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#12: Three Keys of Worship (various)

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The Westminster Confession of Faith says, "The chief purpose of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." Man's chief purpose is summed up in two words, both of which are centered on God—glorify and enjoy! Every community of believers should adopt these as their chief priority. We should purpose to glorify God in every action and in the process, enjoy the presence and friendship of God forever!

Sadly, however, we don’t always accomplish that purpose. The biggest example is often found in our corporate worship. A.W. Tozer stated: "The missing jewel of the evangelical church is worship." How true! Today the crown of many churches still lacks a central jewel—the beauty of worship.


This study is dedicated to seeing the worship of God shine in ever-increasing brilliance and beauty so that each participant will "glorify and enjoy God forever."

The Preparation for Worship

If glorifying and enjoying God is our priority commitment, how is it to be done? How do we prepare to be a worshipping community?

The growth required for us to reach complete maturity in our worship is obviously a process that will take us into eternity. Few have experienced all that worship can be; we are all growing in different ways and at different paces. So as we look at what a worship consists of, it’s certain we will all see areas to which we need to give individual and corporate attention. As a foundation to our preparation, however, it will be helpful to introduce three key words.


These words certainly do not exhaust those used in Scripture to describe and define various expressions and attitudes of true worship. I have chosen them, however, from all the words available because they represent the others. They sum up what true biblical worship involves and what we will need to do to prepare for it.


We will look at each word and then see an illustration of its application in our worship.

The first key word is Worship.

In the Hebrew language it means to bow down, to prostrate oneself in honor of God. This act is done before a superior or ruler. (See Ezra in Neh. 8:6.) In Greek, it means to give reverence and can stress the feeling of awe or devotion—Acts 17:22-23. In other words, it simply means to be in awe of who God is. It is an awe response to God’s majesty, attributes, and character; which is why we call this word the "awe factor."


What will enable us to have this awe?

  • We must know God. It’s obvious that only those who know God will have a holy awe for who He is—Phil. 3:7-11.
  • We must know Him personally through Jesus Christ, and then study His attributes, His character, and His majesty. Awe of God will not come from one who has an immature and inaccurate view of Him. How many of us have studied God's attributes, character, and majesty? We need to ask what it is that we know of God. This is important because there is a correlation between our knowledge of God and our worship. If our concept of God is small, our worship will be small.


How big of a list can we come up with to describe our God? What attributes come to your mind? Have you thought of these?

  • His majesty—Ps. 96:1,6; Is. 24:14.
  • His glory—Ps. 138:5; Ez. 3:12.
  • His excellency—Ps. 148:13; Ex. 15:7.
  • His greatness—Ps. 145:3; I Chr. 16:25.
  • His holiness—Ex. 15:11; Is. 6:3.
  • His wisdom—Dan. 2:20; Ps. 104:24.
  • His power—Ps. 21:13.
  • His goodness—Ps. 107:8; 118:1; 136:1; Jer. 33:11.
  • His mercy—Ps. 89:1; 118:1; 136:1; Jer. 33:11.
  • His loving-kindness and truth—Is. 25:1; Ps. 63:3.
  • His salvation—Ps. 18:46; Is. 35:10; 61:10; Lk. 1:68-69.
  • His wonderful works—Ps. 26:6-7; 150:2; Is. 25:1.
  • His comfort—Ps. 23:4; 119:76; 86:17.
  • His justice—Ps. 101:1; I John 1:9; Ps. 118:8.
  • His counsel—Ps. 16:7; Jer. 32:19.
  • His pardon of sins—Ps. 103:1-3; Hos. 14:2.
  • His healing—Ps. 103:3.
  • His constant preservation—Ps. 71:6-8; 116:6.
  • His deliverance—Ps. 40:1-3; 124:6.
  • His protection—Ps. 28:7; 59:17.
  • His answers to prayer—Ps. 28:6-7; 118:21.

In order to truly worship God, therefore, we’ll need to add to our knowledge of Him by studying His attributes. Why not take time each day to remember these attributes? Why not praise God now for each of these?

