Trying to define worship is a little like defining love or hope. An attempt to do so could go on forever. But I’ll try to keep it as short as possible.
Put simply, worship is declaring the greatness of someone or something.
It is the act of giving up your own glory to make sure everyone knows that the thing being worshiped is pretty awesome.
To put it even more succinctly, worship is bowing down to lift up.
In Christian circles, worship has also morphed to mean a certain type of music. It’s on the radio and fills the the musical portion of our church services. While music is a vehicle by which many people worship – and rightly so – it’s not worship in its totality. Let’s not call a slice the whole pizza.
The act of worship can be just about anything that honors God. As the apostle Paul says in 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.” (NIV)
Again in 1 Corinthians 10:31 he says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (NIV) I like the fact that eating can be worship.
So how else does the Bible define worship? Keep reading.
A Definition of Worship from the Bible
The first time the word “worship” appears in the King James Version is Gen 22:5 when Abraham told his servants he would go worship on the mountain with Isaac.
The Hebrew word the patriarch uses is shachah meaning to bow down.
But the Hebrew word actually appears prior to this first translational occurance. The real first appearance of shachah is in Gen 18:2.
In this passage, God appears to Abraham in the desert as three persons. Abraham recognized his God. In this instance the King James translates the word more literally. It says Abraham “ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.”
So bowing down seems to be the appropriate action when meeting with the Creator. Bowing and kneeling – “sucking carpet” as my senior pastor says – are certainly appropriate responses to God’s presence.
If I can continue with this word study, another aspect of worship appears in Genesis 4:3-4. This verse says Cain and Abel brought their offering – Hebrew word “minchah” – to the Lord. This word means gift, offering, present, tribute, sacrifice.
The word is used about 40 times in Leviticus when it describes how to sacrifice and bring offering to God.
So according to our quick OT study, here’s another worship definition: bowing down in homage and laying down/giving up something you care about to honor God.
(Side note: maybe Cain’s offering wasn’t important to him. It was no sacrifice to give up, so God didn’t accept it.)
You might be thinking, I’m not a big OT person. What does the NT say about worship?
Well, almost exactly the same thing. The OT and NT are part of the same book, you know.
Matthew 2:2 is the first time “worship” appears in the KJV New Testament. The wise men had told Herod they had come to worship – “proskyneō” – the new King.
The NT is in Greek, not Hebrew. This Greek word according to Strong’s lexicon means “to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence”. Sounds a lot like the meaning of Hebrew word in the OT.
Here are some other instances in the NT where this word shows up:
- When Satan offers Jesus the world if Jesus worships him (Luke 4:8)
- When the disciples worship Jesus after he and Peter water-walk on the Sea of Galilee. (Mat 14:33)
- When lepers and grieving family members ask Jesus to heal incurable diseases and raise the dead. (Matthew 8:2; Matthew 9:18)
- As the soldiers beat Jesus, they bow down, mockingly. (Mar 15:19)
Certainly bowing down to worship is a thread pulled through the fabric of both the old and new testaments.
How did Jesus Define Worship?
What is true worship? John 4:20-24 is possibly Jesus’ most direct definition of worship in the Bible.
It could be the most well-known scripture on worship, yet it leaves many readers saying, “huh?” I’ll try to unpack it.
Jesus says, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” (NKJV)
But what does it mean to worship in spirit and truth?
Let’s tackle each word separately.
Worshiping in Spirit
Jesus says that God is a Spirit, so we should worship him in spirit. (John 4:24)
I’m going to go Greek on you again. The English word spirit corresponds with the Greek word pneuma which literally means a gentle blast of wind. Certainly, Christ isn’t referring to wind.
He’s speaking of an invisible force, like the wind, namely the spirit of God or Holy Spirit. In other words, God can be everywhere and do all sorts of things all around you and even when you don’t directly perceive him.
