“Worship’s not really for me.” That used to be my general approach to worship. I was never a great singer, so I dismissed worship in favor of prayer or reading Scripture as I was learning what it meant to be a Christian. Why invest in something that didn’t move me? Why bother with something I wasn’t good at?
As I began to study the life of Jesus, however, I discovered worship in the Bible is about something much bigger, much deeper—and it matters for all of us.
So, What Is Worship, Exactly?
If worship is more than singing three songs on Sunday morning or queuing up the latest worship album on Spotify, then what is it? To answer that question, I had to reframe the way I thought about worship. It’s not simply something we do. Worship in the Bible is a way to be, a state of mind, a posture of our heart. If I wanted to experience true worship, my aim couldn’t be to simply check it off a list.
Throughout Scripture, I found countless examples of worship. Often, I read of people worshiping in response to a happy event or joyous news. But sometimes, the worship happened in the midst of crushing sadness. I read about worship in temples but I also read examples of it before temples were even a thing.
Worship, I found out, isn’t limited to any particular space, time of day, or emotion. No, true worship is a response—a response flowing from a sense of awe.
Think about the last time you felt a sense of awe. Maybe you felt it as you looked out over a scenic view—tree-lined mountains or the endless horizon of an ocean. Or maybe you felt it as you looked at your child for the first time? It might have been the first time you heard your favorite band play, and your life was never the same. In each of those moments, you likely had a response to that feeling of awe. You may have gasped or been unable to find any words. Maybe you spoke out loud. Or, perhaps, overwhelmed with gratitude, you thanked God.
All of those responses are, strictly speaking, worship—but one of them is more powerful and life-giving than the others. Because who we worship matters, and it plays into why we worship.
Why Do We Worship?
Ultimately, we worship because we were created that way. It’s in our very DNA. The Bible shows us that God created us as deeply spiritual beings, made to experience God’s love and creation with awe and wonder. When we honor God with expressions of gratitude, we’re walking in our purpose. Worship is an expression of the life we were created to live.
We can worship the wrong things.
You can certainly worship things other than God. Your response to awe can be directed at other people, things, ideas, or even yourself. You can worship money, fame, power, intelligence, possessions, and people. But, sooner or later, that kind of worship will return to you empty. You can give your worship to things all day long, but what do they give back to you? They’re life-consuming, instead of life-giving.
Choosing to worship God takes intentionality—it requires a choice. When we choose to worship God, we’re not only honoring Him for all He has done, but we’re acknowledging our continual need for Him. We’re aligning our hearts with His and putting Him back in the center of our lives, saying, “You’re good, and I want to be more like You.”
Worshiping God puts everything into proper perspective. We engage in worship because God made us that way. And when God is the object of our worship, it keeps our hearts centered on what truly matters.
Two Examples of Worship in the Bible
Biblical worship has many diverse expressions. Throughout the story of the Bible, God’s people worshiped through spiritual songs, service, and prayer. Here are two ways we can praise God, no matter what happens.
1. We worship God in the highs and lows.
In the Book of Psalms, a collection of songs written around 3,000 years ago, we see perspective-setting worship displayed on every page. Many psalms are songs of praise and thanksgiving:
LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. Psalm 8:1 NIV
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his … Psalm 100:1-3 NIV
But many of the songs in the Book of Psalms were written after a tragedy, when worshiping God may have been incredibly difficult.
The LORD is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O LORD, do not abandon those who search for you. Psalm 9:9-10 NLT
So we can worship God when we’re happy—giving Him praise and honor for all the good things He’s doing and for the joy we feel in His presence. But we can also worship Him when we’re hurting, which may take the most faith of all. Worship in the darkest of times reminds us of God’s goodness even when we can’t see or feel it.
2. We worship God in the storm.
We don’t have to wait for a quiet moment in life or even figure out whether we’re in a high or low. We can worship God right in the middle of life’s biggest storms—when nothing makes sense at all.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we find Jesus’ disciples in just such a state of confusion.
Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared to death. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror. But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”
Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come ahead.” Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”
Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?” The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!” Matthew 14:24-33 MSG
What had the disciples just witnessed? Jesus walking on water. And then Peter walking on water too! And then Jesus seemed to control the weather like it was no big deal? He even gave Peter a hard time for losing faith in the middle of walking on a raging sea (which, if we’re honest, would be most of us, right?). But before His disciples asked any questions—before they understood what had just happened, or what it meant—they worshiped God.
We can do that, too. When the waves are tall and Jesus is calling us out to Him, we can worship Him for His goodness, even before we know where He’s taking us. This kind of worship is what forms us to be more like Jesus. It returns our gaze to the One who can calm the storms we’re in the middle of.
God is good all the time.
The Bible shows us example after example of people worshiping God in all seasons, at all times, and in a variety of ways. Some worshiped Him with their songs, some with their gifts, and others with their acts of service. Many of these worshipful practices are things we still do today.
So, Worship Isn’t All About Singing?
In short, no. But let’s not skip over the power of worshiping with other believers through song—a power I used to overlook and take for granted.
What’s so beautiful and powerful about singing songs together is the together part. Few other examples of worship unify the Body of Christ more than standing together at church services and proclaiming God’s truth with one voice. Songs remind us of God’s goodness, they give us language when words are hard to find, and they give us hope for the future.
When we sing together as one, we glimpse, in real-time, what the Body of Christ looks like when we’re united. We see the power of God at work before us and in us. And we’re reminded that none of us were created to do life alone. Worshiping with other believers through music reminds us of the importance of community. God loves to see us, the Church, unite with one voice around His lovingkindness, growing more like Him—together. And He wants to see us take that love out into the world and make a difference.
It may be cliché, but it doesn’t matter to God if you can sing or not; whisper the words if it makes you feel more comfortable (that’s what I do sometimes). The power is in keeping the beat—literally and figuratively—with the Body of Christ.
Singing songs together is powerful, but it’s not the only way to worship. Any experience can turn into an opportunity to honor God with worship, if we remain mindful of who He is and all He’s done.
Two Ways to Worship Without Music
Intentionally keeping God at the forefront of our mind can be done in a lot of ways, but here are a couple extra powerful worship practices that have been around for millennia.
Communion is the practice of eating bread and drinking wine (or grape juice) to help us pause and acknowledge the sacrifice Christ made for us. When we slow down and make space to take communion, we’re worshiping God for the ultimate love that He showed us through Christ on the cross. Reflecting on this love is also an opportunity to examine our own lives and see where we might be able to take our next steps toward His way of selfless love.
Gratitude just may be the simplest—and yet most powerful—of any worshipful practice. You can do it anywhere, about anything, because practicing gratitude is nothing more than thanking God for who He is and what He’s done in your life. You could thank Him for your friends, the sunshine, the rain, the breath in your lungs, or the smell of a good meal.
Amazingly, the more you practice gratitude, the more it becomes just a way of being. After a while, you’re not just expressing it, you’re living it. When we live with gratitude, we see more of God’s goodness everywhere we look. And the more we see God’s goodness, the more we’re prompted to worship Him.
Living with gratitude can often lead to another powerful form of worship: generosity. When we recognize that all we have stems from the goodness of God, and that He provides all we need, we may find our hearts beginning to mirror God’s generous spirit. And when we share the resources we have with others—whether through our church or a local nonprofit, or directly with those in need—we honor God with our actions.
When we intentionally place our focus on God and use communion and gratitude (and other practices) to prioritize Him, they can become powerful forms of worship.
How You Worship Is Up to You
In the years since I started following Jesus, I’ve found that worship in the Bible is about so much more than singing—or any one thing, really. In Scripture, I’ve discovered that worship involves a response to the awe we feel when we experience God’s goodness; that we’re wired to worship; and that the best kind of worship is any kind that focuses us wholeheartedly on who God is. It could be singing, taking communion, giving, practicing gratitude, or serving.
Worship brings us closer to the heart of our Creator, which helps us grow more like Him. And that means we can partner with Him to bring even more of His lovingkindness into the world.
Who we worship matters, and why we worship matters. Our worship has the power to make a big difference in our lives—and in the world.
How will you choose to worship today?