How does a true understanding of God affect us? The contrast between one who understands this definition and one who doesn’t is seen in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector—Luke 18:9-14. Here are two men praying in the temple.

The Pharisee’s prayer was, "Lord, I thank you that I am not like other men..." The tax collector’s "... would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner.’"

Who is the one closest to worship? It is not the one who exalts himself, but the one who has humbled and bowed down in honor of God. Both need to grow in their knowledge of God, but the one closest to God is the tax collector.

What does true worship look like, then?—Psalm 95:1-6.

  1. It has a verbal expression—vv. 1-5.
  2. It has a physical expression as we kneel or bow before Him—v. 6. "Let us worship and bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our maker"—Psalm 95:6. A.W. Tozer writes—"Today our hearts may leap with the happy cry; ‘Abba Father, my Lord and my God!' Tomorrow we may kneel with delighted trembling to admire and adore the high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity."
  3. It's experiencing the awe of God. If there are times in our worship of God when we are overwhelmed with His majesty, holiness and character and therefore, we find it difficult to do anything but kneel or bow before Him, then we are beginning to understand what we’ll call the "awe factor" of true worship. (See Ezra in Neh. 8:6.)

Scripture makes it clear God actively seeks for those who will worship Him. "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks"—John 4:23.

We also need a preliminary definition of another word.

The second key word is Praise.

Several Hebrew words are translated into our English word, "praise." Praise, along with its synonyms, can mean the following active expressions:

  1. To give glory to God in a demonstrative way; to celebrate, or boast.
  2. To bless and adore; to pronounce as good and favorable.
  3. It can also mean to speak well of. Even in conversation, it’s praise when we say, "Isn’t God good?" or "God has blessed me."
  4. It is closely tied with joy.
  5. In its most popular use, it means to sing praise in honor of God.

It means to shout, to extol, to honor God. As we can see, praise is an active word describing what we do. It represents another key factor in our response to God, the "action factor." It tells us, if we are going to respond to God in a mature way, we will show an outward and active expression of our praise and our love for Him.

What will bring us to this praise?


First, there must be a heart preparation.

Scripture indicates over and over the connection between the heart and active praise. If our hearts are prepared, it is natural to express our praise outwardly. If they are not prepared, then we will either not outwardly praise God, or our praise—if given—will just be a hollow form that is hypocrisy.

  1. Heart Preparation: Ps. 16:7-11—"I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. 8] I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 9] Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure..."
  2. Content Preparation: Col. 3:16—"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God."

When our hearts are prepared, we will then see:


Second, as a byproduct of heart preparation, appropriate outward praise responses will follow.

Expressions will not need to be forced or reluctantly given; they will be an overflow of the heart. It will be like cheering for your favorite team.


We will see, for example, the "action factor" of praise expressed in a number of ways. As they are appropriate, and when they reflect our heart, we may praise God:


  • Through raising of hands—Ps. 141:2; 63:3-5
  • Through kneeling—Ps. 95:6-7; Eph. 3:14-15; Phil. 2:5-11
  • Through singing—Ps. 71:22-23; 34:3
  • Through clapping of hands—Ps. 47:1
  • Through giving generously—Ps. 96:8
  • Through the Lord’s Table—1 Cor. 11:17-34
  • Through dancing—2 Sam. 6:16; Ps. 149:3; 150:4

Praise is not silent; it is active and vocal. It’s impossible to fully praise God and be silent and not move. In "worship" we can stand in awe and silence, but "praise" will be active. A. H. Leitch describes the sequence: "The glory and majesty of God and all His words are to fill men’s hearts and find expression in their words and witness. This becomes so overpowering to a man’s mind and heart that he must break out in some utterance." (The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 834.)



We should note that while the words "worship" and "praise" can be used interchangeably, they do have some differences, especially if we follow a strict definition of the words. One is an awe response to God’s majesty, attributes and character. The other is an active celebration and rejoicing for the greatness of God. We need both. In humility we bow before God’s presence, as we recognize that apart from His grace and mercy we could do and be nothing. We also need to actively rejoice that we are counted as His sons and daughters; we are members of God’s household, properly related to the God of the universe.


The third key word is Thanksgiving.

