The concept of worship in the modern church has been greatly diluted and weakened from its original intent. When I say “worship,” you no doubt immediately thought of a “worship band” or “Praise & Worship” music or a “worship leader.” And, certainly, these are vital aspects of the worship service in a church but much of the formulaic ideas behind such offices or genres center around the idea of the worshiper doing the action. In fact, the colloquial definition of “worship” might be summed up as a religious act performed individually or corporately for the reverence of a deity. And you might be thinking, “So, what? What’s wrong with that?” Well, nearly everything.
Did you notice who’s doing the action in that line of reasoning? Operating under the common usage of the term, worshipping God is my acts, my devotion, my service, my singing, my praying, my performance. Who’s really doing all the “doing” there? You are! When the focus of worship is shifted more towards your “doing” than Jesus’s “done,” we have a major theological conundrum.
Don’t get me wrong, the worshiper surely has a role to play in this whole thing we refer to as “worship.” But the primary message of worship should never rest on the worshipers getting the focus, attention, or glory — rather, everything should be point back to Jesus Christ and what he’s already accomplished for us on the cross, which is the basis upon which all our rejoicing and reveling and praising rests. I would contend that the fundamental purpose of worship is to remind you just how unworthy you really are. The significance of worshiping with like-minded believers, or by yourself, is the honest recognition of just how insignificant you are and how magnificent God is.
You see, worship itself is all about awe — about the breathtaking, awe-inspiring depths and heights of love the Father has gone to redeem and rescue his people.
Worship, in truth, is the bewildered and astonished response of unworthy people ascribing worth to an infinitely good God.
Or, as Paul Tripp has put it, “Worship is designed to remind you that in the center of all things is a glorious and gracious king, and this king is not you.” Such should be the design and end in worship. If ever our awe and attention is more focused on the production and people involved in worship and not the Person, we’re in trouble. True awe and wonder of God puts everything in its place — and worship is supposed to bring believers to this place. Only as you come to realize God’s infinite glory and majesty and holiness and your deep and desperate unworthiness will you truly worship God.
Worship, at its core, is all about the proclaiming of the gospel. If the “worship service” isn’t drawing you to stand in stupefied wonder at the marvelous grace of God, something’s off. Too often, we handicap worship into a specific “service” or block, which creates a subconscious distinction between “worshiping” and “preaching.” Such a distinction was never designed to exist. The entire church service is one of worship — from the singing, to the preaching, to the greeting, to the fellowshipping, to the nursery-keeping, all of it should be done in the worship of God and “to the praise of his glorious grace.” (Eph. 1:6)
“The purpose of the worship service is not what we get out of it but the God who has drawn us into it.” (Wilson, 59)
Therefore, if “singing praises” to God, what we normally refer to as “worship,” is as much about Christ’s gospel as preaching is, then the message should be the same, the focus should be the same. All should be done to exalt the sum and substance of God’s glad tidings, which is the free promise and gift of his free grace.
Worshiping should teach us what the gospel teaches, which is, as Martin Luther says, “not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law,) but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: to wit, that he suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death.” (206) The resonance of our worship shouldn’t be what we’ve done or what we ought to do for God but only what he’s done, what God through Christ and the Spirit has accomplished for undeserving sinners. Preaching and worshiping is all about “proclaiming glad tidings of salvation for the guilty, the unworthy, and the perishing.” (Booth, ix) Sounding God’s praises ascribes worth to his perfect and gracious redemption of lost and wretched wrecks.
Worship is made for sinners because sinners are the ones who need church the most! The sanctuary is made for honest churchgoers who are cognizant of their need and rejoice in a Savior who meets and abundantly exceeds that need. The voice of worship isn’t about perfect harmonies or booming melodies or complex light shows or professional band experiences. The voice of worship is reverent sound of unworthy worshipers ascribing worth to God’s condescending mercy.
Abraham Booth, Glad Tidings to Perishing Sinners (London: J. Chidley, 1839).
Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Philadelphia: Smith, English, & Co., 1860).
Jared Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).