The following article is written by Joe DiGerolamo, our worship leader for the Activate Worship Band.
Let me challenge you for a moment with a question: What comes to mind when you think of worship? Perhaps you think of a 45-minute time frame that is filled with songs during a church service; or, maybe you think of a type of music genre, just like pop, rap, or country. I’m convinced that many of us don’t really understand the real meaning of worship—I wonder if we truly grasp just how important it is and how often we do it? You see if this wasn’t the case, and we truly had a proper grasp of worship, then I believe it would change the way the church lives today.
Biblical worship starts with understanding God’s glory.
But what is His glory exactly? I mean let’s face it, I wonder how often we use that word and really pause to think about what it means.
Simply, God’s glory is the public display of His infinite beauty and worth—this is shown clearly in Isaiah 6, as the angels surrounding the throne of the Lord declared, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of His glory.” It is the manifestation of God’s greatness—His complete holiness, His total worthiness, His unending and unconditional love, His enduring righteousness, His perfect justice. The very nature of God is demonstrated in His glory, and that glory was duly manifested through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.
So what does that mean for you and me?
As John Piper put it: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him (1). In other words, when we as God’s creation are living in community with Him—when we offer our lives in complete surrender to Him—then we are ascribing glory to His name. When you think about it, our chief end goal is the glorification of God. That’s what we are made to do!
Romans 12:1-2 gives us a much clearer understanding of how God’s glory is played out through worship:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual act of worship.”
Previously, in Romans 9-11, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Jewish people, saying that because of Christ’s death and resurrection, salvation was made available to all men, Jews or Gentiles, Israelites or Romans, no matter the race or past religious practices. Why? Because Jesus—God in flesh—acted as the perfect and final sacrifice for all sin. Animal sacrifices and Jewish customs were no longer required, because it was by God’s grace that all people were saved through faith. And now that His people were given salvation through “the mercies of God”, they’re response was simple—to live for His glory as “living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to [Him].”
Worship is the act of totally offering up ourselves for the glory of God.
You and I—we’re made to worship. But let’s be honest, do we really live that out?
We live in a culture that is immersed in worship, yet I wonder if we even realize it. Everyone worships—every single person that is on this earth. From your Atheist friend to your Catholic grandmother; your homosexual coworker to your church-going parents. It is true of all people; everyone worships something.
When you and I are not worshipping God, then we are ascribing worth to other things, other people, or even ourselves. And honestly, in our day and age, that’s not difficult to understand. We’re surrounded by the ever-increasing agenda of sex, money, fame, celebrities, relationships, beauty, drugs, alcohol, success—the list goes on. It’s plastered in the billboards on the streets, the movies released, the music produced—it’s on the magazine rack at Vons, in the commercials on channel 7, in the books at Barnes & Noble. It dominates the image of young people today, the decisions of their children tomorrow, and it goes back even to the time of Adam and Eve.
It’s not a question of whether or not we’re actually participating in worship, but rather who or what we’re worshipping. Everything around us shouts for our attention—it’s declaring, “Look at me, look what I can give! Worship ME!” We chase after so much that is not of God only to be gravely disappointed. When we glory in what the world has to offer, it makes us empty and leaves us wanting. Nothing can satisfy us when we are outside of worshipping God.
But when we do worship Him—when we are living sacrifices bringing glory to His name—we see three things:
1. God’s Transcendence
God is not just transcendent in the sense that He is in a physically higher place than we are; His transcendence constitutes His holiness—He is ‘wholly other.’ Have you ever stopped and thought about that? As A. W. Tozer wrote, everything about God “breaks all the categories of being and knowing” (2). He is to be given the highest status not only because He deserves it but also because He Himself is completely set apart from what we can even glimpse as perfect and pure. Isaiah understood this clearly when He ascribed glory to the Lord: “[His] thoughts are nothing like your thoughts . . . And [His] ways are far beyond anything you could imagine”(3). I hope that you can instill this into your mind for a moment, because it’s a pretty big deal.
2. Our Need for Repentance
When we understand God’s transcendence and wholly “other-ness”, we naturally see a sharp contrast with our finite, limited, and more to the point, sinful and corrupt nature. It puts us in our rightful place, diminishes our pride, extinguishes our selfishness, minimizes our sorrows, and produces a humble awareness of our need for God’s perfect righteousness. And here’s the icing on the cake—what makes it even greater is that His very righteousness is offered to us through the sacrifice and shed blood of Jesus! It’s the power of the Gospel, that we “may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” through the cross of Christ (4). It causes us to lay our very sinful and helpless selves before the throne of an Almighty Savior as we draw near to the One Whom we call Father.
3. His Manifest Presence
Once we draw near to God through Jesus Christ, He promises to draw near to us as well! (5). In his book, Vertical Church, Dr. James MacDonald expands on the term he describes as God’s manifest presence—that is, His active engagement and expressed capacity to affect (6). In other words, when we understand that we are the creation of a transcendent Creator and align our hearts to His righteousness through repentance, then we are able to experience God in our lives. While God is always present on earth (omnipresent) because He is not confined by dimensions or space, His manifest presence allows us to experience His glory in our own lives, affecting our knowledge of who He is at a very personal level.
To put it plainly, worship is designed not only to bring glory to God but to draw us closer to Him! It satisfies our longing heart and changes our perspective as we look to Jesus Christ. It is always looking toward Him and is never confined only to us.
So ask yourself again: What is worship? And am I living in total surrender to God? While singing songs that ascribe worth to Him is one way, I want to challenge you with a much bigger perspective of worship. I hope that attending services at church are only a continuation of what’s being done throughout your entire life—that is, daily communion with the Lord as you know Him deeper through His Word, coming before Him in prayer, and living in full surrender to His will as you look to Jesus, the One who is worthy of all praise, honor, and glory.
- John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, 2003), 10.
- A. W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1961), 70.
- Isaiah 55:8 NLT
- Hebrews 4:16 ESV
- James 4:8
- James MacDonald, Vertical Church (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2012), 78.