WHAT WILL WE be doing in eternity? We won’t be evangelizing, because we will only be in the company of the redeemed. We won’t be discipling because all the redeemed will have been conformed perfectly to the likeness of Christ. In fact, every Christian activity in this life will be completed except for one. That one exception is worship. As you read the book of Revelation and see the various scenes in heaven, one thing is apparent. Worship is going on continually. So if we want to grow up into spiritual maturity, we need to learn to worship in this life. We must learn to do imperfectly now what we will be doing perfectly for all eternity.

What is worship? In Scripture the word worship is used to denote both an overall way of life and a specific activity. When the prophet Jonah said, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land” (Jonah 1:9), he was speaking of his whole manner of life. In contrast, Psalm 100:2 says, “Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” The psalmist there speaks of a specific activity of praising God. This is the sense in which we normally use the word worship today.

These two concepts of worship—a broad one and a narrower, specific one—correspond to the two ways by which we glorify God. We glorify God by ascribing to Him the honor and adoration due Him—the narrow concept of worship. We also glorify God by reflecting His glory to others—the broader, way-of-life manner of worship.

WORSHIP AS A WAY OF LIFE

Look at how this broader concept is taught in a familiar verse from Paul: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). To offer our bodies as living sacrifices is to worship God. That Paul intended not just the physical body, but one’s entire being, is implied from Romans 6:13, where he speaks of offering ourselves to God and the parts of our bodies to Him as instruments of righteousness.

To offer your body to God necessarily involves offering your mind, emotions, and will to Him also. It is the wholehearted dedication to God of heart, mind, will, words, and deeds—in fact all that you are, have, and do. It is a total way of life. Paul called that our spiritual act of worship.

To attempt to worship God in only the narrow sense of praising Him without seeking to worship Him in our whole way of life is hypocrisy. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they were going through outward motions of worship, but their hearts were not committed to God. “You hypocrites!” He said. “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men’ ” (Matthew 15:7–9).

I cannot judge the hearts of people, but it seems our Christian community today is full of people who appear to worship God on Sunday but live for themselves the rest of the week. I’m not suggesting they are living a lifestyle of gross sin. On the contrary, most of them live highly respectable lives; otherwise they wouldn’t be in church on Sunday morning. But they do not live to the glory of God during the week. They live for the fulfillment of themselves and their goals.

Since all that we’ve covered in this book up to now speaks to worship as a way of life, from here on in this chapter we’ll focus on the more limited definition of worship. But it’s important to understand that a lifestyle of worship is the necessary foundation for all our praise and adoration, both privately and corporately.

WORSHIP AS PRAISE AND ADORATION

What really is this worship in the sense of praise and adoration? The Puritan Stephen Charnock called it “nothing else but a rendering to God the honor that is due him.” John MacArthur defined it as “honor and adoration directed to God.” A. W. Tozer gave a more expanded meaning. He said that God “wants to cultivate within us the adoration and admiration of which He is worthy. He wants us to be astonished at the inconceivable elevation and magnitude and splendor of Almighty God!” Note the words I emphasized in these quotations: honor, adoration, admiration, and astonishment.

One of the best biblical descriptions of worship is Psalm 29:1–2:

Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.

This is the essence of worship: Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name. Before we can do that, however, we have to understand something of the glory that is due Him. We have to begin grasping His greatness, sovereignty, holiness, wisdom, and love. We have to meditate on and pray over Scriptures such as Isaiah 6:1–8, Isaiah 40, Daniel 4:34–35, Psalm 104, and 1 John 4:8–10 that teach us about these attributes.

In the Daniel passage, notice how Nebuchadnezzar worshiped God after his seven years of animal-like insanity:

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.

His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34–35)

Nebuchadnezzar praised and honored and glorified God. He acknowledged the eternalness of His person, His dominion or rulership, and His absolute sovereignty. He then goes on in verse 37 to exalt God’s righteousness and justice:

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Nebuchadnezzar didn’t quibble with God over the severe chastening he had received at God’s hand. Rather he praised God’s justice. He knew he had received what he justly deserved. At the same time we can reasonably infer that he praised God for His mercy, which he had experienced in being restored to his kingdom and very likely in being brought into a genuine conversion encounter with the living God.

The lesson here is that in order to render heartfelt worship to God, we must be gripped in the depth of our being by His majesty, holiness, and love; otherwise our praise and adoration may be no more than empty words.

Isn’t this one reason why much of our worship today is so anemic and heartless? We aren’t likely to have the kind of encounter experienced by Nebuchadnezzar. But we can encounter God in His Word as we meditate on it and pray over it, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to our hearts the glory of God as seen in His infinite attributes. We must do this if we’re to worship God in a manner of which He is worthy.

Bridges, Jerry. 2004. Growing Your Faith: How to Mature in Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

We have just released a 13 week study on the topic: Growing Faith. You can get it on Amazon. It is also available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking.