Growing a Healthy Church : Worship

N.B. this sermon uses a pop quiz as a scene setter - the answers are given during the sermon itself.


Matt 22:34-40


Mozart - the marriage of Figaro Overture

A question for the married women: how many of you promised to obey? How many of you, as part of your wedding vows, promised to "love, honour and obey" (or, if it was an ASB service, "love, cherish and worship")?

And now a question for your husbands - in response, what did you promise? To love, cherish, and what? The answer is "worship". When I first heard it, I thought "surely not - surely you should worship God alone? So what's this doing in a church wedding?" Clearly the word has a bit more meaning beyond that which I'd normally use in a church. The Collins English Gem Dictionary (which I have had since the mid-70s) defines "worship" as: "n. reverence; adoration - v.t. adore; love and admire". Other dictionaries go further, but that's the basic gist of all of them. So worship isn't just a religious word. Indeed, it's roots are in the old English words woršscip, wuršscip (Anglian), weoršscipe (W.Saxon) a "condition of being worthy, honor, renown," from weorš "worthy" - hence the use of "your worship" to describe certain dignitaries such as magistrates and mayors.

Some Biblical background

Boyzone - Words

The word "worship" turns up a total of 158 times in the NIV translation of the Bible. That's 111 in the Old Testament and 47 in the New. A key point here is "translation". The Bible we have is translated from three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. The word "worship" is in fact translated from several different words: 7 Hebrew, 3 Aramaic and 10 Greek. But all of these words can also be translated differently, so the translator - or translators in most cases and certainly of the NIV - have made a decision to render the word as they have. Obviously they do so taking into account context, other usages of the word in other places, non-Biblical writings from the same period, and so on. But I often find it interesting to look at the other ways they've translated the words in question, and I hope you will too. This isn't an exhaustive list, just some examples. The Hebrew words have also been translated as: bow down; pay honour; prostrated himself; humbly bow; paid homage; reverence; serve; work; minister; enslave; cultivate; fulfilling by doing; do; did; made; follow; prepare; celebrate; built; act; sacrifice; gave; observe; performed; achieved; administrators; accomplished; persist; fear; awesome; revere; believer. The Aramaic words have been rendered (and this is a full list): worship; paid honour; worshipped; serve; workers. The Greek words (examples again) as: knelt before; fall down; paid homage; God-fearing; devout; serve; minister; afraid; alarmed; terrified; filled with awe; respect; reverence; religion; put religion into practice by caring for. That last one is from the Greek word eusabeo, a fact I can guarantee football fans of a certain age won't forget, and turns up just once, in Acts 17:23, when Paul is in Athens and proclaims the unknown God to the Athenians.

And that's without the 65 occurrences of "worshipped", 3 of "worshiper", 7 of "worshippers", 19 of "worshipping" or 4 of "worships". Amongst the list, though, there's a lot of phrases that you might have expected: bow down; pay honour; reverence; revere; paid honour; filled with awe. There's some you might have expected but hoped I might not mention: prostrated himself; sacrifice; knelt before. (What - on this floor?). There's also the ones that are even less pleasant and remind us of the power and strength of God: fear; alarmed; terrified. Then there's the set you probably would never have predicted: work; cultivate; do; made; built; act; observe; performed; achieved; administrators; accomplished; workers; eusabeo. (Put religion into practice by caring for).

Who are we worshipping?

Easy one - we're worshipping the almighty God, three in one. Or are we? Are we focussing on God in our worship, or on ourselves? I'll come back to this one.

Some poor English - and the songs before the service

I'm quite a pedant, really, especially when it comes to the use of English. I managed to learn to parse sentences, so I don't see why everyone else can't. But some bits of church-ese really bug me and I'd like to dissect two of them now. Firstly, "let's move into a time of worship". This often comes mid-way through a church service. My question is: if that's what we're moving into, what were we doing before? The whole service is a time of worship, not just the sung bits or the silent prayer bits: it's the whole package, from singing "happy birthday" to the kids (and Graham) to contemplating the death of Jesus on the cross. The latter gives the former meaning, but is not exclusively worship. It's quite common to sing "Come, now is the time for worship" early in the service (or even before it, as we did today). There's an argument I've heard that says that you should sing it at the end, as we go out into the world - to worship God there. We've sat in His presence - now the real worship begins.

The second bit of church-ese is "the worship was good/bad/ugly today". Again, the speaker usually means sung worship. But does our worship of God depend so much on whether the guitar's in tune, the singers can harmonise or the drummer stays in his box? Are we focusing on our experience of the service, when we should be looking at God's experience of it? He, after all, is the object, the one to whom it is all directed. Worship isn't for our benefit, but His. The fact that it can be enjoyed (apart from the prostrating bits of course) is a gift to us, but is not the arbiter of whether or not it's any good. Of course, this is an easy trap to fall into. I think every church musician has a soft spot for Matt Redman's "When the music fades" (which we also sang before the service) as it describes the trap so well: the trap of getting so caught up in getting the music right that it overtakes the reason you're doing it in the first place. There is a case for quality - of doing not just our personal best, but our corporate best. It's a body of Christ thing, where I can switch on lights using my feet (I really am that supple still) but it's easier and more efficient (and doesn't leave footprints on the wallpaper) to use my hands. It's a standing joke that we won't let Graham join the music group and it's not because we don't think his heart's in the right place. We know it is because a surgeon opened him up and he's got a certificate to say so. But if Graham was leading the singing, would it mean it's not worship? No - although the third song we sang before the service "I will worship" would come in then: I will worship. Whatever the context, whatever the distraction, whatever. I will worship.

