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If the music stopped, how would we Worship?

BF-logo-sq-144Co-written by Rick and Shara Weiss

Shara shares:

I love music. I love playing songs and singing songs. Music has been a big part of my life since early childhood. My father would play his piano or guitar while his daughters danced in the living room. As I got older the dancing ceased (I don’t have that talent) but I continued to adore music. In fact, it was an idol for me. If I was sad…music went on. If I was happy…music went on. If I was angry…music went on. Music was my go-to ‘fix’ as it is for so many people. Rather than seek God in each moment, I turned on music.

I got to thinking recently about how so many folks define the word ‘worship’ now as singing, dancing, clapping, jumping around, and so on. After digging into the Hebrew meaning of this word I found, of course, that it means “bowing down.” That seems quite contrary to what churches do, right? Dancing and clapping and spinning around is sort of the opposite of quietly and humbly submitting oneself to God in an act of worship. So why did we decide to call the louder, noisier time ‘worship?’ I am not sure when that began or how it began. It wasn’t the case when I was little, growing up in Australia. No one called the music time ‘worship’ back then. It’s a cultural shift that has taken over, though.

When I dove a little deeper into Scripture I noticed a few passages standing out. I was especially intrigued by the book of Amos:

Amos 5: 21-24. I hate all your show and pretense – the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living. (ESV)

Amos 6:5-7. You sing trivial songs to the sound of the harp and fancy yourselves to be great musicians like David. You drink wine by the bowlful and perfume yourselves with fragrant lotions. You care nothing about the ruin of your nation. Therefore, you will be the first to be led away as captives. Suddenly, all your parties will end. (ESV)

I sense some frustration from God here, as He tries hard to explain that what He really desires is a circumcision of the heart. I want justice! I want righteous living! I want you to care about the people heading for hell! Stop pretending that everything is fine! It’s not!

I was drawn to Luke 4:7 one afternoon, where satan tempts Jesus. Satan tells Jesus that if He worships him, he will give him authority and glory over the temporary kingdom. Now, of course satan is not asking Jesus to sing and dance and clap for him (as some folks call ‘worship’). That very image is quite silly, right? Can you imagine injecting that definition into the passage? “Jesus – if you dance and sing and clap and spin around in circles for me, it can all be yours!” That would be laughable. Even pagan.

Satan is asking Jesus to bow down to him. He wants Jesus to treat him as “god.” But Jesus replies with a simple statement of “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” So nope. I won’t worship you, buddy. You will not be MY god.

I spent some time pondering this.

A few days later I asked God, “When we say that we’ll worship You for all eternity, does that mean we’ll be singing and dancing and clapping non-stop, forever and ever and ever and ever?” The reply I got was something along the lines of this: “No, Shara. That would be robotic if that’s all you did for eternity. What it means, to say that you will worship Me forever, is that I will be Your God and you will be my people and there will be no idols.”

I am not a dancing kinda person but I love knowing that for eternity we’ll have just ONE triune God to give all of our attention to. No idols will get in the way. I’ll love talking to God, having conversations, singing to Him (perhaps with Him), dancing (if he gives me the ability), walking and talking with Him as they did in the garden, and giving Him my heart. My mind will not contend with lesser ‘gods’ and that will make everything so clear and crisp! I look forward to that. Won’t it be lovely to have a simple focus without all of the clutter and noise of this world?

It popped into my mind today that we are never informed in Scripture that Jesus sang and danced while here on earth. He may have done so, but we are not told of it. Surely if Jesus thought that effective worship was defined as singing and dancing and clapping, He would have mentioned it. He was devoted to His mission and He had no idols contending for His attention. That being the case, He was able to clearly hear the voice of God the Father and do His Will. He served the Father without mistake. He had no other ‘gods.’ Not music, not dancing, not feel-good emotional highs, not food, not drink, not a spouse, and no children. There were no idols for Him and He is our one example of “giving it all to God.”

So I wondered…what if the music stopped? What if the lights went out? What if our phones broke and the Internet crashed? What if we didn’t have legs or arms or eyes or ears in order to sing and dance and clap? What if we were just spirits? How would we worship? What IS worship?

I believe we find the very best definition of worship in the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. With Jesus living inside us, we become living temples of His dwelling place. When we put aside idols we can move and shift with Him, as He wills. When we allow Him to take us over so that we serve only Him, we are worshiping. One day He may ask us to give a gift to a rude neighbor – if we do it, we are worshiping. One day He may ask us to sing praises – if we do it, we are worshiping. One day He may ask us to turn all music off so that music is no longer our idol – if we do it, we are worshiping.