The same word is used to describe man’s spirit: his essence, separate from the body, that determines his will, actions, and decisions. We are created in God’s image, so it’s no surprise we have a spirit too. For the moment, our spirit is confined to an enclosure. God’s is not.
Let’s come back to Earth for a minute. So we have a spirit and God is a spirit. So how do we worship him in spirit?
Worshiping God in spirit, I believe, means connecting with God on a non-physical level. Worship should not be about rituals, traditions, a physical building, or the order in which a church service flows. Neither does worship need to consist of rehearsed prayers or songs, individual or corporate. These can be vehicles of worship, but in the end, unnecessary.
Worship should be equally possible in a prison or megachurch.
No external force whatsoever can restrain worship in the spirit.
It’s wholehearted, unfettered adoration from within, in response to God’s presence.
A good biblical example of pure worship comes from 2 Samuel 6 when David danced with all his might with leaping and dancing as he brought the Ark of the Covenant into the city. His wife even ridiculed him for his exuberant displays. This is worship in the spirit. Heartfelt, unscripted, unhindered, grateful connection with God.
Worshiping in Truth
There are no surprises when examining the word Truth in the Greek. It means just what it does in English: That which is true.
Worshiping in truth is in lock-step with worshiping in spirit. There should be no facades, faking it, ulterior motives. When you peel back a layer of an onion, you find more onion. A true worshiper, likewise, will be consistent all the way through.
I love that Jesus says God is seeking out these true worshipers. It’s exciting that God pursues you if you worship him in spirit and in truth.
Defining Worship is No Easy Task
This attempt at defining one word has turned out to be quite a tour de force. If you’ve managed to read the whole thing, you are definitely wanting to be a true worshiper for which I applaud you.
Do you have anything to add to the article? I’d love to hear your comments in the section below.
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photo: Eva Rinaldi
Thanks so much for approaching this subject. I plan to preach on the subject of worship this Sunday. Recently as I was reading in Luke 23:47 “When the Roman officer overseeing the execution [of Jesus] saw what happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.” This made me realize that true worship is more than singing or raising your hands or dancing as David did. I liked what Jackson shared (earlier on this page) when he said, “These activities are not worship – though something you try to express in these activities could be worship”. Some of my most meaningful times of what I would call worship have been in quietness – realizing who God is and what He has done for me in Christ It concerns me when a leader says, “We are now going to have a time of worship”. though I may say that at times myself but as many have said worship is a lifestyle of living for God in His presence day in and day out. It is good to take time for silent prayer and corporate praying aloud, and singing or even shouting as some did in the church I knew as a boy but we can hope that in these activities our spirits are in tune with the Holy Spirit.
Thank you all for your words of wisdom! I’ve taken something out of everything I’ve just read. What hit me the most though was the comment about our hearts being the alter to the Father. Wow that is beautiful! And the comment from Lenny about giving the stage back to God ! I see so many people starting to idolize these people who are putting themselves in a position to be worshipped and I think it would be incredibly hard to be a famous singer in front of a huge audience and not take any of the honor. And ALL the honor belongs to the Lord. It’s just natural for our flesh to sin and draw us into sin, so we HAVE to be strong in Spirit. The verse that explains it the best for me is a verse I declare everyday. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live by the faith in the Son of God who gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 Worship is denying your flesh and declaring the Lord our Christ Jesus living in us. Walking the narrow path. Sometimes we mess up but when we’re denying ourselves and our flesh, walking with Christ begins to come naturally! Love you all and may we all meet in Glory! Amen
Awesome Teaching, I have read it at least six times
Many thanks Tim, for this article on worship. While I read it and the comments, I learned a lot. Grateful for the comments as well. And it also did occur to me as I read, that worship is obedience to all the commandments of Jesus Christ, especially loving our neighbours as we love ourselves. In our private moments, what thoughts do we have about others? Especially those who get on our nerves…as I struggle to obey Jesus’ commandment on loving God and other people, I have learned and experienced that the Holy Spirit helps us to genuinely love others when we struggle. We only need to ask Him for help through prayer and it is granted. Worshiping God is obedience to Jesus Christ, son of the living God. He is the only Way, the only Truth, and the only Life there is. God bless us all.
