The Spiritual Disciplines: Worship (Part 1)

May 13, 2014

by Peter Amsterdam

Audio length: 20:15

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When speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus said:

The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him.[1]

God seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and truth. We who love God and want to please Him should endeavor to worship Him—in spirit and in truth—because He desires this. And we should be willing to discipline ourselves by committing to regularly spending time worshipping Him.

What Is Worship?

What is worship all about? What is its purpose? What does it mean to worship? How do we worship properly—in spirit and in truth?

The word worship comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word weorthscype, that meant worth, value, honor, which later became worthship and then worship. Worshipping God is ascribing proper worth to God; it’s acknowledging, expressing, and honoring His worth. As Donald Whitney puts it, The Holy and Almighty God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, the Sovereign Judge to whom we must give an account, He is worthy of all the worth and honor we can give Him and then infinitely more.[2] Worship includes recognizing our dependence on God, the Creator and sustainer of life.

The basis of God’s worth and thus our worship is found in His nature and character, His attributes, in who He is. He is the Creator of all things visible and invisible. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, unchangeable, infinite, eternal, present everywhere. He is wisdom, truth, faithfulness, goodness, love, mercy, grace, patience, holiness, righteousness, justice, and more. While we, as beings made in the image and likeness of God,[3] possess a small measure of some of these attributes, God is these attributes. As the one who created all that exists out of nothing, He is infinitely greater than we are and is therefore worthy to be worshipped.[4]

Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.[5]

Besides being the Creator, He is also our Redeemer. He made a way for us, as sinners, to be reconciled to Him. He acted through Jesus’ sacrifice to bring salvation to all who believe in and accept Him as Redeemer. He redeems us from sin and death, and thus is worthy of our praise. 

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.[6]

We worship God because He is worthy of worship, as He is so much greater than anything or anyone that exists. As we come to know Him more, to understand His love and power, all He has done and constantly does for us, we understand more clearly that our response to Him should be worship. His Word tells us that He created us for His glory.

Bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made.[7]

Therefore we are to do all things for the glory of God. Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.[8] Our ultimate purpose in life is to fulfill the reason we were created: to glorify God.

The Old Testament Hebrew word generally translated “to worship” is shachah (pronounced shah-khah), which means to bow down, to prostrate oneself before a superior in homage. The Greek word used in the New Testament, proskuneo (pronounced pras-koo-neh'-o), means to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence; kneeling or prostration to do homage or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication. It represents our inward attitude of homage and respect toward God.[9] It expresses our surrender and submission to Him, recognition of His majesty and holiness, acknowledgment of Him as the ruler of our life.

Worship is our rightful response to the one who has revealed Himself as the triune God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; who has shown us His will and purpose through His Word. It’s our response to being brought into relationship with Him through Jesus; it’s our response to the gift of salvation we have received through His love and sacrifice.

How We Worship

In Old Testament times, worship of God was primarily centered around sacrificial offerings—the sacrificing of animals as the means for people to receive forgiveness of sin, as well as to show thanks and praise to God. From the time of Moses onward, these sacrifices were made at the tabernacle and later the temple in Jerusalem, the place where God dwelt among His people. Most people were only allowed to enter the courtyard of the temple, while the priests could go into the outer court, called the Holy Place. However, only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, the innermost room of the temple where God’s presence dwelt, and he was only allowed to go in once a year.

The New Testament tells us that the sacrificial system was no longer necessary once Jesus laid down His life as a as single sacrifice for all time[10] and therefore there is no longer a need for any further sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. Through His sacrificial death, we can now enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.[11] We are now allowed to come into God’s presence directly in prayer, praise, and worship. As believers we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.[12]

As Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman, worship is no longer tied to a specific place as it was at the time, but is now based on the relationship between the worshipper and God—a relationship which became possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is no longer necessary to go to the dwelling place of God, the temple, to worship. The time came when the connecting point between God and humanity became Jesus, through the salvation that His death and resurrection brought to us.

