Worship is the Mission Part 2 – Defining Worship
Worship as a concept is closely tied to the word missions. At first, the relationship may seem awkward, but I will demonstrate the similarities. The confusion comes from our present cultural understanding and expression of the word “worship.” Worship is most commonly used within the church today to refer to a song service. The specific acts of praising God and giving thanks are also commonly understood and accepted as worship. Many believers would have a casual understanding of the difference between corporate and individual worship, but in either category often attach music or specific proclamations of praise. It is when worship is understood as any act that glorifies God that tension arises. In recent times however, volumes of writing have been produced in order to instruct and remind the church that we are called to a lifestyle of worship, not just an event. Perhaps one of the scriptures that points this out most clearly is Romans 12:1 which reads:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.”
In this verse we are admonished to worship God by living a life that dies to self and exalts God. In other words, our worship is living a life that brings Him glory because Jesus is exalted above our flesh. In order to preserve the purity of the word worship I do not want to insinuate or suggest that everything we do is worship. My morning ritual of brushing my teeth is not necessarily worship, although I can worship God in that moment. I believe that there is a certain intentionality that must accompany our actions in order to make them worship. For example, if I am to clean my house in order to prepare it for guests, then that can be a spiritual act of worship when I intentionally decide that I want God to be glorified in the cleanliness of my home which would allow my guests to feel more appreciated. This is worship because I am intentionally glorifying God. I can also, in the same situation, miss an opportunity to present myself as a living sacrifice by grumbling and complaining about all the cleaning work I have to do. I can treat my children poorly as an expression of feeling stressed out and in the process do nothing to glorify Christ within me. Whenever the Spirit of Christ is allowed to rule and reign in my life, His glory is magnified. This is worship. Worship then, can be a lifestyle in which we seek to bring God glory.
Worship is always a response to God. We are responding to the fact that in His very nature He is supremely holy, just, merciful and loving (amongst of host of other wonderful adjectives that address the beauty of who He is). Worship is the automatic overflow of being exposed to His character. When we receive a revelation of how glorious He is, then our natural response is to adore Him. The greater the revelation of His love toward us, the more we are naturally inclined to return this love. I John 4:19 declares this truth: “We love (Jesus), because He first loved us.” The Greek word most often used for worship is “proskuneo” which means “to kiss toward.” (Zodhiates: 435) Even this definition denotes a sense of intimacy and deep relationship that is kindled by a God who says that He “no longer calls us servants, but calls us friends.” The depth of relationship that we are offered through worship will result in a life that loves the things our Father loves. Once, when I was in India, I was ministering to a very impoverished beggar family whose youngest infant child was purposefully and permanently crippled in order to produce more pity from any potential passerby. I was deeply grieved for this family and in fact, wept on and off for days when I recalled their plight. About five days into this emotional journey, I felt like God whispered a truth to my soul that went something like this: “You weep after spending five minutes in their presence. Now in fact, your emotional response to their situation is waning because you do not have them directly in front of you. My eyes, however, have NEVER turned from them. I have them before me always, and not only them, but countless thousands of others who suffer as they do.” As if this revelation what not intense enough, it was followed by this phrase: “Friends care about what friends care about.” It was in this moment that my love for God (which was produced from times of worship and adoration), was called to a place of deeper maturity. A worshipper will love the things that the Father loves. My love for my friend Jesus had deepened enough that I was called to care about the things He cared about. As demonstrated previously from scripture, we clearly see that God cares about the nations. The natural overflow of worship then, is a heart for His mission.
When worship is seen in this light, it is not difficult then to see it’s direct connection to God’s principal aim of glorifying Himself. The goal of missions is to promote God’s glory in the nations. Worship is a lifestyle of promoting God’s glory. Both concepts have a need for each other. Worship will always result in missions. Missions must always produce worship. For this reason, both words are better understood and served when they are intentionally connected. “Missional worship” is a phrase that connects these two interdependent words in light of the Biblical theme of God being exalted and glorified in the whole earth. “Missional worship” is the act of glorifying God and intentionally inviting others to that lifestyle. The simplicity of this definition becomes a struggle for those who would believe that the message of salvation is the ultimate goal of missions. This idea can only be true if salvation includes the knowledge of the fact that we are not only saved from something, but we are saved to something. Missions cannot end with humanity. It begins and ends with God. Preaching the gospel has a high position in mission work because when people are saved, then they can glorify God as He deserves to be glorified. He deserves the kind of worship that is unique to every tribe, tongue and nation. He deserves to be praised in a way that only the Tibetan, Ukrainian or Wolof people can praise Him. He created within each nation a ability to uniquely reflect His own infinite glory. Although preaching the truth of the gospel is a key facet of missions, preaching the gospel is not the end. It is the means to bring people to a place where they are able to “offer their lives as living sacrifices” for the praise of His glory. In the same way, mercy ministries are not the end. Although they reflect the heart of God, we express this Heart for the lost in expressions of social justice so that the lost are drawn to His infinite goodness. Neither then is discipleship the end. Discipleship is the means to bring people to a place where Christ increases in their lives and is therefore more glorified through them. His glory must be the aim of all our missions endeavors – from teaching English to business partnership – from church planting to campaign style evangelism. “…And whatever we do, be it all to the glory of God.” (I Cor. 10:31) Missions must continue until the worship of our King is on the lips and expressed in the lives of every tribe, tongue and nation.
It is our limited definition of what worship and missions are that has caused the separation of these two concepts within the church. When worship is only singing, we would quickly admit that we’re not just trying to teach the nations how to have a better choir. When worship is defined in that manner, no one would say that it is the purpose of our missions call. Additionally, when missions is seen simply as proclamation, or doesn’t include God’s heart for the whole earth, then it is difficult to interweave this concept with the Biblical meaning of worship.