When He becomes our only God, and the only One we serve and bend to, we are worshiping. Satan knew it. He wanted Jesus to bow to him in humble submission proclaiming, “I will serve you.” But Jesus refused. He was here to proclaim the good news of the gospel and to do the Will of God the Father.

For those who like to compare our singing and dancing to King David, we find there a rare and special moment of singing and dancing with pure abandonment for our God. How wonderful that is! How special! He only did that once . He didn’t attempt to recreate the emotional high day in and day out. Not every day calls for such a thing, right?

As I mentioned earlier, I am not a dancing kinda gal. It’s not my gift. Ten years ago, though, I watched a woman dance to “I can only imagine” at church. She was barefoot with a flowing dress on. I was jealous of her: not because she could dance but because I didn’t love Jesus like she did. I didn’t know Him personally at that time and I had no desire to dance for Him. I was jealous that she knew something I didn’t know. Why was He so wonderful for her? What was I missing? A few months ago I was standing in my kitchen, barefoot, on a Sunday. The song, “I can only imagine” came on the radio. I heard Jesus ask me, “Would you like to dance for Me now?” Tears fell from my eyes as the Holy Spirit took me over and I danced around the kitchen until the song ended. I’m sure it wasn’t pretty but it was a rare and special moment – dancing for my God, at His invitation. I have never attempted to recreate this moment, nor would I. It was too special to imitate and I rest in the assurance that I’ll one day dance for Him again, at His invitation, as an act of worship, serving my only God.

Some days God calls us to pray, or to intercede, or to have mercy on someone, or to care for a widow, or to show justice, or to feed the homeless, or…but not every day calls for singing and dancing as David did.

You see, we can sing and dance all we want to but if music is our idol, we are not worshiping at all.

Rick shares:

The seventies and eighties began much of the movement in the church service to a more robust type of music. We called it contemporary worship. The leaders of the music were most often referred to as the praise team and we considered the music time to be a time of praise. I do not know when the music time became the worship time. I haven’t found a definitive explanation of how that transition took place.

In the late 90’s I was invited to participate in some discussions with a man who had occasionally subbed for me in the pulpit while I was a pastor in Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. John Hubley had been studying this movement in the church of what then was called praise and worship. He felt strongly that we were not properly understanding the meaning of the two words in terms of their Biblical usage. Eventually I became part of a group we called the MindHeart Foundation for Biblical Studies. Our focus was on bringing some of this Biblical terminology into sharper focus so that the church might correct a trend that seemed to be getting out of hand. Clearly we have not made a dent in the trends that are now pervasive throughout the church.

Let’s backup for a moment and review the terms. As Shara mentions above, the literal translation of the word used for worship is “bow down.” More precisely, let me quote from an article written a few years back:

In his Hebrew-Chaldee lexicon, Gesenius says that the predominant Hebrew word for “worship” (shachah) means: “to bow oneself down, Isa. 51:23….to sink down, to be depressed….to prostrate oneself before any one out of honour….Those who used this mode of salutation fell on their knees and touched the ground with the forehead….” (Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, pp. 813-814). In their Greek-English lexicon, Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker say that the predominant Greek word for “worship” (proskuneo), like the Hebrew, was “used to designate the custom of prostrating oneself before a person and kissing his feet, the hem of his garment, the ground, etc.; the Persians did this in the presence of their deified king, and the Greeks before a divinity … (fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully….” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, pp. 716-717). Our English word “worship” is derived from “the Saxon/Old English word ‘weorthscipe’ or ‘weordhscipe’, which means ‘worthship’ or worthiness. [What Does it Really Mean to Worship in Spirit and Truth?]

If you search dictionaries and websites about the Biblical terms, you won’t find many who disagree with this. It is not a disputed area. What is surprising, however, is that despite the clear meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words most often translated “worship” in the English is that one rarely sees people sticking to those definitions when they start freewheeling the meaning of the word today. It seems there are as many “definitions” of worship today as there are people writing on the subject. Even the article quoted fails to point out that by using the word “worship” – which is accurately stated as coming from the Old English “Worthship” – we have moved beyond the Hebrew and Greek and used a word that we understand quite differently from “bowing down in an act of obeisance.”

