a series of essays on the Spirit-filled life
by Del McKenzie
The Bible clearly states (Hebrews 12:28) that there is acceptable and unacceptable worship. Worship is sought, expected and demanded by God but it must meet certain requirements or it will be rejected and a person will be worse off than having not tried to give it. Worship is acceptable to God when it is in the Holy Spirit (Philippians 3:3). One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to worship God as He requires.
What is acceptable or true worship? What is worship? Worship is one of those big over-arching words of the Bible. It takes in many aspects of our response to God. It is always a response to God because He is the initiator. He reaches out to us in love. He is always speaking and revealing Himself to us. Worship is a response to that love in the proper way. We are all always responding even if it is rejection or indifference. The most basic meaning of the words translated "worship" is respect. Acceptable response to God's voice, by whatever means He uses to speak, is respect. The idea of respect includes honor, esteem, reverence, fear, credit and glory. It is shown when our thoughts, motives and actions are in line with the nature and character of God. Worship is to be a whole life, full time response of respect to God. It can be shown when we take the time and make the effort to meet with God's people. To try to show God respect on Sunday morning, however, having not done it all week, is an unacceptable attempt at worship. We are only playing mind games with ourselves. Some ways to communicate respect for God include awe, admiration, amazement, adoration, appreciation, affirmation and supplication. These are probably all wrapped up in the biblical term, "praise." Praise is the verbal expression of all these ingredients and possibly many more. That praise can be vocal or quiet, personal or corporate. It is the outflow of a worshiping heart that is responding to who God is and what He has done.
Is this possible for the natural human heart to truly worship God? Evidently not. It can only be done with the enabling of the Holy Spirit. We are to worship by the Spirit of God and that worship is to be in spirit and truth (John 4:23). John was in the Spirit on a Sunday when he had the great worship experience recorded in the book of Revelation. Can we ask and expect the Holy Spirit to enable us to worship God acceptably? The answer is a resounding "yes" from what the Scriptures teach us! But is everything called worship really acceptable worship? The answer is a resounding "no" based on what the Bile teaches about worship. The opposite of acceptable worship is clearly stated in Philippians 3; trying to do it in the flesh. To worship in the Spirit is to have our response to God motivated, directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit and not by our natural, human, efforts and abilities. Some people do worship God and some people don't. The worship of some people is acceptable and the worship of some people is not acceptable. It all depends on what part the Holy Spirit has in it. Soulish worship is when our emotions or intellect are responding to God independent of the Holy Spirit, simply satisfying our human nature. It can be very ecstatic and emotional but it is still human effort. It can be very subdued and meditative but it is still human effort. If it is parading what we are and have achieved it is confidence in ourselves and not in God's grace. Paul lists all of the reasons he had for confidence in the flesh but had to see them as nothing but rubbish when it came to true worship of the true God.
Worship in the Old Testament had a lot of external forms attached to it. In this life we may never fully understand why God led His people through it. But when we come to the New Testament, the new covenant, the emphasis is on the internal. There is very little said in the New Testament about the form that our response to God should take. It clearly declares that worship is to be of the heart. Not that the heart emphasis is absent in the Old Testament. Much of the time the Israelites missed it and by the time of the Pharisees when Jesus came it had all but been replaced by external ritual. An example of worship being a heart matter is found in Psalm 24 with a picture of people going up to
Worship seems to be a universal response. It can be seen in every culture and in every level of those cultures. If nothing else, people worship themselves. However, there is a true worship of the one true God: Creator, Sustainer, and Ruler of everything. Life for a believer is a journey of learning that worship. As our companion, the Holy Spirit wants to, and can, enable us to develop worship that is in keeping with this God and meets the desire of our hearts which were created in His likeness. Worship is all about God and giving Him the proper place in our lives. But when that is happening it becomes the most meaningful and fulfilling experience we can have. We can love to worship. God's way of making that happen is to fill us with the Holy Spirit. When He is filling us we are becoming worshipers. The more He fills us the greater and purer will be our worship.