Over the past couple of months I've heard several people comment that they find it difficult to worship within the context of their personal devotions.
For myself, I'm in agreement with the man who talked about how rewarding worship can be, so I want to spend some time this week thinking about what worship is and make some practical suggestions which I hope will be helpful.
What Is Worship?
I am absolutely convinced that part of the problem people have with personal worship is that they get it mixed up with adoration. The two are not the same for one very important reason. Adoration requires the involvement of emotion but worship does not.
I might say that I adore my children and you would understand that I mean I have deep feelings of love towards them. But I do not worship them.
The best way to understand worship is to look at those passages of Scripture that describe the worship of heaven. One such is Rev 5:6-14. Here we have the vision of the Lamb and the scroll. The living creatures and the elders fall before the throne in worship and begin by saying, "You are worthy." Our word 'worship' comes from the Old English word 'woerthscipe' which literally means to tell someone their worth. This is exactly what we see the worshippers doing in this passage. They tell the Lord that He is worthy because ... He was slain, He bought men for God through His blood, He has created a kingdom of priests. All of these are statements of fact. There is little emotional content here.
When we come to personal worship, the place to start is with telling God facts about Himself. In doing this we are acknowledging to Him, before all the powers of the spiritual realm, and to ourselves that we recognise He truly is God. We are reminded of His nature and His character. This takes a lot of pressure off us. We don't have to worry about how we feel or whether we're worthy to come into His presence. We simply worship because He is worthy to receive our worship, not because we feel like it. In fact, if we wait until we do feel like it we may never enter in to worship at all.
I want to emphasise that there is no need for any emotional content at the very beginning of worship. I do not have to say, "I love you because you are the Prince of Peace." I can simply say, "you are the Prince of Peace." It is a statement of fact, it is fundamentally true, it is what Scripture tells me the Lord is like, and to tell Him so is worship even if the concept does not initially excite me. Worship is something we have to discipline ourselves to do.
However, my experience of this kind of worship is that it immeasurably enhances my devotional times. Firstly, acknowledging and recognising who God is gets my perspective right. When we are privileged to call Him our Father and to come to Him as little children, it is all too easy to become overly casual with God and to forget how holy and awesome He is. Secondly, when I worship in this way I find it inspires me to adoration. Where I might not have been feeling much love towards God when I started, the emotions well up inside of me as I focus on His character and nature. Thirdly, the Lord often responds to this kind or worship by making His felt presence a reality. If I am feeling far from God a simple decision to offer worship can be all that is required to restore a sense of fellowship with Him. Fourthly, it is often in these times of worship that the Lord puts His finger on something in my life that needs to change, especially if my focus has been on His holiness.
How Do We Worship?
So, how do we actually do this thing called worship? I have a number of suggestions.
For many people the easiest place to begin is with singing. We find this simple because we are used to doing this corporately. Get a hymn book and look for songs and hymns that are truly worshipful and speak directly to God (you'd be surprised how many things we sing are really only addressed to ourselves or other people and not to the Lord). In your quiet time you can read the words or sing them.
Look through Scripture for statements about who God is and what He's like and simply repeat them back to Him. The Psalms and Isaiah are particularly good sources for this when you are just starting. But you could keep a note pad and record any phrases you come across in your daily readings which you can use in your worship times.
Use your own life as a source for worshipful thoughts. How have you seen God work in your life in the past? What does that show about His nature? That He is faithful, long suffering, kind, tender, powerful, your healer, your comforter, your best friend? Tell Him that you have seen that these things are true from your own experience.
Some people find that particular postures in prayer enhance worship. I tend simply to follow my heart and do what feels appropriate at the time but if I am aware that I am struggling to focus on God in worship I find kneeling or "bowing down" in what might be described as the Muslim posture can be helpful. But the most important thing is attitude of heart rather than our physical position.
Prayer College Assignment
Make a list of 20 statements from Scripture which describe the nature and character of the Lord. Write them down in the form, "You are ...". Use some of them at the beginning of each prayer time over the next few days. Don't just rush through them but think about the meaning and implications of each one and try to expand on them in your own words.