Why worship?

Travis - Why does it always rain on me?

How do we worship?

Yvonne Elliman - I don't know how to love Him

I think this is where the word list I went through earlier comes into play. We worship by spending time with God, yes. We worship by dedicating a time to Him, focussing upon Him, doing nothing else but being with Him. But I think that there's more and we see this in the reading about the greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. It's not even one of the Ten Commandments. It sounds like a paraphrase of a couple, but it's actually from Deuteronomy 6, a bit of a postscript to the ten (which are in Deuteronomy 5) explaining why they're important. But it's the most important - and it's tempting to go into an aside about the body of Christ and how those who don't think they're the important ones are often actually the most important, but I won't. Not this week, anyway.

If we are to love God with everything we are, shouldn't we use everything we are to worship Him? It's analogous to Paul's "pray constantly" - worship constantly, with everything you have. 24/7 worship, as the Americans might put it (and probably already have - in fact if you put "24/7 worship" into Google you get 654 hits, so I can't really claim originality on that one). So back to the word list: building as worship? Well - think of all the master craftsmen who built the Temple, the Ark and so on. They worshipped through the application of what God had given them. And they did it to the best of their ability - again, the corporate best in that they were the best craftsmen so the community offered their work and all worshipped through it. Administration as worship? Is that stretching it a bit? I don't think so, as administration is listed as a Spiritual gift in 1 Corinthians 12 (interestingly the same place as the Church as being the body of Christ is described), so if God thinks administration's worth giving as a gift for the church's benefit, surely the use of it is worship? Accomplishments as worship? Cultivation? Work? Yes, they can all be routes to worship. Just as not all music is worship, but music can be used as worship, so every part of our lives can be worship: loving God with everything, worshipping 24/7.

OK Paul, you say, you've convinced me: now how do I achieve this 24/7 worship? Well, the first thing, I think, is to acknowledge God's presence 24/7. We acknowledge it as a theoretical construct, yes - but as a practical one? A bit harder, but something I think we need to get into. I don't mean that in a "would you do that if God were looking over your shoulder?" judgemental sort of way, but in a "God has shared that experience with you - why not talk to him about it?" sort of way. There's an argument for saying grace at the end of a meal, not before it. After all, the traditional grace is somewhat insulting to the chef, really: "for what we're about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful". It implies there's no way we can enjoy it otherwise. But after the meal, after we've enjoyed it, that's a good time to say thanks to God. Good sunset? Good game of football? Nice guitar solo? Dog finally brought the ball back to you after you threw it instead of leaving it where it landed? Worship God by talking to Him about it and saying thanks.

That's the easy stuff - but what about the hideous storm, the bad game of rugby, the appalling drum solo or the dog's ball bouncing over the railings and into the mud flats? Not so easy to worship through that, I'll admit. But possible. So start on the easy stuff and add in the harder as you go along. It's like anything, really: riding a bike, playing guitar, speaking French, understanding Maths, reading the Bible, praying, worshipping. Start with the easy bits and add in the harder as you go along. Maybe start at 2.4/7 and work your way up to 24/7. I wrote a certain amount of this sermon on a train back from Cardiff on Wednesday evening. Pacing the platform at Leeds station with a heavy rucksack on my back for an hour whilst I awaited my final connection I tried to put this into practice. I can't claim I managed an hour of worship, but I can claim minutes of worship I'd not have spent with God otherwise.

Now I'd make a guess that the last time you heard a phrase like "24/7 worship" it was actually "24/7 prayer". 24/7 worship and 24/7 prayer - you can't do both at the same time. Except that you can, as prayer is worship - prayer is communing with God, spending time with Him, sharing your life with Him, walking with Him as Adam and Eve walked with Him - as he intended all along. Therefore when times are tough, prayer is the best way to worship.

Wikipedia: Worship as a Christian is also defined as how you live your life, since worship is honor to a supernatural being and the Bible talks about always honoring God. If you live your life honoring God then you are worshiping.

Tell Him

Hello - Tell Him

I'm sure you've been in prayer meetings and heard prayers or sung songs (there's plenty) that say things like "O God you are the almighty. You are all-seeing and all-knowing" and so on. Now, if God's all-knowing, why does he need telling that He's almighty?

I was at an international scientific conference this week and went to a presentation on web technology, amongst others. At the end of the first talk the speaker put up a list of references and described the first one as "very influential". It was one of mine. Now, I knew it was a very good paper, and not just because I'd written it (I've written some bad ones as well and so I know a good one when I write it) but it was nice to hear it described so. And I'm built in God's image, so He must like to hear things he already knows, too.

There's a classic male/female scenario where he goes "of course I love you - I told you once in 1975 and I've not changed my mind so why should I tell you again?" It's not that women distrust their men and think they might have changed their minds since 1975, but that they like to be told. And they are also made in God's image, so He must like to be told too.

The Psalms are a great source of examples of things said to God, and are often cited as great sources of worship. Interestingly, they're not all "aye up God, you're fab" but also "God you've let me down". Now, God's big enough to be told how you feel - but is it worship? I'm still pondering that one, but whilst I do, don't be afraid to tell him what you think, what you feel, especially about Him. I'm inclined to think that it is, as it's a sharing of our lives with God, as God intended and therefore as he wants.


Worship. 24/7. Worship through our daily lives and, because we live them 24/7, our worship will become 24/7. It takes practice, it may be a long way off, but here and now's a good time and place to start. Let's set off together and see where we get to.

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