Habits of the Heart: A Study of the Spiritual Disciplines – “Worship”
By Dr. Jack R. Hodges, Jr.
In this monthly series of articles, I have sought to introduce you to twelve spiritual habits of the heart (spiritual disciplines) that we must pursue in our faith journey to maturity in Christ. Last month, we looked at the first of four “corporate disciplines”—confession. There remains three: worship, guidance, and celebration. These four represent the crowning achievement of the work of the Holy Spirit of God in the believer’s life.
One of the most beautiful accounts of worship in the Bible is found in Luke 7, the story of the “sinful woman” who brought what was considered by those around her “wasteful worship.” She wet the feet of Jesus with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed the Master’s feet…and then proceeded to pour her very costly alabaster jar of perfume on Jesus’ feet. As she poured her offering out, Jesus then washed away her tears and brokenness. This act of love and devotion towards Jesus is one of the greatest examples (among many in the scriptures) of true, heartfelt worship. Notice that it has nothing to do with song or music—rather, it has everything to do with adoration and devotion to the Savior.
How do we define worship? Will Temple defined it like this, “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God. To feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.” Richard Foster adds, “It is to know, to feel, to experience the resurrected Christ in the midst of the gathered community. It is breaking into the Shekinah glory of God, or better yet, being invaded by the Shekinah of God.”
To worship is to seek the Lord God and nothing else! To worship is to come into His presence and offer Him what only He deserves—adoration, devotion, and praise. Jesus said it best (of course), “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24) Did you hear that? Our great God seeks after us! He always and continually seeks after us! Somewhere within us, we know that! But, perhaps, what we miss is that our creator and the lover of our soul seeks after our worship.
What is the worship that He desires? It is purely to come before HIS presence out of a spirit of humility and with the expressed desire and purpose of offering Him our conscience presence, our wonderful imaginations, our open hearts, and our complete devotion.
What are we doing when we worship? The primary Greek word for “worship” is proskuneō (προσκυνέω). That Greek word begins with a prefix, pros– (προσ-), which means “towards.” And the root word is kuneō (κυνέω), which means “to kiss.” The deep meaning of that word is “to prostrate oneself.” To worship is to fall down before the feet of the Lord of Glory, to prostrate ourselves before Him and ravish our devotion, praise, adoration, and commitment—just like the woman who worshipped at Jesus’ feet.
Worship has nothing to do with where we meet, how we worship, where we sit, or what we do! I like how Annie Dillard puts it. She writes, “It is madness to wear ladies straw hats to church…We should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.” Why? Because true worship changes us! And if it doesn’t, then it hasn’t been worship! As Mark Grezlak argues, “Much of what passes for worship is rather the tail wagging the dog. We have put God on stage and sat ourselves comfortably in the audience. We should strive for the opposite: We are the performers before the audience of one.”
Again, true worship, the kind of worship that God seeks, was powerfully described by the Lord of glory Himself in the verses I quoted above. Jesus declared, “…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” “Worship,” exclaims Darlene Zsheck, the well-know Hillsong worship leader, “is when your spirit adores and connects with the Spirit of God. When the very core of your being is found loving Him….lost in Him. It is not about the songs, it is not about how big the band or the choir is. All of those are wonderful expressions of worship, but they are not the essence of it. The essence of worship is when your heart and soul, all that is within you, adore and connects with the Spirit of God.”
The object of our worship is and must always be none other than Almighty God. Jesus answered that all-important question of whom we are to worship once and for all (Mt. 4:10). He said, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and serve Him only.” The one true God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God whom Jesus Christ revealed. Mankind is warned not to have any other gods before them—for He alone is the one true God. He alone is worthy of our worship. We worship Him not only for who He is but also for what He has done!
And so, worship is to be a priority in the believer’s life. We hear that clearly stated by Jesus as He revealed the heart of God (Mk. 12:30), “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Do you know what that means? Worship comes before service, before anything and everything else in our lives. Worship is important to God—so, it must be important to us! The pure song of the heart is the yearning for more of God and less of me.
Finally, look with me at the “avenues” for Worship. Worship is a spiritual discipline that God trusts will become a habit of our heart. He has called us to worship Him—and to do that, we must come into His very presence and sit at His feet.
The first avenue into worship is to “be still before the Lord.” The Psalmist wrote (Ps. 46:10), “Cease striving and know that I am God.” Just as we previously surveyed the Spiritual Discipline of Solitude, solitude calls and moves us to be free to be alone both with ourselves and with God. Solitude frees us to entertain true company with our Father in Heaven. Isn’t that what worship really is? We are in the presence of our wonderful Savior and Lord and we seek to offer Him adoration, devotion, and praise. We seek to bring Him joy—and there is no greater way to do that but by worshipping Him. Yes, we seek to serve Him—but He first desires our devotion and adoration. We show Him that by offering up praise. We entertain the Father with praise.
I am reminded of how much this father loved seeing his children “perform.” Now, I receive great joy as a grandfather watching my grandchildren sing or dance or perform in front of me and their Mimi. Keep in mind that our worship is not a performance; but rather an expression of our adoration, devotion, and praise to the Father. And the heavenly father loves our praise to Him!
A second avenue is through both personal, private, and corporate praise. Praise brings us into worship, declares Foster and he notes that the psalms are “the literature of worship and their most prominent feature is praise.” Singing, shouting, dancing, rejoicing, and adoring are all the language of praise that we see both in the psalms and throughout the Bible. The Apostle Paul urged the believers in Hebrews 13:15, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” Peter tells us that as Christ’s royal priesthood, we are to offer up spiritual sacrifices. He wrote in 1 Peter 2:5, “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Remember when Paul and Silas found themselves thrown into a Philippian jail, they offered up songs of praise (Acts 16:25).
“Singing is meant to move us into praise,” argues Foster. Through music, we express our joy and our thanksgiving. If our focus remains upon being present with the Lord and upon offering our Master our adoration, devotion, and praise, then music can focus our attention toward God. Our emotions are channeled toward Him and we break out in song. We dance, make melody, and shout out our praise. We stand, clap, and lift our hands before the Lord of glory. We kneel, bow our heads, and lay prostrate before the Lord.
When we still the activities of our flesh, then the activity of the Holy Spirit of God alive in our hearts and lives may then dominate our activities, our relationships, our service, and our worship.
Finally, let us consider what is the appropriate style for worship? Is it traditional, contemporary, mixed, choir, praise band driven, instruments, no instruments, etc.? The answer to that question is all that seeks to offer Jesus our adoration, devotion, and praise. The guiding principle of worship is: worship the Lord in spirit and truth. Come before Him in thanksgiving and praise. Offer to Him our all and lay our body, mind, soul, and spirit upon the altar of worship and sacrifice.
The real question of worship is NOT what kind or style of worship meets MY needs! The real question is “what kind or style of worship does God call for?” Clearly, our Creator, Savior, Master, King, and Friend invites us to offer Him (and Him alone) wholehearted, authentic, real, meaningful, and life-changing worship. When we offer Him worship, then He prepares us and directs our paths to continue to the next part of His marvelous plan for our lives—service.
Dr. Jack Hodges is the Senior Pastor at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Morganton, NC. He has served as a pastor, a biblical counselor, and an International Mission Board missionary. You can read more good news from Dr. Jack Hodges HERE.