No one comes to the Father except through Me.[13]

In saying that God seeks worshippers who worship Him in spirit and truth, Jesus was expressing that true worship is more than just words which come out of our mouths. It is our spirit connecting to His Spirit as we commune with Him, and worshipping God for who He is, as He has revealed Himself in His Word.

When we worship the Lord, we do so with respect, reverence, and awe.

Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.[14]

There are many Bible verses that speak of fearing the Lord. The Hebrew words used for fear have the meanings to revere, to stand in awe of, to have reverence or veneration. When we understand “fearing the Lord” in these terms, we can grasp the blessings promised to those who reverence and stand in awe of the Lord. He takes pleasure in them,[15] shows compassion to them,[16] blesses them,[17] is friends with them,[18] and His love is always with them.[19]

Aspects of Worship

Praise is a major aspect of worship. When we praise God, we are worshipping Him for who He is. Praise is foundational to worship as we verbally acknowledge God’s worth.

Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; praise Him, all His hosts! Praise Him, sun and moon, praise Him, all you shining stars! Praise Him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD! For He commanded and they were created. Let them praise the name of the LORD, for His name alone is exalted; His majesty is above earth and heaven.[20]

Thanksgiving is an integral part of worship as well. We give thanks to God for everything He has done and continues to do, and especially for our salvation.

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.[21] I will give to the LORD the thanks due to His righteousness.[22] I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.[23] I give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with my whole heart.[24]

When we come before the Lord, worshipping Him for who He is and what He’s done, we often become more acutely aware of our “humanness,” especially our limitations, weaknesses, shortcomings, and sins. This puts us in an attitude of humility and contrition, which is also an aspect of worship.

When the prophet Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on His throne, the train of His robe filling the temple, the angels around Him saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory,” and the temple filled with smoke, his reaction was one of humility and contrition. He said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”[25] The holiness and perfection of God brought Isaiah a profound sense of uncleanliness, of sin. He was humbled and contrite. We should come before the Lord in worship with a similar sense of our unworthiness, along with great thanks for our salvation, which allows us to come into His presence as one of His children.

Reading more of Isaiah’s experience, we find that after seeing the Lord and receiving atonement for his sin,[26] he heard a call of service. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” He responded with: “Here am I! Send me.[27] Being in the presence of the Lord brought with it the desire to serve God. The apostle Paul referred to our service to the Lord as being a form of worship when he wrote: 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 worship.[28] Motivation to do God’s will, to answer His call, to serve Him, is both part of our worship and a result of our worship.

One means of both praise and thanksgiving is in song—singing unto the Lord or listening to songs which offer Him praise and making the sentiments expressed in the songs our own. You may have certain songs which help you convey your gratitude and praise to God, which you sing as a means of worship.

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your steadfast love in the morning, and Your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.[29] For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.[30]

As we enter into His gates with thanksgiving, into His courts with praise; as we give thanks to Him and bless His name and all He is; as we express our deep love for Him; as we reverence and honor Him and extol His excellence; and as we come before Him in humility and contrition, we worship God as He seeks to be worshipped, in spirit and in truth.

Private and United Worship

As believers, we are called to worship both privately and publicly or corporately.[31] The expectation is that we will worship together with other Christians at times. When we gather with others to praise the Lord, to pray together, there are elements which are not present when we worship and pray alone. We are given a glimpse of believers worshipping together in heaven in the book of Revelation:

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”[32]

Corporate worship, however, isn’t enough; we are expected to worship Him individually as well.[33] In the Gospels we read that Jesus attended synagogue as well as various religious festivals in the temple at Jerusalem,[34] which were the appropriate times and places of worship in His day. But He also arose early in the morning and went off by Himself to commune with His Father. Jesus spoke of private worship when He said:

Go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.[35]

We are in relationship with God, and any successful relationship requires an investment of effort to keep it strong. Our relationship with the Lord is no different. Being relationally close to God requires that we commune with Him in worship and prayer; that we respond to Him with love, honor, and reverence; that we praise and thank Him; that we delight ourselves in Him.[36]