Ps. 69:30; 136; Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Thess. 5:16-18. This is a very special word. In Hebrew and Greek, the definitions are similar. The word means to express appreciation. We call it the "appreciation factor." This word recognizes the need to remember and to retell the great things God has done for us and for all mankind.

How do we go about doing this? I have discovered that thanksgiving will call for us to:


  1. Recall. Recall the way God has worked in our individual lives.
  2. Retain. In order to recall what God has done, we may need to retain what God has done for us through disciplines like journal writing or a prayer diary that reveal answers to prayer.  Others may find it helpful to write out periodically a spiritual history of their life. These and other forms of reflection can become a great source of thanksgiving in our worship.
  3. Review. We also need to review the history of God’s redemption in Scripture as well as His provision in creation. Have you noticed how often the Psalmist will reveal God’s redemptive history with man? The many references to creation we find in the Psalms? Why not take a walk and notice how creation reveals the invisible qualities of God? (See Romans 1:20.)
  4. Retell. In addition to journal writing, prayer diaries and writing out a spiritual history, it is also helpful and edifying to follow the pattern of the Psalmist and begin to retell your story, and the story of God's grace in this world by writing, speaking or singing your own psalms of appreciation to God. This will take practice, but it should be well worth the effort.

Whatever our practice, the "appreciation factor" is an integral addition to the "awe" and "action" factors. That leads to a question about the necessity of thanksgiving.

Why is it necessary we give thanksgiving to God? We should give thanks to Him because He is worthy, and because Scripture is filled with exhortations and examples of thanksgiving. (Ps. 69:30; 136; Phil. 4:6-7; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; Eph. 5:20; Ps. 100:4; 1 Chron. 16:4; Ps. 147:7; 30:4; 92:12; 106:1; 136:1-3; Neh. 12:24.) We should also learn to show great appreciation for God because it is a primary element in our mental and spiritual health, and a good measure of how we are doing spiritually.

In Romans 1:21-32, we see the results for those who do not glorify God or give Him thanks. It tells us that if we are not glorifying or giving Him thanks, we set ourselves up to walk down a road where our thinking may become futile and our hearts darkened.

Do we really believe God is the Source of everything? When was the last time we thanked Him for the blessings in our lives?


  • The smiles of our children
  • The heat (or coolness) in our homes
  • The refreshment of water
  • The weather
  • The paycheck
  • The groceries
  • The hug from a mate, child, or friend.


When was the last time you thanked God for your salvation?—2 Cor. 9:15; 2:14; Rev. 11:17; Rom. 7:21-25; 14:6-7; 1 Cor. 15:57; Ps. 75:1; 1 Tim. 4:3-5; Eph. 1:3-4.


A ProjectUsing all the Scriptures in this section on thanksgiving: recall, retain, review, and retell the specific things you can thank God for. Then take the time to actually thank Him. These and a thousand others are gifts from God. James says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights"—James 1:17. Are we robbing God by not giving Him thanks and praise? It is something to think about.

These three words provide the three main factors of a meaningful and a biblical response to the God.


To further show the value and the centrality of these three words, let’s illustrate their use in a worship service taking place in heaven. Heaven is the place of purest worship, so we can learn a lot by observing what takes place around the throne of God.

The Three Key Words Illustrated

Here is the ultimate in a worship service—Rev. 5:9-14. Read slowly and observe:

v. 9—And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. v. 10—You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." v. 11—Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. v. 12—In a loud voice they sang: 'Worthy is the lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!' v. 13—Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: 'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!' v. 14—The four living creatures said, 'Amen,' and the elders fell down and worshiped."


Does this scene sound spooky, or wonderful? Your answer maybe very revealing about how ready you are for eternity! Let me make three observations about the use of these words in true worship, and then I want to share some general principles that we could apply to our lives.

Here we will use the word "worship" as a general description for all that is happening here, as well as a specific illustration of the awe of God.



Do you notice that the heavenly worship of God includes acts of remembrance and appreciation? Remember, thanksgiving means to retell the mighty acts of God—vv. 9-10. Notice in heaven, "thanksgiving" is the place where the heavenly worship begins—v. 9. Why is that so helpful?

