What is worship and why do we do it?

This is the first in a series of articles on worship by the Rev Dr Jeffrey Truscott, Lecturer in Worship and Liturgy at Trinity Theological College. The purpose is to explore the meaning of worship, its theology, structure, practice and several related issues. The goal is to deepen our understanding of Sunday morning worship and improve our practice. The Rev Dr Truscott (picture below) is the author of Worship: A Practical Guide (Armour, 2011).

LIKE MANY THINGS, worship is probably something that we do before we reflect on it. But worship is not easy to describe or define.

A classic definition comes from the Anglican writer Evelyn Underhill who stated that “worship is the response of humanity to the eternal”. Or to put it another way, worship is what we do when we encounter the awesome or holy. One thinks of how Abraham built an altar after God promised to give the land of Canaan to his offspring (Genesis 12:8) or when Jacob built a pillar and made a vow to God after his dream at Bethel (Genesis 28:18-22).

Biblical words can help us understand the nature of worship. Some Hebrew and Greek words that we translate as “worship” have the sense of “bowing down”. ere are also words that mean “serve” as in “I serve (worship) the God of my ancestors” (Acts 24:14). e former suggests that worship has to do with being in the Presence of a Greater One who commands respect. It also implies that the whole body is involved in worship. e latter suggests that worship engages the whole person (body, mind and spirit).

The word “worship” is actually a combination of two Old English words “woerth” (worth) and “scipe” (make, create). Worship therefore means to make or ascribe worth to someone or something. Unfortunately, this word has its drawbacks. For one thing, it might imply that worship is purely a human action, when in fact God Himself speaks and acts through the church’s actions of proclaiming the Word and celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Furthermore, “worship” is sometimes reduced to singing. While acts of congregational song are indeed worship, we also “ascribe worth” to (or honour) God by proclaiming His Word in a sermon and believing it!

The word “liturgy” is also helpful. While we normally think of “liturgy” as worship that uses prescribed elements (calendar, Bible readings, written prayers, vestments, candles), the word actually implies more than that.

In the ancient Greek context, a “liturgy” was a service rendered for the good of the public, e.g. serving in a legislative body. Indeed, when Christians worship, they gather for the good of the world, offering the concerns of the world to God in prayer. ey depart from the service to “feed” the world with God’s love and mercy. rough the “liturgy” the people of God fulfil their priestly role. us our word “liturgy” helps us to see that the entire service (not just the sermon or the sacrament) has great meaning and purpose, as does the participation of each and every Christian present for worship.

Having considered the “what” of worship, let us now consider the “why.” We humans worship because God created us to worship Him. e famous North African bishop, Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), stated that “ ou movest us to delight in praising thee; for ou hast formed us for yself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in thee.”

God wants to be in relationship with us and, accordingly, God “hard-wired” us to worship Him so that we can establish and maintain this relationship. e Bible teaches us that God enables us to worship Him, for “God has put a new song in my mouth” (Ps 40:3), which is to say that the ability to offer praise and thanks comes from God Himself. Similarly, the Holy Spirit motivates a person to confess that Jesus is Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3) and forms our prayers (Romans 8:26). In a word, worship arises from God’s activity deep within our hearts and minds.

From our side of the equation, we worship because we need communal worship in Word and Meal. We need to hear God’s Word condemn our sin and promise forgiveness; we need to have this promise tangibly confirmed in the Lord’s Supper. Additionally, we need to worship with fellow Christians because doing so strengthens our faith and enables us to experience ourselves as part of something bigger than ourselves. In a word, worship meets our deepest spiritual hungers.

May we always worship aware of God’s presence in worship and our deep need for that presence!



Meditations for Lent

A SERIES OF LENTEN MEDITATIONS organised by the Methodist School of Music will be held at three venues this month.

The first session will be held at the Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church 4th Floor Sanctuary on March 2 at 8 pm. e theme is “Remembering the Cross” and there will be sung prayers, hymns and Taizé music.

is will be followed by an evening of prayers, hymns and choral music entitled “Wondrous Love” at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church on March 16 at 8 pm.

The final session entitled “ e Song Forever New” will use the hymns of Charles Wesley to contemplate the season of Lent. It will be held at Barker Road Methodist Church on March 30 at 8 pm.

All are welcome to attend.