Making Worship Part of Our Lives

The Spiritual Discipline of worship, like the other disciplines, requires effort on our part—specifically the effort to regularly devote time to worshipping the Lord. It takes determination and commitment to consistently enter into the Lord’s presence in spirit and truth. Worship is more than a set routine of prayer, praise, and singing; it’s spiritually entering into God’s presence, it’s connecting our spirit with His. Donald Whitney wrote:

The waters of worship should never stop flowing from our heart, for God is always God and always worthy of worship.[37]

Worship should be part of our conversation with God throughout our day. When we look at God’s creation, a mother with a baby, the stars in the night sky, when we think about the Lord, we can give honor, praise, and thanksgiving to the Lord for His wonderful works, for what He’s done and who He is. When we meditate on His Word, when we think of the blessings He has bestowed upon us, the mercy He’s shown us, the grace He’s given us, when we pray and seek Him, these are all times we can worship Him.

The more we verbalize who God is and what He’s done, the more present He becomes in every aspect of our daily lives. When we are regularly acknowledging His love, compassion, mercy, kindness, and justice, we embrace these virtues ourselves and are more likely to strive to emulate these in our interactions with others. When we praise Him for His power, His presence, His omniscience, it reminds us that He is always here, that He knows everything about us, that He created us, and that He knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts. Remembering this can strengthen our resolve to do our best to live in accordance with His Word, to treat others with love, and to do to others as we want them to do to us.

Disciplining ourselves to worship in spirit and truth is an endeavor worth pursuing, as it should be at the very core of our relationship with God our Creator.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker![38] Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.[39]

Part 2 of this article will cover some biblical concepts of who God is and what He’s done, with collections of verses on various aspects, which might be a helpful aid in your worship.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] John 4:23.

[2] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1991), 87.

[3] God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” … So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:26–27).

[4] For further information on the Nature and Character of God, see The Heart of It All: The Nature and Character of Godseries.

[5] Revelation 4:11.

[6] Romans 5:10–11.

[7] Isaiah 43:6–7.

[8] 1 Corinthians 10:31.

[9] T. D. Alexander and B. S. Rosner, eds., in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).

[10] When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:12).

[11] Hebrews 10:19 NIV.

[12] 1 Peter 2:9.

[13] John 14:6.

[14] Hebrews 12:28.

[15] The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love (Psalm 147:11).

[16] As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear Him (Psalm 103:13).

[17] He will bless those who fear the LORD, both the small and the great (Psalm 115:13).

[18] The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He makes known to them His covenant (Psalm 25:14).

[19] The steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children (Psalm 103:17).

[20] Psalm 148:1–5,13.

[21] Ephesians 5:20.

[22] Psalm 7:17.

[23] Psalm 9:1–2.

[24] Psalm 86:12.

[25] Isaiah 6:1–5.

[26] Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:6–7).

[27] Isaiah 6:8.

[28] Romans 12:1.

[29] Psalm 92:1–3.

[30] Psalm 147:1.

[31] I will thank You in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise You (Psalm 35:18).

Let them extol Him in the congregation of the people, and praise Him in the assembly of the elders (Psalm 107:32).

[32] Revelation 5:11–12.

[33] My mouth will praise You with joyful lips, when I remember You upon my bed, and meditate on You in the watches of the night (Psalm 63:5–6).

Seven times a day I praise You for Your righteous rules (Psalm 119:164).

[34] Synagogue: He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as was His custom, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and He stood up to read (Luke 4:16).

They went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching (Mark 1:21).

Passover: He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.’” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover (Matthew 26:18–19).

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple He found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And He told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make My Father’s house a house of trade” (John 2:13–16).

Other Feasts: Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works You are doing … But after His brothers had gone up to the feast, then He also went up, not publicly but in private … About the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began teaching. On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:2,3,10,14,37).

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon (John 10:22–23).

[35] Matthew 6:6.

[36] Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).

[37] Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines, 96.

[38] Psalm 95:6.

[39] Psalm 29:2.