If there ever was a word that is misused in modern Christianity, it is the word 'worship'. There exists a spectrum of people who, while all well-intentioned, have formed and fashioned their mode of worship off of their intentions and their priorities, instead of the word of God.
On one end of the spectrum are the contemporary churches who, in a sincere and laudable attempt to reach the unchurched, will take the basic setup of a nightclub, and stick Jesus's name on it. Every trick from blacklights and rock music to Zippos held aloft during guitar solos is deployed in an attempt to create an emotional response in the audience that can then be called 'worship'. Personal experience is the currency of the realm, and if you 'felt' something, the assumption is that it must not only be true, but it must be God. That's one end of the spectrum and, however well-intentioned, is woefully short of the Biblical standard.
Towards the middle of this spectrum are the Baptists (who are resembling the Pentecostals they used to make fun of more and more) who exhibit a mode of worship spoken of reverently as 'the old timey way'. In my observation, the 'old timey way' is whatever your father or grandfather did, regardless of whether is was right or wrong. In the 'old-timey way', the high water mark of church life was somewhere between the 1920's and the 1940's in the American South. Entire meetings are planned and based off of this emulation, complete with tents set up in fields and sawdust poured on the ground in an attempt to set the stage for 'old-timey worship'. Enthusiasm is the currency of the realm and if people run and shout and carry on then it is assumed that the Holy Spirit has fallen and that 'worship' has occurred. These folks, including some of my dearest friends, want to capture the perceived spirituality of the past, but in doing so, often also fall woefully short of the Biblical standard
The other end of the spectrum are the solemn, liturgical churches where worship consists of rote repetition of phrases penned during the Dark Ages and led by deacons/bishops/elders/presbyters who are possibly old enough to have been there when the liturgy was composed. Such churches, in a well-intentioned respect for tradition, assume that not only does God prefer quiet, but he prefers to speak Latin. I'm sure it's entirely coincidental that these churches are populated by an older crowd who, as luck would have it, prefer quiet.
The solution to all this confusion is, as always, a return to Biblical definitions and standards. That book which contains "all things pertaining to life and godliness", also defines worship and sets the conditions and parameters of it. It sets this tone from the very beginning.
In Genesis 22, we have one of the most heart-rending stories in the word of God, the account of Abram taking Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him. Right in the middle of the situation, the word 'worship' shows up for the first time. The Bible says, in verse 5 "And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with
the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship , and come again to you." God has asked Abram to do the unthinkable, and it's insane to think that Abrams heart wasn't full of sadness and confusion and sorrow. It's inconceivable that he didn't wonder if he had understood God correctly as he prepared that trip up the mountain. He had no idea, and probably wouldn't have cared, that this great typology of the Lord Jesus Christ was being displayed in his life and recorded in scripture for the edification of millions. All he could see was that God wanted him to sacrifice the promised seed, and there is no way that it made any sense to him. His response is that they would worship right smack in the middle of all that.
That puts to bed the notion among the brethren that everything must be all right, for worship to occur. Not only does Abram put a priority on worship right in the middle of turmoil and sorrow, he's not the only man in the Bible to do that. In Matthew 9, the Bible says "While he spake these things unto
them, behold , there came a
certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying
daughter is even now dead : but come and
lay thy hand upon her,
and she shall live ". With his daughters body growing colder by the minute, this ruler found both reason and ability to worship God. Job echoed this sentiment when, according to the Bible, "... Job arose , and rent his
shaved his head, and fell down upon
the ground, and worshipped , And said , Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD
gave , and the LORD hath taken away ;
blessed be the name of the LORD". King David, as he mourned the death of his son "...arose from the earth, and
washed , and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and
came into the house of the LORD, and
worshipped : then he came to his own house;
and when he required , they set bread
before him, and he did eat". I see nothing in these examples to indicate that there was excitement or 'running the aisles'. No one shouted, no one laid on the ground or flopped like a mackerel. There is no sign of the 'whoop-whoop for Jesus' crowd in this worship. There is a solemnity to these scenes, and with broken hearts, these men worshipped God. The preponderance of individual worship in the Bible appears to take place during times of great confusion and sadness.
In Matthew 15, a gentile woman comes to Jesus. Everything wasn't right at her house. She wasn't even under the covenant extended to Israel. But the Bible says "Then came she and worshipped him, saying ,
Lord, help me." Once again, we see that her worship involved not excitement, but brokenness bordering on despair. Her worship took the form of crying out to God for help. So often we treat worship as a pep rally for God when that doesn't seem to be the case in scripture.
How can a person do that? How can a person worship God with a coffin in their view and no hope in sight? How can a person bowed down with grief raise their eyes to the third heaven? The answer to that lies with Abram.
Abram says in Genesis 22 that both he and Isaac will worship. I have always wondered if he was planning on worshiping before or after the sacrifice. The Holy Spirit gives us a peek into Abrams heart in Hebrews 11:17-19, which reads "By faith Abraham, when he was tried ,
offered up Isaac: and he that had
received the promises offered up his
only begotten son, Of whom it was said , That in Isaac
shall thy seed be called : Accounting that God was able
to raise him up , even from the dead; from whence also he received him
in a figure." Romans 4 explain it even further, telling us "Therefore it is of faith, that
it might be by grace; to the end the
promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written , I
have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed , even God, who quickeneth the
dead, and calleth those things
which be not as though they were . Who against hope believed in hope, that
he might become the father of many nations, according to that
which was spoken , So shall thy seed
be . And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own
body now dead , when he was about an
hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: He staggered not at the
promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory
And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised , he was able also to
perform " God had made no promise to Abraham of a resurrection, but he had promised that Isaac would inherit the land. The very foundation of Abraham's worship was that God cannot lie, and that somehow, despite the circumstances, this all has to work out somehow. He was so certain of God's truthfulness that he had every intention of coming back down the mountain with his son at his side. It seemed reasonable to Abraham that it was God's responsibility to keep the covenant, and if it was necessary , God could and would raise his son from the dead. Abraham's worship wasn't based on feelings, it was based on the word of God. The Bible tells us in Psalm 29 "Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness." The strength of our worship isn't based on who we are or what our situation is, but rather on God's word and God's character.Because of who God is, and how God is, and the promises made to us in the word of God, we can worship with full assurance that somehow, it will all work out. That isn't wishful thinking; that's worship.
Taking it further, it's obvious that true worship cannot be done in your own strength or based off your own ideas. It has to be done in accordance with God's word. Jeremiah 26:2 says it plainly: "Thus saith the LORD; Stand in the court of the LORD'S house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which
come to worship in the LORD'S
house, all the words that I command
thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word." Paul's confession in Acts 26 is "But this I confess unto thee, that
after the way which they call heresy,
so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and
in the prophets:" You may like the guitar solos and the Zippos, or your soft spot may be the running and shouting spells. Maybe you're the dry liturgical type but unless those things are found in the words of God, they are your idea, not his, and do not constitute true worship. After all, Isaiah 8:20 tells us "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak
not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them"