The Biblical Picture of Worship   

by Brent Lanigan                    


Sometimes, it feels as if the word worship has become too common in our Christian lexicon. It gets used to describe our praise singing (e.g. “we are now going to worship”); our tithing (e.g. “let’s give as an act of worship”); and a style of music (e.g. “My favorite music is worship music”).  But what really is worship as seen in Scripture? Thankfully, the Bible paints a very clear picture. Join me now as we discover the essence of biblical worship over these five days of devotionals:


The Biblical Picture of Worship

Day 1: What is worship and why should we worship?


Psalm 29: 1-2 - Praise the Lord’s glory and power. Praise the Lord for the glory of his name. Worship the Lord because he is holy.


Fascinating Fact: An article on the Smithsonian website Folkways, talks about throat-singing, a guttural style of singing or chanting. The article says that throat-singing is "one of the world's oldest forms of music. For those who think the human voice can produce only one note at a time, the resonant harmonies of throat-singing are surprising. In throat-singing, a singer can produce two or more notes simultaneously through specialized vocalization technique taking advantage of the throat's resonance characteristics. By precise movements of the lips, tongue, jaw, velum, and larynx, throat-singers produce unique harmonies using only their bodies. Throat-singing is most identified with parts of Central Asia." Probably a good thing it's not a worship style practiced in our churches!


Scripture Study: As we launch our discovery of the biblical picture of worship, the initial question we need to ask ourselves is this: what is biblical worship defined as? In Ps 29:1, the psalmist gives clarity to both these questions. David, the masterfully gifted worship song composer, sets the definition of worship in its simplest frame: it is to praise God's "glory and power.” It is giving God praise "for the glory of his name." Knowing the what of biblical worship thus leads seamlessly into David's foundational reason for why believers should worship God: "worship the Lord because he is holy." To worship God because he is holy is to humbly praise and thank God for his perfection, his sinlessness; for that is what holiness is: to be perfectly without sin.


Can you imagine trying to praise God if he was not perfect? It would be pretty difficult wouldn’t it? There would be no motivation on our part to give God praise if he was not perfect or sinless. We would have no valid reason to worship God because he would be just like us: sinfully imperfect! But because God is perfect and therefore holy, he deserves our full worship. In short, our hearts should join with the psalmist who proclaims, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD” (Psalm 150:6).


Questions to Discuss Together:

1) Imagine what it would feel like to try and praise God if he was not perfectly sinless, perfectly holy. Would you have any motivation to do so?

2) In verses 1-2 David says that we should worship God by praising his glory and power. What are other specific things that we can praise God for?

3) Describe your favorite way of worshiping God (e.g. singing, playing instruments, dancing)


Prayer Guide: We praise you God for being perfect and without sin. And we thank you God for being holy. We praise you God for who you are and humbly worship you with our praise. Amen.



The Biblical Picture of Worship  

Day 2: How do we meaningfully worship God?


Psalm 100: 1-2, 4-5 - Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. We are his people. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.


Fascinating Fact: In his book The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey recounts a story about a "Messiah sighting" in the Jewish section of Brooklyn New York in 1993. For some reason, many Hasidic Jews living there thought that the Messiah was dwelling among them in the person of a 91 yr old mute rabbi named Menachem Schneerson. As the men crowded into the synagogue, they began shouting over and over, "Long live our master, our teacher, and our King, Messiah, forever and forever!" All the little rabbi could do was smile and wave and then he disappeared behind a curtain and everyone went home. It is a story both funny and sad in its example of misguided worship!


Scripture Study: On Day 1 we unpacked what biblical worship is in its simplest form and the reason for why we should worship God: because he is holy and deserves our praise for his perfection. Today's study naturally follows out of that and asks: how then can we meaningfully worship God? Psalm 100 gives a great framework for this question. In it, the psalmist sets a pretty clear directive for how to make our worship of God meaningful: we must worship God "with gladness." What does it mean to worship God with gladness? It means to engage in worship of God with hearts shaped by joy (joyful songs and shouts), with praise (enter his...courts with praise), and with thanksgiving (enter his gates with thanksgiving). Why? Because of God's goodness, love and faithfulness to us (for the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues). So then, the approach to meaningfully worship God is built on having a heart of worshipful gladness shaped by joy, praise and thanksgiving for all God has done for us. To do less is to shortchange God of the worship that he deserves.


Questions to Discuss Together:

1) After reflecting on the verses above, what does it mean for you to worship God with gladness?

2) In other words, what makes your worship of God meaningful? Is it shaped by other characteristics than joy, praise and thanksgiving?

3) Why is it vital for believers to worship God with gladness?


Prayer Guide: Thank you God for your goodness, love and faithfulness to us. We praise you with glad hearts because of who you are and for what you have done for us in caring for us as your special children. Amen.



The Biblical Picture of Worship

Day 3: What value should worshiping God have in our lives?


