Why You’re Probably Doing Worship Wrong

The Oxford English Dictionary



  • The feeling or expression of (or to show) reverence and adoration for (or to) a deity.

When asked most Christians will give a well rehearsed answer to the question ‘What is worship?’ along the lines of ‘oh it means giving praise and honour to God’. Some might go a little further and say ‘oh yes, you can worship anytime, anywhere’.

No Christian I know would disagree that worship is something that you can do any time, any where. Prayer, communion, music – all these things count as worship.

In practice however, actual worship is something entirely different.

This is a problem.

What is ‘true’ worship?

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.

John 4:23 – via Bible Gateway

This is the quintessential biblical definition of ‘true worship’.

In the Bible, worship comes from the Greek ‘proskuneo’ meaning ‘to fall down before’ or ‘to kiss the hand’.

Worship is anything that we do that brings honour to God. Especially prayer, reading His Word, confessing our sins, taking communion and in many ways, simply living life as a Christian believer. We worship when we go to work and do the best we can because we are doing it as if we were working for God himself.

It feels a bit cliché to remind people that ‘worship is so much more than just a music session on Sunday’, but it’s true and I think it’s something that many Christians forget (or don’t get). Consider in my recent post about the gender gap in the church. I think that the fact that Christian worship is, whether consciously or unconsciously, almost synonymous with music means that guys who just aren’t into the hands raised, teary eyed Sunday worship sessions miss the fact that they can just as easily worship God on the golf course (not as a substitute for going to church, but just in general).

For a man to take in the scenery, to revel in the creative glory of God, is just as worshipful as listening to music. In my study of science and apologetics I’m am regularly in awe of God’s incredible mind, not just through his stunning creative power in nature, but the consistency of the fine tuning of the universe, and of His providence in providing us with an extremely well documented, historically reliable and well preserved Bible, and many other things.

Now I don’t mean to make people insecure about their daily walk here. It would be an exercise in futility to try to walk around all day and literally consciously think about God. You wouldn’t get anything else done. Rather what we need to understand is that our life, as believers filled with the Holy Spirit are made Holy, a living sacrifice to God. Our very heart and attitude on a day-to-day basis when we simply live to honour God, we worship through our life and actions.

In order to worship God, we must know God. We cannot, by definition, worship God unless we are saved. This is what it means to worship in spirit and truth. If we are saved, then worshipping a holy and perfect God is simply our lives lived for Him and for His glory.

What is the purpose of worship?

I think one of the most obvious mistakes that modern Christianity makes when it comes to worship is that we do it ‘expectantly’. We do so either because we expect it to make us feel a certain way, most often we associate it with feelings of ‘joy’ and ‘release’.

I know, I know, no one would ever say they’re doing anything other than glorifying God, but actions speak louder than words, or, words speak louder than words? I dunno… What I know is that it is a basic motivation in modern worship to ‘experience’ God and the word ‘expectation’ is explicitly used so often. A very common example is when we ‘expect’ the Holy Spirit to ‘come’.

I’m not talking about whether God does respond to worship, I’m only saying this is not (definitely not) why we worship. If God was totally silent in the world, and we never saw, or felt His presence, He would still be totally worthy of everything we had to give, just because He is God.

The default position for worship is to not ‘expect’ to get anything from it. Not because God won’t bless you with something, but because if we expect anything it fundamentally opposes the purpose of worship which is utterly focused on God, for His pleasure and for His glory.

Even Job, after he had lost everything and was covered from head to toe in painful sores (and had no idea why) praised and worshipped God. He did not expect that everything he lost would be restored, that was only by God’s graciousness, and after a solid week or so of Job suffering in both pain, and silence.

Likewise, we neither need nor should expect to receive anything for our worship.

Worship is to give honour and glory to God, and God alone. We don’t worship Him because He needs it, we worship him because He is worthy of it.

What isn’t worship?

As I said, modern Christian worship is now virtually synonymous with music, lights and experiencing the Holy Spirit. Not just any music by the way, not the old, boring, outdated, classic biblical hymns. For many congregations today, especially the very large ones, only ‘worship music’ has the honour of adorning the modern Christian expression of orthodox ‘worship’.

Imagine if, just for kicks, one Sunday the pastor said ‘We’re doing something different today, instead of listening to worship, we’re going to worship by doing an emu parade around the neighbourhood, and then some street evangelism’… how do you think that would go down?

I can tell you there would be blood.

If the proposition to go and do something actually really difficult and undesirable came up as an alternative to the typical Sunday worship session, you would find out really quick who actually wanted to worship God, and who really just wanted to listen to the good music and get their weekly dose of the ‘spirit’.

But alas, I risk eating my own words here. I don’t necessarily want to do a clean up Australia Day every Sunday either, but I think you get my point.

How often are you told to ‘give everything to God today’? Presumably because the end-goal here is to release the feelings of burden on your shoulders, which is fine (or is it?). It is not worship though, and shouldn’t be confused with it.

It also bothers me that a worship session on Sunday, or even a super powerful über worship session, which is no service, no sermon, just the worship part, is subtly elevated above all these other forms of worship as something special and unique. It is a situation where we really gather together to draw the Holy Spirit closer to us, or something like that. Again these things are fine, but if we believe that there is something inherently more ‘worshipful’ about some organised corporate worship session (which wouldn’t be a true worship session without some serious Hillsong and some serious life transforming) than any other form of worship, then we are doing it wrong.

And again, I know that no one would say that, but that doesn’t mean that’s not how we act, or how we treat these kinds of situations.

There is this implicit (or even very explicit) belief in so much of our modern worship which is the ‘expectation’ (a word that is often explicitly stated) that God will express Himself in someway, arguably for our benefit, i.e. God will ‘move in this place’, or ‘do something amazing’ or we will see ‘lives changed’… except that true worship is completely and I mean completely God-centered… no expectation, no appealing to revealing, no miracles… just worshipping a Holy and perfect God without expecting anything in return… that’s true worship.

If God chooses to respond to our worship, or prayer, it is purely by His grace and is not the reason we do it.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2 – via Bible Gateway

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2 thoughts on “Why You’re Probably Doing Worship Wrong”

  1. Isn’t it interesting how quickly worship becomes about what I/we can get out of it. Often when driving to work I think I’m enjoying my worship and it’s making me feel good. Thank you for such a thought provoking article.

    • Hi Andrew,

      Yes! You’ve hit the nail on the head.

      For the record, there’s nothing wrong with listening to music to make us feel good, but we need to clear about the distinction.

      Thanks for comment mate!

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