I appreciate any information you have on Worship. I love to Worship God. Thank you. God bless you
So many definitions of the verb ‘worship,’ seem to me incomplete and/or just flat-out wrong.
My understanding of ‘worship’ is how one behaves when they believe that they’re unobserved; behavior that is informed and dictated by one’s life-experience and understanding of right and wrong. Being unobserved physically is only half the equation, though… worship encompasses unobserved thought, as well.
That’s about as simplified a definition as I’m capable of in light of my 35+ years of trying to understand it.
Some choose what’s good and/or right for its own sake – not out of fear of punishment or even to please another;
others focus their efforts on appearing to be pious;
some who simply don’t care how they appear so long as there’s no detriment threatened for not toeing-the-line;
and some, of course, couldn’t care less about right or wrong in the least, their focus is on personal gain, of any kind, of whatever they value.
Worship, from a scriptural perspective, or rather, from my perspective as educated by scripture itself (Judeo-Christian scripture, to be specific), is how one lays one’s life-record down through living – motivated by what one holds most dear. Choosing to personally ‘do good for its own sake’, to me, is to worship God as Jesus did, as we are entreated to do – as God chooses the good for its own sake, so should we in order to worship in a way pleasing to him. Nothing else holds any weight.
Thank you for the well-thought-out words.
Colourful and true message, God’s speed
This article was an eye opener for me. I am writing a paper on worship and it has helped me very much. Thank you so much for making clear what I did not understand.
Glad it helped. It helped me understand worship to write it.
I found this article after reading Roman’s 12 and truly wanting to understand the first verse. Now not only have I recieved clarity and confirmation; but I thank God even more for the body. Each comment blessed me and taught me something new about true worship to God.
God Bless You All
thank you for the opening teaching in how to worship God!!!!
as christians we live a christ like . always shining in the dark,
I was so blessed by reading the article and then reading the different comments. I thank you all for sharing. Continue to worship God not just with you mouth but with your deeds, conduct and lifestyle.
Be blessed my brothers and sisters in Christ
To worship something is to make it more important than anything else.. it doesnt’ mean to pretend something is most important for a period of time.. It doesn’t mean a particular activity like dancing or singing or prostrating your physical body or chanting or praising.. or a combo of them.. no.. those are not what worship is… you might use those things to try and outwardly express something about God and that something that you try to express with the activities listed could be worship.. but the activities are not worship.. If something is most important; it’s consistently that way, all day everyday.. Either you worship God with the way you live or you don’t .. either your decisions on what you do are based on God being most important or they are not based on that.. and it’s all or none. Putting God first in SOME decisions but not all is not worshiping God.. you can’t really put God first in just SOME decisions.. if (when it’s most difficult for you to do what God wants) you choose to do what you want instead, you worship yourself.. not God.. If you worship God, you will choose to put God first when it’s the most difficult thing to do.. just doing it when it’s easy doesn’t mean anything.. and if you do it when it hard, you will certainly do the easy parts..why wouldn’t you? it’s easy because you aren’t tempted to do something else at those times.. so if you do it when it really counts.. you will always do it.. and if you don’t do it when it really counts, you don’t really put God first and are not a worshiper of God at all.
THANK YOU FOR this wisdom!!
I was talked worship goes with you in the way you conduct yourself no matter where you are because Jesus is watching you & peoples is too. So don’t think you can get to church & fool anyone because you only fooling yourself. I was told that at a very young age worship is from your heart (within).
So blessed by your insight on worship. Learnt many things and received understanding of what true worship is. Will definitely be sharing it with other believers. God bless you!
I like the picture of bowing down to lift up.
Worshipping in thought, word, choice and action.
