“The center of worship is a matter of raising up the position of God in our hearts and even when we feel that we have placed Him above all things, we must raise Him up even further. ”
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”
Colossians 3:16 (NKJV)
Worship is like a buffet. There are many options available. We come to worship, we fill up our plate, we consume what we like, and we pick around the nutritious bits. We may even leave the most essential part of the meal on our plate and return for seconds of what we like better. How many of us actually have a balanced, nutritious worship diet?
It should go without saying that worship is not music and music is not worship. Worship is an expression of the heart that can exist in music, but it is not limited solely to that medium. In fact, every aspect of the Christian life is meant to draw our affections toward God. This was the purpose of kosher law in the Old Testament where the most mundane task carried an element that reminded the individual they were doing things in a particular way to honor God.
It’s understandable though that we would think specifically of music when we consider worship. In our churches, it serves as the primary means for directing our hearts and raising our affections toward God. Therefore, it is a significant barometer for examining our understanding of worship.
Biblical worship as seen in Colossians 3:16 is singing to God in psalms, singing about Him in hymns, and singing to one another the good news in spiritual songs. We will start with singing to God.
“As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.”
-Psalm 42:1 NKJV
Regrettably, one of the things that is most lacking in our worship today is a reverential awe of God. Our service often looks like we believe worship is ultimately about telling God how much we love Him as if God found His worth in our praise and needed to be constantly reminded of our love. We have forgotten that He is self-fulfilled by His own glory (Psalm 50:8-13). We are to worship God in fear of His power, His holiness, and His wrath, but we do not worship God because we fear Him. The one true God is worthy of our praise solely for who He is.
John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism declares that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. So then true worship is both an expression of God’s glory and our simple enjoyment of who He is. It is in seeking God that we find our greatest reward (Hebrews 11:6) because finding Him is our reward. Again, John Piper says, “We belittle God when we go through the outward motions of worship and take no pleasure in His person.”
So worship is primarily speaking to God. But what are we to say? Worship consists of speaking to God about God. This is clearly seen through the rich and deep theology of our Hymns.
“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father, There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not. As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.”
-Great is Thy Faithfulness by Thomas Chisholm
The Old Testament is filled with this theme of God’s position and the expression is not lost in the New Testament when John describes his revelation of Heaven and the angels around the throne singing “Holy! Holy! Holy!” But the perspective is somewhat changed through the humility of Jesus. He left His place in Heaven and took on the form of a servant. In some ways, this changed worship. At the triumphal entry praise went from “Holy! Holy! Holy!” to “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna!” God was in their midst and yet they weren’t falling on their faces in fear and repentance.
Likewise, if we are not careful, misunderstanding this paradox can fundamentally cause us to lose our reverence and awe of the all-powerful God of the universe. Jesus is loving, yes, but He is also just. The reason He died was to demonstrate God’s love and justice (Romans 3:21-26). Jesus did not end the standard of Old Testament Law. Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17). The good news of the gospel is not that the anger of the LORD has subsided, but that the wrath of God has been satisfied in the work of Jesus Christ. God has never lowered His standard of perfection. Jesus lowered Himself as a servant and was obedient even to the point of death, therefore He was lifted up and seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Philippians 2:5-11).
To that end, the center of worship is a matter of raising up the position of God in our hearts and even when we feel that we have placed Him above all things we must raise Him up even further. True worship is a constant and conscientious effort to keep God on the throne of our own heart.
Worship is an expression of the glory of God, singing to God about God. It is also a proclamation of the love of God, singing about Christ to each other. True worship makes the Gospel more beautiful. If God is truly exalted in our hearts, His grace is made real when we reflect how far Christ descended to demonstrate God’s love.
“Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down,Here I am to say that you’re my God,
You’re altogether lovely, Altogether worthy,
Altogether wonderful to me.”
-Here I Am To Worship by Michael W. Smith
So when we sing spiritual songs we are proclaiming the gospel. We are announcing that the God we worship who is holy, righteous, and seated on His throne has come into our existence and met us in our greatest need.
We ought to meditate deeply on the Psalms as we reflect on the rightful position of our God. We should not neglect the rich hymns of the faith that teach us deep theology. Then we can rejoice in the spiritual songs that remind us of the love that God has demonstrated toward us through the humiliation of His Son.
The next time you go to the bountiful buffet of worship, what are you going to put on your plate?