What exactly is “worship?” When you go to church for “worship,” what exactly are you doing? These questions should be answered by all thoughtful believers. John Stackhouse’s recent entry “Memo to Worship Bands: Turn It Down, Please!” especially got my attention (see also his “Chris Tomlin’s Worship Songs: We Have Got to Do Better”).

Music is typically involved with worship activity, but I would like to enlarge our thinking by offering some thoughts on worship and celebration. My reason for doing so is because my wife and I have been visiting around trying to find a church. There have been many that we end up walking out on before the sermon even begins. The “worship” is either so loud or so over-performed that we cannot appreciate what is being done in Jesus’ name, or it’s so poorly done that we’re not sure anyone is connecting with the presentation…including the performers.

First, let’s define what it is we are talking about. Consider these definitions:

Worship is the free and spontaneous response of believers who continually delight in the glorious revelation of God shown in the crucified and risen Christ.

Celebration is the completion of worship. It is the natural outcome of a sincere response to God’s activity in our lives that culminates in contentment, enjoyment, and confidence.

Seven thoughts to ponder:

  1. Worship does not begin in us but comes from us. Worship is our response to God’s promptings. Worship cannot, therefore, originate in us. Behind and before every genuine act of worship is a deep and profound sense of God’s love for us and can only be a reaction to God’s love in us (1 Jn 4:19; Rom 5:5). Any other response falls short of authentic worship.
  2. In worship God is always the Guest of honor in our hearts. He is the focal point of all our attention and affections. Hence God, as our Maker and Sustainer, is the persistent priority of our lives (Ps 95:6-7; Mt 4:10; Rev 4:8).
  3. In worship God requires our hearts and not just our heads and our hands (Hos 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Mt 15:8-9; Rom 12:1-2). Tradition and routine are not, in themselves, wrong. But when religious practices eclipse mercy, justice, righteousness, and sacrifice God’s verdict is clear: “Worship nauseates him!” (paraphrasing Amos 5:21).
  4. Jesus insists that regardless of how or where we worship, we must worship God in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:21-24). Worshiping God is never a matter of location (cf. Jn 4:21-22). Since “God is spirit” (having no physical form or location) he is not geographically or spatially bound. Therefore, God is geographically present to everyone at all times and relationally present to different people under different circumstances (Ps 51:9-11; Mk 15:34; 2 Thess 1:9).
  5. Whereas in worship we look up to God in response to his activity, in celebration we look out to others and exclaim the good things God has wrought in our lives. Aaron’s sister, Miriam, celebrated God’s victory over Pharaoh’s army with singing, tambourines, and dancing (Ex 15:19-21). Likewise, Deborah and David exuberantly celebrated God’s victories (Judges 5; 2 Sam 6:12-15).
  6. In celebration we can rest in the assurance that our lives are designed precisely how God’s wants. There is no place for discontent or bitterness of spirit in celebration. When we delight in what God has done we are truly saying “Thank you God! I do so appreciate all that you have done.”
  7. In celebration we rejoice in and partake of the produce from our labor as God’s gift to us by feasting (literally) on his provision and sharing those blessings with others (Deut 14:22-27; Ecc 5:18-19). Since we can dishonor God as much by our abstinence as we can by our indulgence Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is a time for everything; “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecc 3:4). And, Paul encourages Timothy that God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6:17).


  1. this is a profound distinction between celebration and worship. I think you are right, we need to rethink how we do worship and our expectations when we come to church…

  2. Yep. I’m frustrated by the way we talk about worship too. But for a slightly different reason. It’s a problem when the primary meaning of the word has become “singing church songs.” When did that happen?

    Just this weekend Byron Borger of http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com was talking about how he considers reading to be an act of worship.

    Everything we do can be an act of worship if we approach it correctly.

  3. Seems to me that worship is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Our celebration issues from our worship.

  4. “Reading an act of worship?” Hum…I like it. If follows that any act which brings God glory would be an act of worship. As I noted on my Read page, there have been many times when reading brought me closer into God’s presence.

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