In Christ, we have so many opportunities to worship Him each minute of our day.
Thanks for the encouragement!
I HAVE READ ALL COMMENTS AND THE TWO THAT STANDS OUT FOR ME ARE THE COMMENTS THAT SPEAKS ABOUT THE LIFE STYLE. FOR WHEN YOU LEAVE THE CHURCH BUILDING AND GO HOME DOES WORSHIP STOP. THE WOMAN AT THE WELL HAD A BAD LIFE STYLE, JESUS HAD TO SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT AND TOLD HER THE TRUTH, BUT HE RESPECTED HER AS HE DEALT WITH HER SO CAREFULLY. SO WHAT EVER WE DO IN OUR LIVES GOD MUST BE THE CENTRE IN OUR WALKING OUR TALKING OUR SLEEPING AND OUR WAKING. WHEN SINGING WHEN LIFTING OUR HANDS TO HIM THEY MUST BE CLEAN, CLEAN HANDS AND A PURE HEART WE WILL SEE THE LORD.
Good message on Worship in Spirit and Truth.Like to have more Scriptural message on this topic
Thank you. I believe God has been calling me my whole life, but I got caught up in wanting to “be someone” according to the worlds standards.
But I can no longer deny or choose the world over my Lord. I have also loved to sing & when I sing to HIM…my heart literally feels as it’s exploding out of my chest.
I just don’t want to get lost again thinking I to get a music degree first. I do want to understand what worship ministry is according to the truths in Gods word. And I want to worship my all to give Him the glory. But unsure where to go. I know He will open the path…I just have to keep my eyes open.
Any hoo…all this just to say…THANK YOU🙏🏻
Thank you for your Truth work; expressions and body position can have symbolism of the worship attitude; hence the Greek and Hebrew words; but to define the core of worship is, as you say, difficult. In a probe litmus test question, the question would be, where do we focus our lives as our source of dependance for strength and help day to day. (Not in times of crisis)
It seems to be a life journey towards real worship; like Hebrews 11:21 Israel, at the end of his life worshiped.. sure there was a lot of religious activity, but when recording his best display of faith, this is it. Our lives are, as a standard condition, gripped and plagued by a self focus closed fisted pursuit of feeding wants and appetites ~ from feeding the senses to feeding the ego. Most of the spiritual growth of our lives are spent in a process of growing in recognition of our need of God, through trials, and gradually opening our clutching fist, metaphorically, and ultimately giving our whole selves, as far as we can understand, to God. When God said, “Be Still and know I Am God” although that was OT to a specific situation, it still applies. The word, be still, has to do with the Hebrew word for, stop striving. One author says that it carries the image of some one being in a frantic upset state, and getting slapped; to which they sink down and relax. Trusting God to give us faith and grace ability to relax and entrust our entire selves to Him in praise… is the goal- which also means walking in the Spirit of His guidance day to day.
I am old but these are some of the best reply’s on worship I have ever heard or experience. Thank you to everyone. We can look up the definition of worship but very few bow down or blow kisses at God during a service. In fact I have even become numb at the church service.
Yes , I was taught at a very young age to1. God is Holy and is the Spirit of Truth. 2. We must Reverence a Holy God. 3. We are invited to draw close to him with Praise and honor and adoration. 4.Respect Him as the mighty God in spirit and truth.
I think about the mountain mosses was on and no one were to touch the mountain, not because of Moses but because God was there. Do we treat our Alters with reverence, respect, Holiness? Yes it is more than the altar at church it is the altar of my heart? Does my hear honor God’s holiness and do I reverence and respect for Him anymore. Thanks to all for pulling me back to true worship today.
When you say David’s response (to brining the Ark into Jerusalem the first time) was “unscripted,” do you have a clearer way of describing what you mean? My thought is in reflection to David’s failed attempted to bring the Ark in previously. He was not prepared, and did not move the Ark according to the commands of Moses. As a result, God’s anger resulted in a bad day. I am trying to balance what you are saying here using the word “unscripted,” and how we prepare ourselves daily for worship and prepare ourselves before we come together in corporate worship. Thanks.
