Worship...let’s think about worship. When was the last time you decided to stop playing “church” and start really worshiping?

If the truth were known, many believers don’t have a clue what worship is. We wonder,

Does worship mean I have to hold my hands up when I sing and pray, like some Christians do?

Does worship mean I need to close my eyes and envision something heavenly, lest I become distracted by something earthly?

Does worship mean I have feelings that are a little bit ecstatic, maybe bordering on the supernatural?

What exactly is worship? And is it all that rare? In 1961, while he was speaking to the pastors of the Associated Gospel Churches of Canada, the late A. W. Tozer said that worship “is the missing jewel in modern evangelicalism.”¹ I think he was a prophet ahead of his time.

Let me ask you: Do you worship where you go to church? “Yes,” you say, “I just love the Bible teaching at our church.” That’s not my question. “Oh, yes, the singing is wonderful.” That’s not my question either. I know you love the Bible. You wouldn’t support this ministry if you didn’t. And you probably love to sing. I’m not asking about those things. I’m asking, Do you worship?

My great concern is that we tend to play the game of “church.” We learn how to dress, learn how to sit, and learn how to look. We even learn the words of the songs. But what about our focus as we sing them? While we sing, “A mighty fortress is our God,” we’re thinking, Why did she wear a dress like that? “A bulwark never failing.” Did I turn the lights off on my car? We can do that and not even change our expression. That’s not worship — that’s playing the church game. When I am truly lost in wonder, love, and praise, I have to tell you, there are times I don’t even know my name.

I have been in meetings where the worship has been so, for lack of a better word, thick, so thick with His presence, that I lack the means to care for anything or anyone else, including myself. I’m completely lost in the praise of my God.

This is not related to whether you go to a charismatic or non-charismatic church. I don’t care if it is denominational or non-denominational. I don’t care if it’s urban or rural, large or small. You can have contemporary music or sing the most traditional hymns and still miss the wonder of worship. Worship is not linked to a denomination or dependent upon a certain style. It’s so much more than any of that!

What, then, is worship? Dr. Ron Allen, a classmate of mine during seminary and now a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, digs deep when he writes,

Worship is an active response to God whereby we declare His worth. Worship is not passive; but is participative. Worship is not simply a mood; it is a response. Worship is not just a feeling; it is a declaration....

The English word worship is wonderfully expressive of the act that it describes. This term comes from the Anglo-Saxon weorthscipe, which then was modified to worthship, and finally to worship. Worship means ‘to attribute worth’ to something or someone.”²

He continues by explaining that we use the word too loosely when we say “he worships his car” or “she worships her children.” Unless his car has supreme worth in his life or her children are of the highest value for her, then we’re not using the term accurately.

That’s the missing jewel — worshiping God by ascribing to Him supreme worth, for He alone is worthy. Notice I did not say, “Worship Him by singing...worship Him by teaching.” We ascribe to Him worth in our teaching, in our singing, and in our prayers. He alone is awesome. That’s another word we’ve cheapened by attaching it to objects made by human hands. A car is not awesome. No movie is awesome. God alone is awesome. He brings out the wonder in me, which prompts me to search for ways to express His worth.

Unfortunately most of us praise the preacher more than we praise our God. God alone is the subject of our praise and the object of our worship. We’ve lost that. We miss it when our horizontal focus becomes riveted on people and things, rather than on the vertical — on God. No wonder we are becoming a people full of worry rather than worship.

It has become too common for Americans to surrender all for their work...but to sacrifice nothing in worshiping the One who gave His life to save ours. Stop and think. Is that you?

What a strange generation! People who play at worship. It must grieve the heart of our God. You’re hearing that from a man who loves to play and loves to laugh. But I think there are times when playing and laughing need to be set aside and we, in worship, focus fully on Him. Such times enable us to rediscover the “missing jewel.”

1. A. W. Tozer in The Best of A. W. Tozer, as quoted in Making New Discoveries (Anaheim, Calif.: Insight for Living, 1996), 29.

2. Ron Allen and Gordon Borror, Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel, as quoted in Making New Discoveries (Anaheim, Calif.: Insight for Living, 1996), 30.

Adapted from Charles R. Swindoll, Insights (August 2003), 1-2. Copyright © 2003 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.