Godís nature calls for worship. How could we not worship someone as majestic, powerful, and awesome as God? When we declare Him perfect, holy, righteous, just, merciful, and kind we have only begun to describe His nature. He is our matchless King, the only true God. We worship Him because He is deserving, because He is worthy (Rev. 5:1-14). Everything about Him evokes praise. A few years ago my son and I climbed to the peak of Mt. Elbert, the tallest mountain in Colorado. The sheer majesty of the view and the exhilaration of the experience produced a sense of awe in me that I cannot describe with words. It was not an artificially generated response, but a natural emotion that welled up within me ó one which I could not have avoided or ignored. So it is in true worship. If we understand that, in worship, we enter the very presence of Almighty God, we cannot help but praise Him.
Does God call us to worship Him because He needs our worship? Does God command us to worship Him because His ego needs a boost? No! God created worship not for His own benefit, but for our benefit. Our heavenly Father is self-sufficient. He needs nothing we can give Him. He is not diminished if we fail to praise Him, but we are. He does not need our praise to be worthy. In Godís goodness, He created us to worship Him because worship is good for us. He created us with a need to worship because He knows how desperately we need Him. There is a God-shaped void in our hearts that can only be filled with an intimate relationship with our Father. Scenes of worship, as found in the Book of Revelation, are pictures of the way we were created to experience intimacy with God. Worship here on earth is but a foretaste of what it will be like to surround the throne, when we will look into the very face of God and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Worship encompasses much more than the activities of our gatherings on Sundays. Every activity of life should be offered to God as our "spiritual act of worship" (Rom. 12:1). However, in this article, I have narrowed the use of worship to refer to those times we formally assemble to worship.
True worship must be more than simply an intellectual or ceremonial exercise. Much of what passes for worship is little more than the practice of ritual obligations. Without thinking, worship can be reduced to little more than "five acts" that must be satisfied in order to appease a God who is checking off his list of rules to make sure we followed the prescription correctly. With this approach to worship, the main concern becomes, "Did we do it right?" rather than "Were our hearts in tune with the Father?"
Many of us grew up with a legalistic theology that emphasized the need to "be right." I heard a lot about "doing things correctly," but until my college years I heard nothing about a relationship with Christ. Religion was a list of rules to be kept, a lifestyle to be adopted. It was primarily based on a rational approach to God; emotions were disparaged and viewed suspiciously. Even if we felt emotions welling up inside, most of us understood we needed to sit on our hands and choke down those feelings.
Obviously, we need a strong theology based on truth. We must engage our minds to the fullest. Worship based primarily on emotion is both dangerous and shallow. But theologically correct worship lacking emotion is cold, lifeless, and powerless. Such worship employs the head, but cuts the heart out of it. A genuine encounter with God in worship requires both our mind and our emotions. Admittedly, we do not always feel like worship. It is at those times that worship is more a decision of our will than the desire of our heart. However, worship that is regularly void of passion is unlike the worship I read about in Scripture.
There is a part of us that needs to be filled up, to be comforted, to be overwhelmed with wonder, and to be lifted up in the exhilaration of praise. It might be possible for a husband and wife to approach their relationship from a purely rational perspective, to analyze it and diagram it intellectually. However, if that is as deep as the relationship ever goes, which of us would want it? A relationship based primarily on feelings is immature and shallow. Certainly, a healthy relationship is grounded in knowledge and truth and good judgment. But it also needs some passion ó- an extravagant love, a heart-felt emotion that yearns to be near that person and to enjoy the intimacy of their companionship (Ps 42:1-2; 63:1-5; Phil. 1:21 26).
The worship found in many congregations is lifeless and without the kind of passion that touches our heart and soul. The clinical style of worship that reduces the assembly to "three songs and a prayer" did not come from Scripture. Biblical examples of worship run counter to the way worship is done in many of our congregations. Examples of worship in Scripture are often filled with excitement, vivacious enthusiasm and animated activity. While there were times of stillness and quietness, assemblies often were characterized by loud praise, the lifting and clapping of hands. Godís people were allowed to express the variety of emotions they experienced when they came into His presence in worship.
I prefer a style of worship that both engages my intellect and touches the emotions of my heart. That is a completely biblical model. I am blessed each week to hear outstanding preaching which is biblically solid and practically challenging. I am also blessed to participate in periods of worship that move me and touch me at deep emotional levels. Sometimes I am overcome with emotion and cannot get the words of the song past the lump in my throat. There are times when my eyes are moist with tears, either from the gratitude I feel for Godís goodness or from my need for repentance. There are times of quiet stillness when I am escorted into the throne room of heaven, where I meditate on the relationship my Lord has made possible for me. There are times when I feel incredible joy and holy laughter. Sometimes I lift my hands in adoration, or I voice an "amen" to affirm some marvelous truth. At other times I clap my hands in joyful celebration. Critics ask, "Can such worship possibly be reverent?" Absolutely yes! Read Johnís visions of worship in Revelation, and find every expression of worship I have just described (Rev. 4:5; 19:1-10).
Our loving heavenly Father wants us to reverence His holy name, and He also wants us to enjoy Him. In worship we are drawn close to our Father. We are helped to know Him better, and in doing so, we become more like Him. Our lives are gradually transformed into the likeness of the One we adore.
Much of the debate about worship in churches of Christ revolves around music ó- the type and style of songs we sing and the way the worship service is structured. No other single act of worship touches my heart and moves me like singing. One of Godís sweetest blessings is the gift of music. Three millennia ago David wrote poetry and music and wove them together into blissful expressions of worship. Though old to us, those psalms were contemporary in his day. Although I love the old songs and find many of them to be extremely meaningful, I also love new songs that express old truths in fresh ways ó ways that connect at a spiritual level unsurpassed by any other medium. Contemporary Christian music has taken me to spiritual heights I might never have known without it.
The congregation where I worship uses a praise team. Worship usually consists of a blending of new, contemporary songs and the most meaningful of the old. This style of worship (often characterized by people as "contemporary") differs from the traditional style of worship still found in most churches of Christ. There is nothing sacred about either style. It is a matter of preference. The important thing is that we respect one another in our choice of worship styles. In many of the larger cities there are enough congregations that one can find one that has a style of worship that is biblical and meets their needs, whether traditional or contemporary. No one should violate his/her own conscience. As long as oneís heart is right toward God and toward fellow believers, the style with which one worship is not something about which I am willing to argue. I will contend, however, for the freedom we have in Christ to choose the style of worship that best helps us draw near to Him.