Worship—and with it, prayer—is the first of the five spiritual practices essential to growing and maturing in our Christian walk. It was practiced throughout Scripture, lived by Jesus, and has been a foundation of the spiritual life for God’s people across the millennia. God is worthy of and desires your worship. Your soul needs worship. You were created for worship.
What Is Worship?
Let’s begin by defining what worship is. In her 1936 book, Worship, Catholic writer Evelyn Underhill offered this definition: “Worship, in all its grades and kinds, is the response of the creature to the Eternal.” By the time I was in seminary this definition had been modified slightly: Worship is the primary and appropriate response of the creature to the Creator.
Underhill went on to say: “Nor need we limit this definition to the human sphere. . . . we may think of the whole of the Universe, seen and unseen, conscious and unconscious, as an act of worship.” I love this. Everything that God created is a reflection of God’s glory. When we look at the plants around us, they display God’s glory. When we hear the birds singing or the bees buzzing or the lions roaring, they are, whether conscious of it or not, giving glory to God. When we see the maple leaves turning red and orange and yellow in the fall or the snow blanketing the earth in the winter or the dogwoods blooming in the spring, they all display God’s glory. On a clear night when we look up at the moon and the stars, they, too, declare God’s praise.
The birds can’t help but sing. The stars can’t help but shine. But we human beings, each of us unique in all creation, have a choice. We decide whether we will give thanks to God, praise God, and seek to glorify God with our lives, or not. But there is something within us that longs to worship, just as the birds need to sing.
I regularly try to thank my wife, LaVon, my employees, coworkers, family, and friends for the blessing they are to me. “Thank you” are two of the most important words you’ll say in life. “I love you” are three more. If it is important to express that to those around you, how much more so to regularly express this to the Source of everything that exists, who designed all that is, who sustains it by his power and from whom, in an ultimate sense, all blessings flow? We were created as objects of God’s love and affection, but, like the rest of the work of his hands, we’re also created to give glory to God.
In the New Testament, there are three Greek words that are most often translated as the English word “worship”: proskyneo, sebomai, and latreuo. These signify bowing down or humbling oneself before another, demonstrations of reverence and awe in the presence of one who is greater, or the rendering of service to another. The same is true of the Hebrew words in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament translated as worship. We hear this in the poetry of Psalm 95, “Come, let us worship and bow down! Let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” (v. 6)
Worship is how we respond to a Creator who is uniquely worthy of our admiration, our reverence, our awe, our thanksgiving and our praise. When we worship, we acknowledge God’s glory, majesty, greatness, power, and goodness. We recognize and honor God as God, while recognizing that we are not God, but the children or creatures of God.
Drawing upon Underhill’s thoughts once more, worship is the appropriate response of the creature— humans, animals, inanimate objects, the universe itself— to the Creator who made them all, upon whom their very existence is contingent. We were made, in part, to give glory to God.
Back in the mid-1600s, Christian theologians in England and Scotland created a document called the Westminster Catechism to teach and summarize what Christians believe about God and what it means to be human. It was written in a question and answer format. Perhaps the best-known question posed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism was, “What is the chief end of man [or humankind]?” The answer: “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
We were created to display God’s glory. Our lives are only properly oriented when we are seeking to give glory to God, honoring, revering, and recognizing God as the source of our lives. Our praise is not merely in words, but from the heart and with every part of our being. We are meant to be a living hallelujah. In seeking to give thanks, to praise God not only with our words but also with our lives, rendering our worship to God, we find communion with God and the grace, strength, and love to live as his people.