by Raymond McAlister
March 2010

I was at a Bible college conference a few weeks ago and at the banquet I was seated at a table with another president of a much larger Bible college. He said he had just written a book that identified the five worship styles. I asked him if he would name them for me. He said they are:

1. Liturgical, like Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, etc. These are very structured.
2. Traditional, usually associated with singing hymns, a choir, piano and organ, but there are several traditional styles.
3. Contemporary, normally with a praise team and a band but at least a guitar and drums.
4. Blended, a combination of traditional and contemporary.
5. Emerging or emergent was new to me. I was told this style deals with the five senses. The lights are turned down, a lot of candles and incense are used. The service my friend attended had a labyrinth set up in the back. There was craft paper on the wall on which the people could do finger painting. All of this is supposed to focus the worshiper on God through his senses.

What we are talking about in this article is what is called "corporate worship," that is, people worshiping together. All worship is individual worship just as all singing is individual singing. A choir is a lot of individual singers singing together, but, it is not just people singing together. Everyone in a choir could be singing a different song. As great as each individual song might be, the sound would be terrible. The members of a choir must sing the same song in harmony. So it is with corporate worship, everyone must be in harmony sending praise and adoration up to God. In corporate worship we have come to equate music with worship. What once were "music directors" are now "worship leaders."

When talking to the woman at the well in John chapter four, Jesus said, "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." From what Jesus said we learn three things.

First, God seeks people to worship Him. He desires our worship.

Second, our worship of God must be truthful. To illustrate, I am reminded of a song I once heard that went, "If working and praying have any reward, if anyone makes it, Lord, surely I will." If a person were to sing that song and mean it, God would not accept such worship because it is not true. Our worship must align with the Word of God.

Third, our worship must come from the spirit. It is inward and not outward. What ever style of worship a person might be involved in, singing in itself is not necessarily worship. For example, have you ever been reading your Bible, reading every word, and suddenly realized that you had no idea what you had just read? Have you ever sung a song and realized you had no idea what you had just sung? That is not worship. In order for a song to become worship a person must take the words and offer them to God as their own. So, true worship must come from the inside out.

Ephesians 5:19, "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." The words and the melody must come from the heart and be directed to the Lord. We must sing to an audience of one - God. When we sing to impress or entertain others, the song is not directed to God and is not worship. Being blessed by a song is not necessarily worship. I can be blessed, uplifted and encouraged by a song but unless I make it my own and offer it to Him it is not worship. It may touch me but does not touch God until it is sent from us to God from our heart.

Colossians 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." While all singing should come from the heart and be directed to God, some singing is to be used to teach and admonish others.

Notice the 23rd Psalm. Verses one to three are in the third person, directed to teach others. Verses four and five are in the second person, directed to God and verse six goes back to the third person for others. Some songs are about God and some songs are to God and some songs are both.

My own personal definition of worship is "to acknowledge in my heart who God is and what He has done." When we worship God we stand in awe of His greatness.

We usually call our Sunday morning service a "Worship Service." As I seriously think back over the hundreds of times I have been in "Worship Services" I am shocked at how few times I actually worshiped. Although I cannot sing, I usually followed the words but because I have heard a song many times, I sometime have no understanding of what is being sung. As soon as the song is finished I often have trouble even remembering the name of the song. It is only worship when I understand what I am singing or what is being sung, accept the message as my own and offer it to God.

Individual or private worship is even sometime difficult for me. I can be worshiping, adoring, and praising God from my heart when suddenly my mind will jump to something else. I look forward to the time I will be in heaven and can worship Him with a clean heart and a focused mind.

Hebrews 13:15 says, "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name." So, not only should our worship be praise and adoration, it should also include thanksgiving. Thanks for what? Did you ever wonder why such a great God would love you enough for Jesus to die to pay for your sins? That is a good place to start with thanksgiving.

To sum it up, we do not worship by accident. Worship is a conscious choice. Worship comes from the inside and not from any outward activity. Worship goes from our heart to God.

Bringing God your prayer list is good but it is not worship. How would you feel if every time you saw your child he was asking you for something? You would soon want to avoid him. Isn't it great when he just comes and says, "I love you" without wanting something from you? I am sure God feels the same way.

Next Sunday when the choir or praise team is singing, take the words of the song, make them your own and offer them to God. When someone is singing a special, take the words of the song, make them your own and offer them to God. When you are singing a congregational song, understand what you are singing and offer the song to God. It's not as easy as it sounds.

Worship is to acknowledge in your heart who God is and what He has done.