knew God’s will was clear, and there was nothing else to be done. David has the attitude of Job in Job 1:21 when he says, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
See, David’s response to his sons death revealed that his attitude was one of worship all along. His attitude was that he desired God’s will for His life above all else, no matter what that meant for him. It is not a bad thing to ask God for things, and to desire certain things, but an attitude of worship toward God means that we desire those things only as long as they are within God’s will. As soon as it becomes clear what God’s will for our life is though, we then pursue that with joy and praise, because we are thankful that the Lord’s will is being carried out. James also describes the life of worship when he says that while it is fine to make plans for travel and business and every-day life, to have an attitude of worship in those decisions is to acknowledge God and recognize that His will is the most important thing; and if we want something and find out it is not what God wants, it is our necessary and reasonable act of worship to rather pursue the will of God for our life, no matter what the cost. The definition of “slave” given in Strong’s lexicon is, “one who gives himself up to another’s will… devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests.” I believe this describes what it means to worship.
Another clear example of worship in the Old Testament is in Daniel 3, when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were condemned to the furnace for their refusal to bow down to the king’s statue. The three men of God told the king that their God was able to rescue them from the fire of the furnace. But then they say, “But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” They understood that the choice God would make was far beyond their ability to predict, but regardless of what happened to them, they would not serve the false gods, but would obey their God.
They chose to worship Yahweh – to acknowledge His lordship over their lives. That is, they chose to serve and obey Him regardless of what that devotion brought into their lives. Worship is the complete surrender of oneself to the will of another.