Exodus 32:1-2, 7-8, 35 - The people saw that a long time had passed. And Moses had not come down from the mountain. So they gathered around Aaron. They said to him, “Moses led us out of Egypt. But we don’t know what has happened to him. So make us gods who will lead us.” Aaron said to the people, “Take off your gold earrings...bring them to me.” So all the people took their gold earrings and brought them to Aaron. Aaron took the gold from the people. Then he melted it and made a statue of a calf. Then the people said, “Israel! These are your gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down from this mountain...the people you brought out of the land of Egypt have done a terrible sin. They have quickly turned away from the things I commanded them to do. They have made for themselves a calf of melted gold. They have worshiped that calf.” So the Lord caused terrible things to happen to the people.


Fascinating Fact: According to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest gold ring in the world weighs 181.2 lbs and was created by Mokingran Jewelry Group Co., Ltd in China on 18 May 2016. The ring is 24-karat gold and has a diameter of 31.2 inches. By comparison, the largest manufactured pure gold bar in the world weighs 551 lb 2 oz and was made on 11 June 2005 at the Naoshima Smelter & Refinery, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan. It's probably a good thing the Israelites did not have these at their disposal!


Scripture Study: Today's devotional asks the question: what value should worshiping God have in our lives? For the answer, we turn to the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32. This story is a sobering reminder of what happens when the worship of God is not valued within our spiritual lives. Not long before, God had given his people the 10 Commandments as instructions for how to worship and obey him. And now, in Exodus 32, the people spectacularly violate the 2nd commandment: “You must not make any idols or worship them.” How could the people disobey this command so quickly? Sadly, they did not value worshiping God. And the more Israel devalued the worship of God, the more they valued the worship of other things. And once they did that, it was easy to replace God with an idol. In the end, their idol worship brought pain and hardship upon them because of their disregard for valuing the worship of God.


The worship of God in our lives should be valued as primary. It should be an act of devotion that ranks above anything else we do as followers of God. When we devalue the worship of God, it means we place value on worshiping other things or pursuits: leisure, money, relationships, possessions. Now having these things in our lives are not wrong in and of themselves; but when we value them more than we value God, they become idols of flawed worship. And when God sees our flawed worship take priority over expressing our praise and love to him, that’s what hurts his heart. When our flawed worship causes our spiritual growth and love for God to become stagnant, we cannot enjoy true relationship with him.


Questions to Discuss Together:

1) Do an inventory of your priorities in life. Where does the worship of God rank within those priorities?

2) In other words, how important do you think worshiping God is?

3) If you feel your worship of God is flawed or de-valued, what practical steps can you take to change that?


Prayer Guide: Dear God, thanks for giving us instructions on how to love, obey and worship you. Help us to always desire loving and worshiping you more than anything else in our lives. Amen.



The Biblical Picture of Worship

Day 4: What should be our mindset when we worship God?


Daniel 3: 1-9, 12-14, 16-20, 24-26, 28 - King Nebuchadnezzar had a gold statue made. The statue was 90 feet high and 9 feet wide. Then the king called the important his kingdom. He wanted these men to come to the special service for the statue he had set up. So they all came for the special service. And they stood in front of the statue. Then the man who made announcements for the king spoke in a loud voice. He said "Everyone must bow down and worship this gold statue. Anyone who doesn’t will be quickly thrown into a blazing furnace.” So they bowed down and worshiped the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then some Babylonians came up to the king. They said, “Our king...Shadrach, Meshach and not worship the gold statue you have set up." Nebuchadnezzer became very angry...and said, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, is it true that you did not worship the gold statue I have set up?” They said, "Nebuchadnezzar... you can throw us into the blazing furnace...But even if God does not save us...we will not worship the gold statue." Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Then he commanded...soldiers to throw them into the blazing furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was very surprised. The king said "Look, I see four men. They are not tied up and they are not burned." Then Nebuchadnezzar went to the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, come out! Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These three men trusted their God. They refused to obey my command. And they were willing to die rather than...worship any god other than their own.”


Fascinating Fact: The Leshan Giant Buddha is the biggest and tallest Buddha statue in the world. Carved in the Lingyun Mountain in China, the statue stands 233 feet tall. Leshan Giant Buddha's hair is composed of 1,021 spiraled curls embedded in his head that measures 48 ft in height and 33 ft in width. His ears, capable of holding two people inside, are 23 ft long. He has 18 ft long eyebrows, 27 ft long fingers, 79 ft wide shoulders, and an 18 ft long nose. His mouth and each of his eyes have a width of 11 ft. His instep is around 28 ft in width and can hold about a hundred people and his smallest toenail can fit one seated person. By contrast, Nebuchadnezzar' statue was "only" 90 to tall and 9 ft wide but it had one thing the Buddha doesn't: it was made of gold!