I’ve learnt over time and still learning that worship is a lifestyle– it is the sum of everything you are and do per time.
It’s not only about who you are or what you do before a congregation or people that see you, but who you genuinely are and what you do when you’re alone and no one, but God, is watching. Worship is doing what we do, having it in mind that it must please God and bring Him glory.
I believe worship is a whole life experience that includes every aspect of our lives and how we live that glorifies God, not only going to and participating in church services and praising God, but how we dress, what we eat, what we read, the entertainment we enjoy, and how we relate to other people, and anything else that reflects our love for Jesus Christ.
I love the title of your website for the time has come where God is looking for true worshippers. He is calling us to go deeper. When we worship, we must have the help and the presence of the Holy Spirit, John 4:23; For he is the Spirit of Truth. Our worship should be pure, no other reasons but to respond to The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords; wholeheartedly, with unleashed adoration, gratefulness, reverent honor with thanksgiving.
If you seek him, you will find him. You can never have too much of him or his presence; so continue to go deeper for there is no end in God.
I find it very interesting that the soldiers bowed down mockingly to Jesus. It’s very symbolic of modern music and how many people use biblical language mockingly in songs or use it to attract certain listeners when the music itself doesn’t worship God. Music is such a touchy topic, especially for young Christians (I’m 21 and a worship leader), but it’s so crucial for us to be careful what we listen to. Music is very spiritual and plays a huge role in either improving or impeding our relationship with God. Satan definitely uses music to distract and distance us from God.. be mindful and ask questions alwaysssssss
I kinda like Lennys comments about the band being placed in a different location facing the stage. This would hopefully help the people focus more on God during the music worship time. Plus this could help keep the band from ” Flirting with the Bride” you see it a lot if you really watch. People on stage leading worship sometimes start flirting with the Bride and therefore taking the people’s attention of God and putting it on them. Maybe not intentionally, but it happens. Dangerous place to be! Keep the focus where it should be. On God.
Thanks for you comment. Great points!
I LIKE THE STATEMENT OF “BOWING DOWN”…FROM MY PERCEPTION , IT IS “ALL ABOUT GOD FOR WHO HE IS” IN HIS HOLINESS…NEVER ABOUT MY CARES, CONCERNS, SITUATIONS, CIRCUMSTANCES, ETC.
I’M REMINDED OF THIS SONG…”WHEN I LOOK INTO YOUR HOLINESS…”
MY SUMMATION OF “WORSHIPING GOD IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH”
I sometimes struggle with the actual definition of the word “worship” – the connotation in today’s society may bring up different feelings other than what is intended in the bible. It may have a more “controlling” feel to it than it actually should be. (?)
Thanks, Lenny. As the author of the classic song “Our God Reigns”, you certainly know a thing or two about worship. Thanks for your insight!
Tim: I think it is time to give the stage back to God and put the worship band down in front facing the stage, or over to the side, facing the stage. The people can be looking at the lyrics on a screen, and/or pictures of nature on a screen. The band and worship leaders would be better-off out of the limelight, and the people would be able to better focus on God as they sing. Watching a band worship is like watching a tennis match. It might be great, but it is not actually playing tennis. Who would dare to even discuss this, let alone try it?
Nikki – that’s one of the best explanations of worship I’ve ever heard. Thanks for sharing.
WORTH-SHIP..Worship is a lifestyle..it is humility before God’s glory..anything we do in our lives is an act of worship (of course things that glorifies God).Even small things such as, helping an old man crossing the road, try your best to be a student, honor your father and mother, and of course, praying.For me, as long as it glorifies God,how big how small it is, how artistic or simple it is, it our worship,,an act telling how WORTHY our God is.
I am realizing authorship should be at the centre of a Christians life.