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I received an email about two months ago asking a simple, direct question: what is worship? Busted. I’ve led in musical worship and taught on biblical worship for nearly 20 years, but I realized at that moment, I had never sat down to work on this as a personal project.

WorshipNot that worship definitions are lacking. Great saints from the past and present—gifted communicators and far more able minds than my own—have answered this question. I’ve quoted them often, and fully intend to keep quoting them! Some of my favorite renditions are: 

William Temple

Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His Beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose – and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.

John Frame

Redemption is the means; worship is the goal. In one sense, worship is the whole point of everything. It is the purpose of history, the goal of the whole Christian story. Worship is not one segment of the Christian life among others. Worship is the entire Christian life, seen as a priestly offering to God. And when we meet together as a church, our time of worship is not merely a preliminary to something else; rather, it is the whole point of our existence as the body of Christ.

Louie Giglio

Worship is our response, both personal and corporate, to God for who He is, and what He has done; expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live.

Those definitions are intimidatingly awesome. But, as I read this email, I thought, “What a valuable exercise!” I knew that even though mine wouldn’t be as helpfully concise as Giglio’s or carry the same freight or technical precision as a Frame or Temple, taking some time to craft a definition and hone it over the years would certainly be worthwhile.

So, for what it’s worth, here’s my effort at this point. She’s only a baby, so be nice.

Worship is the response of the whole being—heart, soul, mind, strength—to beholding God’s glory. It is enabled by the Holy Spirit. (There is no worship apart from spiritual regeneration.) It is fixated on gospel truth. (We behold God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ.) It is directed by God’s self-revealing Word. (We don’t intuitively figure out what pleases God.) It involves personal and corporate expressions. (We worship in all of life as well as in church gatherings.) Human beings are hard-wired for worship. Thus, worship, of someone or something, is inevitable. But the worship that pleases God—worship that proceeds from a heart that sees and loves Him—is only possible by the saving work of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Friend, the concept of worship is absolutely (cosmically) essential. So, I put the question to you for your own reflection, “What is worship?”

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12 thoughts on “What Is Worship?”

  1. Clayton says:

    “Worship is the response of the whole being—heart, soul, mind, strength—to beholding God’s glory.”

    Do you believe the body should also be included in that list? our whole being includes the physical part of us too.

  2. Lee McColly says:

    If, worship of God is the primary purpose for which we are created, why then do we not put the questions regarding worship at the forefront of all we do individually and corporately? Perhaps might it be in part because we as experiential creatures are too driven still to view and perform worship with man (ourselves), rather than God as the center? The worship questions need to be asked more often, and always. Solo Deo Gloria!

  3. Abel Lau says:

    I can say what worship is NOT – worship is not singing about our response to Him, it is not extolling the greatness of my behavior or emotional response to who he is or what he has done for me. Which is my beef against so much of popular contemporary music used in corporate worship today. Worshipful music is not man-centered but rather God or Christ-centered. It points the congregation to God and God alone, never once stealing His glory by elevating the response of the worshipper. And certainly not allowing the instrumental component of music to steal the show by sinking to the level of a performance (which is the tendency and unintended consequence of using contemporary music vetted only by the popularity contest it really is).

  4. Jack Vosteen says:

    Worship is akin to the elusive wisdom mentioned in the Book of Proverbs … William Temple seems to suggest, “the submission of all our nature to God” is a very scare commodity … because our worship has to vie with the idolatry that resides within us …

    We not only need to still the noise of this world … but we must also silence the clamor of our own internal meanderings to properly worship the Triune God … The Holy Spirit can assist us to sidestep any misplaced pride and idolatry and to aid us to best honor and glorify God’s name

  5. Samuel Lee says:

    Worship is obedience. Worship is adoration. Worship is commitment. Worship is humility. Worship is both corporate and personal. Worship is that which pleases God. Thus, to worship Him, we offer all – our heart, soul, mind, and body. We live in accordance to the bible, walking step by step with the Holy Spirit by meditation of the word and prayer, and by allowing the Holy Spirit to produce the fruits. We live by an obedience to these two commandments – love God, love others….love the word, love your enemies.

    A worshipful lifestyle is reflected in one’s private life.

  6. Simon says:

    I would add that worship is the expression of our love for God. This genuine love is expressed through different ways among which few can be mentioned: speech (words of prayer), songs, a sacrifice (offerings, gifts,…), lifestyle (obedience), etc…

    1. Elnovis says:

      I love it!

  7. Rob Anderson says:

    Thanks for the honesty in your article. I find myself asking the question again as my worship leader seems to think that we should be worshiping while we are playing worship songs. That on the surface seems all well and good except he wants top notch playing as well which requires all my concentration. So I’m left asking myself, how can I play skillfully and worship at the same time? Many things are running thru my head during a song set…I’m constantly aware of many different factors. Is it fair to ask a musician to do both at the same time and is God honored with such double-minded worship? Dunno

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Matt Mason is the worship pastor at The Church at Brook HIlls in Birmingham, Alabama. Follow Matt on Twitter @MattMason3