When a Christian lady asked us this question many years ago, we knew she was really asking if our church service was characterized by the kind of emotionalism that is found in so many churches. Her question prompted me to do a study of the word worship in Scripture, in an effort to obtain a Biblical definition of what constitutes genuine worship of Almighty God.
A Worshipful Life
Our study begins with God's command to Abraham to sacrifice his only son (Gen. 22:1-4), and Abraham's announcement that he planned to "worship" God in so doing (v. 5). The law of first reference suggests that the Bible's first use of the word worship here defines it as a willingness to obey God no matter how one's faith is tested, a good overall definition even today. And since Abraham indicated that "the lad" was also going to worship, the willingness of Isaac to give his life up at his father's behest (as a young man, Isaac could have easily overpowered or outrun his elderly father) suggests that when we willingly offer our lives as living sacrifices at our Father's behest (Rom. 12:1), this too is an act of worship. We find confirmation of this when the Lord equated worshipping God with serving God in Matthew 4:10.
Years later, when Abraham sent his servant to his homeland to find a bride for Isaac (Gen. 24:1-11), his faithful servant prayed for God's help (vv. 12-14). When he received it (vv. 15-25), he "worshipped the Lord" by thanking Him (vv. 26,27), suggesting that each time we bow to thank God for answered prayer, we too are worshipping Him.
Many years later, the people of Israel "bowed their heads and worshipped" (Ex. 4:31) when they acknowledged that God was honoring His promise to visit and redeem them from Egyptian bondage (Gen. 15:13-16). This leads us to believe that it is a form of worship when we today acknowledge and thank God when He honors promises He has made to us, such as that found in Romans 8:28.
Next, the Bible calls it "worship" when the people of Israel brought "the firstfruits of the land" to God (Deut. 26:10). Thus we believe that God considers it worship when we put God first in our lives. We well remember the day we asked one of the men in our church to help us with some work on the building. This faithful man listed all of the things that he had to do that week, then paused, and said simply, "But the Lord comes first." We believe he worshipped God that day, when he gave Him the firstfruits of his time and effort.
As we come to Judges 7, Gideon "worshipped" God for the assurance He gave him that his little band of 300 would defeat the Midianites (7:9-14). Similarly, when we thank God today for all the assurances we find in God's Word, we believe God is thrilled with this kind of worship.
Then when we consider the patriarch Job, it takes our breath away to see how he "fell down upon the ground, and worshipped" after losing all of his children and possessions (Job 1:20). Here we see worship characterized as a firm resolve to maintain one's spiritual "integrity" (2:9) in the face of even the most horrendous ordeals of life. Add to this how David is also said to have "worshipped" God in the aftermath of his heart-wrenching loss (II Sam. 12:18-20). The worship of God at times like these is a powerful testimony to the lost that we have something they do not possess.
Contributing financially to the Lord's work is probably not commonly thought of as worship, but the worship of the wise men is said to have included presenting the Lord with their gifts (Mt. 2:11), suggesting that giving to the Lord's work is an example of worship that is fit for a King.
We don't always feel like worshipping God when a loved one is sick, and He does not extend to us the same "mercy" He granted Paul and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25-27). But when the Lord refused mercy to the Syrophenician woman, she "worshipped" Him anyway (Mt. 15:21-25), and her faith and her understanding of why He was refusing to help her touched His heart (vv. 26-28). Surely God's heart is still touched when we are able to worship Him at such difficult times, understanding that when He forbears to bestow such help, it is so that we will "rather" learn to rejoice in His all-sufficient grace, and the perfecting of His strength in our weakness (II Cor. 12:9).
If your heart longs to worship the Lord, but you find it difficult, remember that worship always comes much easier when you find yourself in the place where God has "appointed," just as the disciples did long ago (Mt. 28:16,17). Of course, in this dispensation, God has "appointed" that we suffer "afflictions" for the cause of Christ (I Thes. 3:3), but there is perhaps no time when our worship is more pleasing to God than when we worship Him in the face of such affliction.
A Worshipful Church Service
While we have looked at several ways to worship the Lord, we began by asking if the church service at a grace church is characterized by worship, and the answer to this is a resounding yes! To begin with, when Joshua is said to have worshipped the Lord, he asked, "What saith my lord unto His servant?" (Joshua 5:14). This worshipful attitude of seeking the words of God is the same mind-set we display every time we gather in a grace church to hear God's Word taught, for it is only when the Word is rightly divided that we hear the Lord's words to His servants today.
Then too, remember how the Lord said of the Pharisees, "in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Mt. 15:9)? Well, if teaching the commandments of men constitutes vain worship, then teaching the commandments of God must be considered true worship! And only grace churches are emphasizing the commandments of God given to us through Paul (I Cor. 14:37; I Thes. 4:2).
This does not mean, of course, that we throw away the law and the prophets, for even Paul himself professed that his "worship" included "believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets" (Acts 24:14). Here we see that we worship God when we go to church and simply believe His Word, His entire Word. Of course, it is only when we recognize dispensational differences and changes that we "worship God in the spirit" (Phil. 3:3).
And so if others have caused you to feel that you don't worship at your grace church, we trust these thoughts from God's Word have helped you to see that, as a grace believer, you worship God in ways that are far more pleasing to Him than those who attend services characterized by mere shallow emotionalism. We feel certain that if Jeremiah were to visit some of these churches, he would post a sign above the door that read: "Hear the word of the Lord, all ye…that enter in at these gates to worship" (Jer. 7:2). Hearing the word of the Lord is the highest form of worship, for when we recognize just who it is that is speaking to us through the Scriptures, we see that this too is a form of worship (cf. John 9:35-38).
A Worshipful Future
Finally, once we draw our last breath and enter His presence, we can look forward to worshipping the Lord in a very unique way. Consider how the people of Israel "worshipped" the Lord after they saw how He accepted their sacrifice (II Chron. 7:1-3). Then think of what a thrill it will be when we stand someday at the Judgment Seat of Christ and see Him accept every sacrifice we have ever made for Him, and reward us accordingly. It will be our highest honor and deepest privilege to worship Him in that day.
In closing, we would be remiss in this brief study of Biblical worship if we did not call your attention to Isaiah 66:23,24, where we read that in the kingdom of heaven on earth, they will "worship" God by going forth on a regular basis, as God says, to "look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against Me." The prophet speaks here of souls in Hell, where "their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched." At the present time, of course, our hearts break at the thought of friends and loved ones suffering eternal torment. But once we reach the eternal state, our minds will be so much like His that we will worship Him by acknowledging that even this most severe of all His judgments is "true" and even "righteous" (cf. Ps. 19:9; Rev. 16:7; 19:2). What a burden this should lay on our hearts to reach these dear ones now with the wonderful gospel of the wonderful grace of God.