It’s Sunday morning, and the sanctuary surges to life. Colorful lights pierce the darkened haze, and high-tech screens flash streams of stylized imagery and words. The walls resonate with contemporary praise anthems from Hillsong, Passion, and Chris Tomlin, as the congregation is led through a perfectly designed worship experience.

Scenarios like this are common these days, especially in younger, larger churches. Fostering new and relevant ways to enhance worship has become a critical task in the modern church. Believers often choose their home church based on musical style, and a rewarding Sunday for many in the congregation depends largely on their approval of the “worship time.”

With this current-day emphasis on music and awe-inspiring worship atmospheres, it’s becoming more common for Christians to define worship by these experiences. In their minds, worship has become synonymous with music. It’s a spiritual encounter involving their favorite songs, or emotional moments when the lights and sound are just right. In fact, it’s the simple term often used for the musical portion of any service before the sermon: “Worship.”

This is not a put-down on current worship trends. However, if we limit our understanding of worship to moments of tech-driven corporate singing, we experience only a small portion of what God has intended for us. Not to mention, a darkened sanctuary and special lighting may facilitate a certain mindset, but it has very little to do with true worship. We should be wary of letting ourselves be controlled by external environments that we deem as being “more worshipful” than others. In the end, the music style or lighting we prefer actually says more about us than it does about worshipping the Lord. When these details become more important than seeking or glorifying God, we’re no longer worshipping Him, but worshipping the experience.

Worship is one of the most important aspects of our Christian lives, so it’s important to understand what it is, and why it’s far more than just a musical event in the sanctuary. Romans 12 tells us that we are to present our bodies a living sacrifice, for this “is your true and proper worship.” It describes a lifestyle of worship that can be summed up in the following definition:

“Biblical worship is the full-life acknowledgement – head, heart,
and hands – of who God is, and what He has done”

As Christians, we often mistakenly view worship as an experience that should meet our own needs and preferences. Although we were created to worship God, our sinful natures cause us to lose focus on the proper object of our worship. But this definition makes clear that it’s not about us – it’s all about God. It also reminds us that worship is not limited to music or church buildings. In fact, we have far more opportunity to worship in obedience to God on a daily basis than on any Sunday morning in church. Our traditions would suggest that a half hour of worship music followed by a Sunday sermon is a biblical directive. In reality, there is no biblical model for the weekly church programs we’ve created. However Scripture does provide many examples of individuals who acknowledged God in worship through their daily lives and lifestyles. Let’s look at just a few:

- Abraham worshipped through obedience when he followed God’s call to give up his only son Isaac. He acknowledged the sovereignty of God over life. (Genesis 22).

- Hannah faithfully worshipped God despite years of great sorrow and suffering due to infertility. She acknowledged God’s timing and control over life’s circumstances. (1 Samuel 1).

- A poor widow worshipped by giving away all she had. She acknowledged God’s capacity to provide for her needs. (Mark 12).

- Mary brought one of her most valuable possessions and poured it out to Jesus as a expression of loving worship. She acknowledged that He is worthy of all we can possibly offer. (John 12).

- Paul and Silas worshipped in song, but their surroundings were nothing like the "worship formulas" we focus on today. They had been beaten for sharing the good news of Jesus and were “shackled in the inner prison.” Bleeding, bruised, chained in total darkness, with no musicians, no A/C, no comfortable chairs, no flashy media. This is far from our idea of a “worshipful atmosphere,” yet “around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.” (Acts 16:25).

God has designed us to worship Him with our whole lives, and these are great biblical models for us. But what does worship outside the church walls look like for us today? How can we worship with full-life acknowledgement – head, heart, and hands – of who God is and what He has done? Here are just a few examples in line with Romans 12:

- Christian who refuse to lower their moral standards, in spite of ridicule, are worshipping the Lord. Their lifestyle acknowledges God’s standards of holiness, and they demonstrate a renewed mind that no longer conforms to the thought patterns of the world. (Romans 12:2)

- Christians who give their free time to serve God are worshipping the Lord. They are acknowledging that their gifts and abilities come from God and should be used to further His kingdom. (Romans 12:4-8)

- Christians who share with the needy are worshipping the Lord. They are acknowledging God’s call to love one another, and show hospitality to those around them. (Romans 12:13)

- Christians who spread joy with a smile, or take the time to cry with a person who is grieving, are worshipping (Romans 12:15)… Christians who maintain a humble attitude are worshipping (Romans 12:16)… Christians who live with a spirit of peace and forgiveness toward others are worshipping (Romans 12:17-19)... More examples could be given.

Singing songs of praise is a wonderful way to acknowledge and worship God, but our goal should be to have all our individual words and actions characterized by lifestyle of worship -- both inside and outside the church walls. Worship is not just a category in the Christian life, it’s the process of surrendering our lives entirely into God's hands as a living sacrifice. Everything we do can (and should) be an act of worship.

Colossians 3:16-17 - Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

- Ron Reid

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