What Is Worship?

I received an email about two months ago asking a simple, direct question: what is worship? Busted. I’ve led in musical worship and taught on biblical worship for nearly 20 years, but I realized at that moment, I had never sat down to work on this as a personal project.

WorshipNot that worship definitions are lacking. Great saints from the past and present—gifted communicators and far more able minds than my own—have answered this question. I’ve quoted them often, and fully intend to keep quoting them! Some of my favorite renditions are: 

William Temple

Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His Beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose – and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.

John Frame

Redemption is the means; worship is the goal. In one sense, worship is the whole point of everything. It is the purpose of history, the goal of the whole Christian story. Worship is not one segment of the Christian life among others. Worship is the entire Christian life, seen as a priestly offering to God. And when we meet together as a church, our time of worship is not merely a preliminary to something else; rather, it is the whole point of our existence as the body of Christ.

Louie Giglio

Worship is our response, both personal and corporate, to God for who He is, and what He has done; expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live.

Those definitions are intimidatingly awesome. But, as I read this email, I thought, “What a valuable exercise!” I knew that even though mine wouldn’t be as helpfully concise as Giglio’s or carry the same freight or technical precision as a Frame or Temple, taking some time to craft a definition and hone it over the years would certainly be worthwhile.

So, for what it’s worth, here’s my effort at this point. She’s only a baby, so be nice.

Worship is the response of the whole being—heart, soul, mind, strength—to beholding God’s glory. It is enabled by the Holy Spirit. (There is no worship apart from spiritual regeneration.) It is fixated on gospel truth. (We behold God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.) It is directed by God’s self-revealing Word. (We don’t intuitively figure out what pleases God.) It involves personal and corporate expressions. (We worship in all of life as well as in church gatherings.) Human beings are hard-wired for worship. Thus, worship, of someone or something, is inevitable. But the worship that pleases God—worship that proceeds from a heart that sees and loves Him—is only possible by the saving work of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Friend, the concept of worship is absolutely (cosmically) essential. So, I put the question to you for your own reflection, “What is worship?”