We all know what it means…or do we? Before we dig into this word, let's find a definition to establish a starting point.
The first usage of the word worship in the King James Version of the Bible is in Genesis 22:5:
And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.
The word worship has been translated from the original Hebrew word shachah. Strong's Concordance defines it as to depress, i.e. prostrate (especially reflexively, in homage to royalty or God). Depress means to lower in amount or value, or to put into a lower position. So, we start to get the idea that when one worshiped in the Old Testament, they would position themselves lower than the one they were worshipping, at least symbolically. In Abraham's case, he worshipped—lowered himself down—before God. He knew that he was lower in value than God and so was submissive to God's will.
Worship also suggests having a certain attitude—an attitude of wanting to please God and do His will.
Bible commentator Charles Russell says this:
Worship is that outward manifestation of reverence for holy things which is pleasing to God, if done in a proper manner and from the right attitude of heart.Worship in Spirit and truth does not apply simply to prayer, praise, supplication and thanksgiving. It goes deeper than all these and takes hold upon the affections, upon the heart, and hence signifies not an act of worship but rather a life of worship.
Abraham had a life of worship, ready to do the Lord's will at all costs.
There are five words closely related to worship. Besides the concepts of being "lower in amount or value," these words contribute to the act of worshipping.
And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them he ran
to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground. Genesis 18:2
The word translated bowed is from the same Hebrew word shachah, translated Worship in Genesis 22:5,
There is a correlation between the English words "worship" and "bow." Bowing can be part of the act of worshipping.
Genesis 24:26 (NAS) says:
The English word "bowed" means to shrivel up, i.e. contract or bend the body (or neck) in deference. It is an appropriate word indicating how we should bow our hearts in deference to our Heavenly Father and His will.
Communicating with God is a means of conveying thanksgiving. Through prayer we can also ask for strength to endure and experience, or to seek forgiveness, etc.
Abraham was no stranger to prayer. He fell on his face while God talked with him:
And I [God] will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him…
The humble prostrating of himself revealed his humility, and submission to God. So, even though the word "worship" is not used in this text, Abram was worshipping God. A close companion then to worship is prayer.
Prayer is still an integral part of worship today. We continue to open and close our church services with prayer. But things have changed since the patriarchs of old. God dealt with them differently than He deals with us today.
In the past God spoke to our ancestry through the prophets at many times and in various ways.
God sometimes spoke to them through dreams, visions, a burning bush, through angels, and even a donkey (see the story of Balaam in Numbers 22).
But God can direct us without actually speaking, as He did to Abraham. We are now blessed with the Bible and its principles to direct our decisions. The Holy Spirit can guide us in understanding deep truths that were unrevealed in the past. There are teachers and pastors who help explain Biblical passages and give scripturally based advice (See Ephesians 4:11). Added to our prayer life these things help us know God's will. His providence in life can also have a bearing on showing us God's will.
In the New Testament, the word "incense" is used three times in the book of Luke. These refer to the Temple incense offerings by the priest. The other New Testament references to incense are in Revelation 8:3-4, 5:8 and 18:13. These verses hearkens back to the Tabernacle in Leviticus when Aaron burned incense before the Lord on The Day of Atonement. There is, however, nothing in the New Testament that admonishes us to burn incense as part of our contemporary worship.
The following is a helpful quote from McClintock and Strong's Encyclopedia about the use of incense in worship:
The use of incense in worship was not carried over from the Jewish to the Christian Church; yet it is still employed, with other superstitious usages, in the Romish Church, and in some of the Oriental churches…
It is certain that incense was not used in the first three stages of the Christian Church. Indeed, the use of it was a mark of paganism, as is fully evinced by the enactments of the Christian emperors against its use. "The very places or houses where it could be proved to have been done were, by a law of Theodosius, confiscated by the government." A few grains of incense thrown by a devotee upon a pagan altar constituted an act of worship. The apologists for Christianity, Arnobius, Tertullian and Lactantius, make distinct and separate statements that "Christians do not burn incense" like pagans.
The word "incense," however, is found 124 times in the Old Testament. Not only did God accept the burning of incense as a form of worship, He also gave explicit instructions on how to do so (See Exodus 30 and 37:25–29). The burning of incense sent up a sweet-smelling cloud that ascended heavenward. It represented the prayers of God's people. This was one of the methods the priests of Israel worshipped God. But the ceremonies were also meant to represent something greater.
Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. Revelation 8:4
From these texts it is clear that incense represents prayers, which are part of our worship life.
The word praise is found many times in the Bible and is part of worship. The English word praise means the act of expressing approval or admiration, commendation, laudation. Here is an example:
And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great. Revelation 19:5
We should all praise God. But how do we do that? The word "praise" has several applications. It can mean to shine, to make a show, to rave or to celebrate. These definitions suggest that there may be some physical activity involved. When one is giving praise, he often raises the hands to make a physical demonstration of what is in the heart.
O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise even with my glory. Psalm 108:1
Praise is often used in conjunction with singing. The definition of "praise" can include the thought of celebrating in song and music.
Music has been a part of worship for thousands of years. After God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage the people sang praises.
Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation: He is my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt Him. Exodus 15:1, 2
In verses 20-21 we see dancing and musical instruments added to their praise.
And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.
These women were rejoicing, praising and worshipping God with such thankful hearts that they could not stop from dancing. It must have been an amazing spectacle!
This example of loud boisterous praise demonstrates the overflowing joy of deliverance. But Scripture also describe David as he praised God in solitude. He often played his harp and wrote his psalms of praise in quiet times of seclusion — just him and the Lord.
Reading many of the Psalms, we see David pouring out his heart to the Lord. He composed songs that echoed his deepest feelings. He was indeed a man after God's own heart. He wrote, "I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High." Psalm 9:2
Often found in the Psalms, the word sing is frequently followed by the word praise. "Sing" comes from a root word that describes striking with the fingers; properly, to touch the strings or parts of a musical instrument, i.e. play upon it; to make music, accompanied by the voice; hence to celebrate in song and music.
Evidently, many of David's songs were accompanied by stringed instruments as seen in the following verses:
Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright. Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto Him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings. Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise. Psalm 33:1-3
"With a loud noise" is a translation of the Hebrew word meaning to shout or shouting. Strong's Concordance adds the idea of acclamation of joy… especially clangor of trumpets.
Worshipping God with music can include anything from a song and a gentle harp, to multiple voices singing with loud accompaniment. However it is expressed, the Lord loves musical worship when it is from the heart.
Sacrifice is also a form of worship.
Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering. Genesis 22:2
A burnt offering was a free-will sacrifice given to God. Abraham was willing to offer his only son as a sacrifice to God. This revealed his great faith in God and was a wonderful act of worship.
Earlier, we read Abraham words, I and the lad will go yonder and worship" (Genesis 22:5).
As a result of such great faith, God promised to use him and his descendants to bless all the families of the earth (See Genesis 22:16-18). Faith will always bring special privileges from God.
Sacrifice in its many forms then is an act of worship. It shows genuine praise for God when we offer ourselves to serve Him. We can sacrifice our time to be with fellow Christians, find ways of helping others, to witness, and study God's word. The key to pleasing God in sacrifice is to do so with a willing heart, just as Abraham did.
As it turned out, Abraham was not required by God to actually kill his son. He simply wanted to establish Abraham's willingness to obey. It is a powerful lesson that God is pleased with obedience and every sacrifice is an act of worship.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
Laying down our lives for others describes acts of service where the welfare of others is an important part of our lives. This is how love is acted out. It was a principle Jesus followed even to the point of sacrificing his own life on the cross.
The laying down of our Lord's life was accomplished moment by moment, day by day, in teaching, in healing the sick, the deaf and the blind and in instructing his disciples. (Charles Russell)
"Moment by moment, day by day." In other words, be ready to sacrifice when needed. This is one important aspect of our worship: always being in a sacrificial attitude.
Worship is a vital part of our Christian walk, and it has many facets. The elements of worship discussed in this short article are not the only ways to worship. Worship can be a state of heart and mind.
Pray without ceasing
Have a song in our hearts all the time
Be ready to sacrifice our lives for each other at any given time
Praise the Lord for all things, even for trials
Bow our hearts, even when no one else is praying
Worship is not just a list of things we should do.
Worship is having these principles in our hearts at all times.