We, you, me, everyone is an active worshipper. The heart of man always has its eyes fixed on something. Maybe today it is a car, or a person, or a promotion, or a degree, or an accomplishment, or a feeling, or a monetary value, or some recognition, or a little bit of respect, or one’s own way, or the perfect temperature, or perfect precipitation, or a perfect wedding, or a perfect day, or a perfect date, or a perfect anything. Hearts are always searching for something or someone to give their allegiance. The battle of a lifetime rages trying to keep your eyes on Christ and not your own desires, wants, lusts, cravings, longings or dreams. The throne of the heart has more occupants some days than what is imaginable.
1. Worship Understood
In their excellent book Life In the Father’s House, Wayne Mack and David Swavely write:
Our word “worship” is derived from the old English word “worthship,” and that helps us to understand its basic meaning. Worship is acknowledging the unique worth of an object and showing honor and respect to it. So biblical words like honor, respect, awe, adoration, reverence, and glorifying are often near synonyms for the term “worship,” communicating a similar idea. Obviously this practice is not one that is limited to public gatherings. In fact, in Scripture those terms are used much more often in regard to our personal relationship with God than to our activities in the presence of other Christians.
So God requires us to be involved in personal, private worship as a way of life—but He also wants us to worship Him with other believers. This corporate, public worship has always been a companion to individual, private worship, and it has always been equally necessary. As John MacArthur writes, “The source of most of the problems people have in their Christian lives relates to two things: either they are not worshipping six days a week with their life, or they are not worshipping one day a week with the assembly of saints. We need both.”
Fundamental to worship is the matter of the heart. The music is not the most important thing about worship in the church. It takes more than divorcing Elizabethan language and inviting the local band to play for godly worship. Actually, the style of music and the year of the language do not matter. What matters is the heart behind the style and the heart behind the eye doing the reading. Worship ultimately starts with self-counsel. What is going on at the heart level? Is there unfinished business with other believers? What is functionally ruling the heart?
John Piper has written:
If God’s reality is displayed to us in His word or His world, and we do not then feel in our heart any grief or longing or hope or fear or awe or joy or gratitude or confidence, then we may dutifully sing and pray and recite and gesture as much as we like, but it will not be real worship. We cannot honor God if our “heart is far from Him.”
Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth. This cannot be done by mere acts of duty. It can be done only when spontaneous affections arise in the heart.
Consider the analogy of a wedding anniversary. Mine is on December 21. Suppose on this day I bring home a dozen long-stemmed red roses for Noel. When she meets me at the door I hold out the roses, and she says, “Oh, Johnny, they’re beautiful, thank you,” and gives me a big hug. Then suppose I hold up my hand and say matter-of-factly, “Don’t mention it; it’s my duty.”
What happens? Is not the exercise of duty a noble thing? Do not we honor those we dutifully serve? Not much. Not if there’s not heart in it. Dutiful roses are a contradiction in terms. If I’m not moved by a spontaneous affection for her as a person, the roses don’t honor her. In fact they belittle her. They are a very thin covering for the fact that she does not have the worth or beauty in my eyes to kindle affection. All I can muster is a calculated expression of marital duty . . .
The real duty of worship is not the outward duty to say or do the liturgy. It is the inward duty, the command—“Delight yourself in the Lord!” (Psalm 37:4). “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice!” (Psalm 32:11).
The reason this is the real duty of worship is that this honors God, while the empty performance of ritual does not. If I take my wife out for the evening on our anniversary and she asks me, “Why do you do this?” the answer that honors her most is, “Because nothing make me happier tonight than to be with you.”
“It’s my duty,” is a dishonor to her. “It’s my joy,” is an honor.
Worship is a seven-day-a-week activity not just Sundays (Rom 12:1). If church members are equipped, then their understanding of worship will include more than just a few songs played on a CD player or a few choruses sung on Sunday morning. Rather, the equipped believer understands that worship is all-inclusive, where the heart is actively choosing to love God or something or someone different. As such, worship is fueled by the Word of God interacting with the heart of believer as he/she moves in and out of various circumstances. When one recognizes that worship happens in the kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms, vehicles, barber shops, offices, construction sites, post offices, doctors’ offices, and everywhere else the members of the body go, the one-on-one contact is going to bring God glory and help His children grow in His image.
2. Worship Takes Different Forms in the Corporate Church Service
In relationship to the church service, the pastor or church member who does not recognize every minute of the service as worship is unwise and unaware. Jesus told the Samaritan woman to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24). When Moses saw the burning bush, his posture changed (Exod 3:5). When Asaph went into the temple, his attitude changed (Ps 73:17). When Isaiah saw God, or in other words, when he tasted truth, his worship changed (Isa 6:5). “No worship service of the Body is complete,” MacArthur writes, “without a declaration of God’s truth.” For that reason many churches including Sonrise predominantly wait until after the message to do the preponderance of the corporate music. Kimball writes, “We place the bulk of the participatory worship (at least twenty-five minutes) after the message….The post-sermon time is an opportunity to respond to how the Word of God has encouraged, convicted, confronted, or challenged us (Heb. 4:12). After a sermon, we really want to give time for people to breathe, interact with God, pray, search their hearts, and not just rush out the door after hearing a verbal message.” Worship (not just referring to music) is always mediated and fueled by truth.
Regarding music specifically, there are several aspects important to note. Do not forget that the music is just the medium for believers to bring God worship in song. A piece of music (as music) has never brought one person to a saving knowledge of Christ. The Word of God takes responsibility in bringing people to Christ. Therefore, to think that a style of music has any salvific effect on any unbeliever is unfortunate. Rather, the worship music should be chosen with God and other believers in mind. Of course it is appropriate to think about and be considerate to unbelievers and other visitors. Paul, when discussing tongues and prophesying, mentions that in the midst of a gathering of believers, it is important to consider how the unbeliever interprets what happens as part of the believers’ worship (1 Cor 14:22-23; cf. Col 4:2-6).
When unbelievers come to church, they should experience believers opening up their hearts to the Word and reflecting back to God His worth through music. Russell writes, “A visitor expects to see you worshipping God and fulfilling your purpose—not catering to his need for entertainment.” In addition, C. J. Mahaney warns, “Not all worship songs are created equal. Many today are man centered, not cross centered. They focus more on what we need, or what we want God to do, than on what Jesus has already done.”
Worship in the corporate church service includes the reading of God’s Word, times of prayer and meditation, baptisms, observing communion and giving. In totality then, the corporate church service is all about our hearts as members in relationship to God and by implication with each other.
Bob Russell shares the following anecdote: “One Christian related that one of his biggest childhood disappointments came one day when he saw a huge tent in the field and thought a circus was in town. He excitedly walked in the tent only to discover it was a revival meeting. Then he added, ‘One of the biggest disappointments of my adult life came one day I went to church expecting a revival and discovered it was just a circus.’” Confusing the “trappings” of music with the real idea of worship, many churches fall prey to the same abuse of the biblical concept of worship. It is imperative that the church understand worship in its totality rather than its limited sense.
 John Piper, Desiring God (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1986), 72-3.
 MacArthur, The Body Dynamic, 107.
 Kimball, The Emerging Church, 157.
 Russell, When God Builds a Church, 269.
 C. J. Mahaney, The Cross-Centered Life (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2002), 62.
 Russell, When God Builds a Church, 51.