Worship is a commonly used word in the American Church. We have definitions of worship that describe it as a song, as an action, or as a lifestyle… but what really is the true nature of worship?
As I started my recent study into the nature of worship, I found something that surprised me. I expected to find the first references for worship in the Bible to be connected to a song or a ceremony, but what I found was that the first reference to worship is actually about sacrifice.
The very first time that a word is translated worship (at least in the New King James Bible) is in Genesis 22—the story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac. In Genesis 22:5 Abraham tells his servants, “Stay here… [Isaac] and I will go and worship.” This is the first appearance of the word worship. So what was Abraham preparing to do when he uses this word worship? He was preparing to sacrifice the most precious thing in his life for the sake of obeying the voice of God.
Matt Chandler would describe worship as, “The attribution of ultimate worth to something.” I agree with that for the most part, except that I think we can extend that definition somewhat. For now, I will leave it at that. What we see in Abraham is a glimpse into the nature of what worship really means.
As I was meditating on the nature of worship and the natural instinct of humanity to worship, the Holy Spirit began to explain it to me from an unlikely perspective. He brought to my mind the 1964 love song Fly Me To The Moon in which Frank Sinatra sings,
“Fill my heart with song,
And let me sing forever more,
You are all I long for,
All I worship and adore…”
The Holy Spirit began to show it to me from—what I believe to be—an often forgotten perspective… the perspective of love.
Worship comes easy to the lover. When two people are in love they will drive all night just to spend a few hours together. They will move heaven and earth just to see the one they love. They will sacrifice time, money, and sleep because their hearts ache simply to be together. How many couples idolize each other and would say, like Sinatra, “You are all I long for, all I worship and adore?” Obviously we are not to worship or idolize our spouses, but there’s the temptation to do just that. Why? Because worship is a natural outflow of love. King David had a love for God like few men ever have, and we see the outflow of this love in his life.
There is one example that I want to use from David’s life that I think will tie all of this together. At the end of the book of 2 Samuel, we see David make a striking statement in regard to worship. David is preparing to make a sacrifice to God for his sins and he requests to buy a man’s property for the sacrifice. The man offers to give David his land and his oxen freely, but David responds and says, “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.” He understood that, as Amy Carmichael states so eloquently, “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”
The heart of a lover looks to give extravagantly. Love looks to give that which is costly. Why do husbands buy their wives diamonds? Because they are both beautiful and costly. The nature of love is to give extravagantly. We see this very characteristic in the heart of God. “For God so loved the world that He gave…” The Apostle Paul perfectly shows the connection between love and giving in Ephesians 5:2 when he says, “Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us.”
Many look at worship and think of sacrifice. While this is true, it is not sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. We think we must learn to enjoy going without and to live in a twisted type of asceticism and self-deprivation, but that is not what we are called to. We are not called to love sacrifice, but to sacrificially love. And, as we see with Abraham and David, that is the heart of a true worshipper.