When we recall what God has done in the past, we can have faith and great expectation for what He will do in the future. Remembering God’s deeds gives us plenty of reason to declare how worthy He is to be our God—v. 12. Other examples are found in 1 Chron. 16:8-9,12-22,24; 1 Pet. 2:9b-10; Ps. 71:14-24; 77:1-13.


You will notice true worship involves active praise—not passive. It is vocal, not quiet (v. 9—"...and they encircled the throne...;" v. 12—" a loud voice they sang..."). Praise springs forth from thankful hearts: "To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever..."

Praise to God, therefore, expresses itself in:

  1. Singing: "...they sang a new song."
  2. Loud voices: " a loud voice they sang."
  3. Movement: "They encircled the throne..."


True praise is an active demonstration of what is in our hearts and what we see in our God.


You will notice the heavenly participants are moved with awe at the attributes, character and majesty of God. v. 14—"The four living creatures said, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped."


Think about it. Why did they fall down? For the same reason all true worshippers do. When confronted with what God has done and is doing in our lives, when one sees His majesty—"The worthy Lamb who sits on the throne," what can anyone say or do? Notice the heavenly scene:

The awe of God Almighty overcomes the four living creatures and the elders, and all they can say is "Amen," and then fall down and worship God. What more can be said or done? When we see Jesus as He really is, we too will fall on our faces before Him because He was slain for us; His blood purchased us; and He is worthy of all praise from us! So the heavenly scene shows us the worship, praise, and thanksgiving we will be doing throughout eternity.

Two final observations:

First, the heavenly scene reminds us that we have an official designation. We have been made priests in order to serve our God, and someday we will reign on the earth. v. 10—"You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."


We are to serve as priests now, New Testament priests who offer praise, worship and thanksgiving to God. We cannot escape our responsibility to our three key words. They are our job description.

1 Pet. 2:5—" like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."

1 Pet. 2:9—"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light."


Second, we must also see that the focus of our worship is not on our feelings or fulfillment, but on God—vv. 11-14. In our age, some have altered the focus, and so many in worship experiences are concerned with, "What does it do for me? What will I get out of worshipping God?" In true worship we have that view adjusted, so that God is the audience and we are the ones who give; we are the performers.

In true biblical worship, as we offer praise and thanksgiving to God, we ask, "How did I do? By my words, song, or action, did I bless the Lord? Was God pleased with my worship? Was God pleased with our worship?"


Ronald B. Allen sums up this second observation for us. He says,

"As we worship God rightly, we may find great pleasure within ourselves. As we worship God together, we may bring a certain pleasure to each other. But the principal pleasure in worship is the gift we give to God! And our Savior teaches that God is actively seeking for people to worship the Father, to respond rightly to Him in spirit and truth (John 4:23). God seeks our worship. This is audacious!

When we adore Him in spirit and truth, we believe we may bring God pleasure! That is, praise is not just something we may enjoy, though it surely is that. The praise of God is an act by His people where we may bring beauty to Him.

For these reasons we believe we may pray as we begin our worship together, ‘Take pleasure, our King, in what you hear.’" (Ronald B. Allen, "Commentary", Communicator Magazine, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Summer, 1986.)


As we view the scene again we can conclude:


God is on the throne.

He is worthy of the central place. He is the audience, the receiver of power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory and praise.

We are His priests.

We are here to offer to Him what is due Him. We do that by remembering His great deeds and showing "appreciation" through our thanksgiving. We should also be prepared in our hearts, and out of that overflow show "active praise." Finally, we need to see His glory and majesty, and respond in the only fitting way with "awe." We will bow before Him in worship.






Why not spend three 1/2 hours this week—at different times—participating in each of these three expressions?


  1. One day you might review God’s attributes and write a psalm or a reflection in a journal. Conclude your time by bowing in awe for a few moments before God.
  2. A second day you might get alone and have your own private praise service. After reviewing who God is, let your body express in a joyous way, your praise to Him.
  3. The last day, why don’t you write out your spiritual history? Take 15 minutes to write, and 15 minutes to thank God for His work in your life.