This was one of the puzzlers that my friend Dr. Hubley struggled with (John finished his work on this earth a little less than a year ago). After studying the obvious meaning of the words in Hebrew and Greek why did Tyndale (the one primarily responsible for bringing the Old English word into our English versions) use a word that has a meaning other than to “bow down in obeisance?” Literally after years of trying to understand this and find a reason, John happened upon the answer in a small collection of ancient Biblical and theological works at a hotel in Litchfield Park, Arizona.

Here is some of what John wrote in a book we published, called Running the River of Praise; Wading in Pools of Worship:

Being a devout person, and knowing that “bowing down” meant much more than a social “courtesy” to the prophets and apostles, Tyndale faced the dilemma of what English word to use in expressing the intent of shachah. In his wisdom, he chose the English word worshyppe (worship) that evolved from the earlier Anglo-Saxon weorthscipe. The latter word acknowledged the intrinsic worthiness of a person or an esteemed position. Rather than render shachah based on the earlier Anglo-Saxon, Tyndale adopted the meaning in his own lifetime, and considered it as bowing in obeisance to the Lord.

I extracted this insight from his “A Prologue into the Second Book of Moses, Called Exodus” in the volume “The Work of William Tyndale” by G. E. Duffield (Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1965, p. 58). In his Prologue Tyndale included “worship” among the list of words he defined for the benefit of his readers. Tyndale wrote:

WORSHIP. By worshipping, whether it be in the Old Testament or New, understand the bowing of a man’s self upon the ground; as we ofttimes, as we kneel in our prayers, bow ourselves, and lie on our arms and hands, with our face to the ground (p.58).

From this reference it is evident that Tyndale: (1) used the word “worship” in the biblical sense of “bowing” in obeisance before the Lord, rather than acknowledging the worthiness of the Lord, and (2) compared “bowing” to prevailing postures of prostration and prayer during his time. He didn’t consider worship (a verb) as a Sunday service or sacred concert (a noun) in the manner in which the word is used throughout the Western world today.

[Note: I am slowly working on a revision of this book and will be re-publishing it through MindHeart.]

Of course, the misunderstanding of the word worship existed long before it became identified with just the music, dancing and whatever else one does while things are loud. The very term “worship service” has been a misuse – and we have long used that term for the time we gather. As John hints in the above quote, our dominant view of the word has been to think of worship as acknowledging the worthiness of God, rather than bowing in obeisance. We considered the worship service as a time when we proclaimed the worthiness of our Lord, in the many and various acts that made up the liturgy of a service. Each act: prayer, hymn singing, praise music, a sermon, and the offering were all to focus on the worthiness of God and were seen as proper only when they were God focused.

I am trying to be brief on a big subject. Do you see the problem with this view? It leaves out the primary focus of the word used in the bible. Rather than declaring God’s worth, true worship has to do with our response to His worthiness, not the fact that we believe He is worthy. So, worship is when we respond to who God is and in obedience choose to serve Him. Put in other terms, when we are gathered as the people of God we are not by our very presence together worshiping. By singing songs led by a music team we are not worshiping. Listening to a sermon is not worshiping. Worship is something that can happen at any moment during those times…but the act of doing them is not the act of worship. Worship happens when in our acts we so hear or experience God or an instruction from Him that we say “yes” I will submit to this. “Yes, I will serve this one who is worthy,” “Yes, I am nothing and He is everything and whatever He asks of me I will do.” Those moments are true times of worship.

We would do well to teach our children that worship of God does not equal loud music. Children sing and dance to all kinds of music but they may have absolutely no idea what it truly means to worship God (by putting idols aside). By giving them the impression that music = worship, we are watering down what it means to serve God.

So, as Shara says in another way above, worship is having no other ‘gods’ before us, especially ourselves. It is being a true servant who has eyes only for the One who is our Lord. If we are to worship 24/7 in heaven as I have heard people state we will be doing, then what that actually means is that we will live for eternity in submission to the one who is: Our God, Savior, and Lord. We will do this gladly, knowing that it is better to be controlled by Him than by ourselves.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) Romans 8:9

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Rick served as a pastor in three different churches for a period of 14 years. Since 1997 he has operated his own business (Design Media Pros) offering web services, development, consulting, print production and graphics. In 2010 Rick and Shara combined their talents to start Weiss Business Solutions. Rick seeks to combine his ministry heart with his web experiences. Believer's Forum is the beginning of that dream.

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