Scripture Study:  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew that they could be thrown into a fiery furnace to die because they refused to compromise their worship of God. As such, this story is the polar opposite of the story in Exodus 32. While the Israelites valued the worship of other things over God, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had made a heart commitment - built on uncompromised devotion of their love for God - to worship him above anything else. And this uncompromised devotion was so authentically displayed that the king himself said these words: "These three men trusted their God. They refused to obey my command. And they were willing to die rather than worship any god other than their own" (v. 28).


Today's devotional focuses on how what our mindset should be when we worship God. When we engage in worshiping God, we cannot treat our relationship with God lightly. If we truly say we are his followers then that devotion to him must be authentically displayed in offering God uncompromised worship. Maybe we will never be commanded to worship a 90 foot statue but we will always have the enticements of our culture nipping at our hearts demanding we give those enticements our worship and uncompromised devotion. But like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, we must quietly stand firm and determine in our hearts to never offer God less than our full, uncompromised devotion in worshiping him. Anything less is just going through the spiritual motions of our faith.


Questions to Discuss Together:

1) Tale a moment to reflect on how you feel when you participate in the worship times at your church. Do you just go through the motions?

2) How do you think God would view your worship of him? Does it give you pause or are you quietly assured that he would be happy with your attitude and approach in worshiping him?

3) If you feel your worship attitude needs improving, what is one thing you could do to fix it?


Prayer Guide: Father, thank you for the privilege of worship you. And thank you that we have the freedom to do so unendingly. Help us to never take our worship of you for granted we pray. Amen.



The Biblical Picture of Worship

Day 5: How does worshiping God change us?


2 Sam. 6:10-12, 14-16, 20-21 - David would not move the Ark of the Covenant to the Temple in Jerusalem. Instead he took it to the house of a man named Obed-Edom. And the Lord blessed Obed-Edom and his family. The people told David, “The Lord has blessed the family of Obed-Edom. This is because the Ark of the Covenant of God is there.” So David went and brought the Ark up from Obed-Edom’s house to Jerusalem with joy. Then David danced with all his might before the Lord. David and all the Israelites shouted with joy. They blew the trumpets as they brought the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord to the city. (David's wife) Michal was looking out the window. When she saw David jumping and dancing before the Lord, she hated him. She said , “The king of Israel did not honor himself today! You took off your clothes in front of the servant girls of your officers. You were like a foolish man who takes off his clothes without shame." Then David said to Michal, “I did it before the Lord. So I will celebrate in front of the Lord."


Fascinating Fact: According to the Guiness Book of Records, the longest dance marathon by an individual is 126 hours, and was achieved by Bandana Nepal (Nepal) in Kathmandu, Nepal, from 23 to 28 November 2018. Bandana took on this challenge largely to promote Nepalese music and culture, but it was also a personal challenge as she has been dancing since early childhood. By contrast, the longest dance marathon by a group was "only" 24 hrs, 1 minute set in 2011. Much more fun to dance in a group, don't you think?


Scripture Study: Today we ask the question: how does worshiping God change us? The answer can be found in the life of David, both in the worship psalms he wrote (e.g. see day 1, Ps. 29) and in his role as king. When David was newly installed as king of Israel, one of his first priorities was to repatriate the Ark of the Covenant from someone's home to the Temple in Jerusalem where it rightly belonged. But David did not want to do this quietly. He decided to design a praise party around bringing back this symbol of God's presence among God's people.


The Bible says that David danced before the Lord "with all his might" as the Ark was brought into Jerusalem. Can you imagine Queen Elizabeth dancing with all her might in public? That would be a pretty ridiculous spectacle. Why? Because queens and kings are supposed to look and act dignified. But even though David was a new king, he was not caught up with "presenting" well; instead he wanted to show how much he loved God by expressing his worship through dancing.  His worship dance was so heartfelt and joyous that his wife thought that it looked too improper for a king to be doing in public. But David did not care. His response? "I will celebrate in front of the Lord" (v. 21). And so David went from being a dignified king one moment to dancing like any old commoner the next, caught up as he was in his joy of worshiping God.


It is evident that David was continually transformed by his steadfast worship of God. You see, David valued worshiping God more than worrying about what people thought about how he worshiped God. And it was because of that attitude that David's worship transformed him. Not only as a writer of worship psalms but also as the king of Israel. In the same way, if our worship of God is consistently done out of a heart of authenticity and joy like David, we too will be transformed by it; both inside and outwardly, whether that's raising your hands or perhaps even dancing! All God desires is that we offer him our whole heart in worship and not be self-conscious in how we worship - whether we are isolated at home away from church or among fellow believers. Just so long as it is expressed with an attitude that does not draw attention to ourselves but to God like David did when he said "I did it before the Lord."


Questions to Discuss Together:

1) Have you ever been tempted to "present well" when worshiping in church?

2) Have you ever been tempted to worship in such a way that draws attention to yourself rather than God?

3) Do you think there are more "proper" forms of worship expression than others?


Prayer Guide: Thank you God for the many different ways that you have given us to praise you. Help us never to lose the joy of praising you for who you are. Amen.