How do you worship? What does worship mean to you? 

When we use the term, ‘worship’ in Christian circles, we generally refer to what we do on a Sunday morning in church. It will involve singing ‘praise and worship’ songs, often with our hands in the air and eyes closed, singing to Jesus about how much we love him. It's often associated with warm, fuzzy feelings of praise to God.

For the Poor stained glass

PICTURE: Jon Tyson/Unsplash 

This kind of worship makes us feel good, but is that the point of it? Is it actually pleasing to God? What is the point of this type of worship if it makes us feel good but doesn’t make us want to be more conformed to the image of Christ and to go out and be his love in the world?

The prophets of the Old Testament had a thing or two to say about what God finds acceptable as worship. Amos said that the kind of worship God wants is that which is linked to a life of justice and care for the poor. It’s easy for me to say this as someone who always talks about care for the poor, but it’s right there in our Bibles. We can’t get away from it. 

"The prophets of the Old Testament had a thing or two to say about what God finds acceptable as worship. Amos said that the kind of worship God wants is that which is linked to a life of justice and care for the poor. It’s easy for me to say this as someone who always talks about care for the poor, but it’s right there in our Bibles. We can’t get away from it."

Listen to Amos rail against the corrupt worship of the people of God and call for true worship: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24).

Christian worship is simply not confined to what we do on a Sunday morning in church. If this is all we do, and we don’t also live out a life of love of God and neighbour, let us be warned: our worship will not be acceptable in the eyes of God. As Australian preacher John Smith said many years ago, the Spirit was given to guide us into all truth, not into all ecstasy. And when Jesus spoke with the woman at the well in John chapter four, He said that in the Kingdom of God we are to worship in spirit and in truth. Worshipping in spirit and in truth is to live a life of Christlikeness, to imitate him in all we do. Then will our worship on a Sunday morning be acceptable to him.

Australian theologian Rikk Watts says more about this. He has said that worship in the Bible is actually about the way we live our lives. We see this most clearly in Romans 12 where St Paul talks about not being conformed to the pattern of the world but being transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is this that Paul calls worship (Romans 12:1). It’s about ‘being’ Christ and 'doing'. The doing - living out our faith and love for Christ - comes out of the 'being'. 

Martin Luther King, Jr, spoke eloquently about this in his sermon, ‘Transformed Nonconformist’. He said it is actually a Christian mandate to not conform. We are instead called to a higher loyalty. That means that when we see wrong or injustice occurring, we are to speak out and do something about it. We are not called to stand by and let the oppressor continue to oppress. That is our spiritual worship according to St Paul in Romans 12.



It’s interesting that we see Paul saying this in the very chapter before he talks about obeying the governing authorities; a chapter that has been used to justify the most horrific abuses of governments against their own people. An example in recent years of course was that of former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he used Romans 13 to try to justify the appalling locking up of children trying to find asylum in the land of the free.

What is often missed in discussions of this passage is that Paul wrote a number of his letters from prison. He was in prison for living out what he wrote, which was to not be conformed to the unjust patterns of the world but to be transformed by the renewing of his mind. This renewing of his mind was to be in line with the will of God, to have the mind of Christ who gave himself and who suffered for the sake of others. 

As Dr King said, “As Christians we must never surrender our supreme loyalty to any time-bound custom or earth-bound idea, for at the heart of our universe is a higher reality - God and his kingdom of love - to which we must be conformed”.

It is only through living out the life of Christ by the power of the Spirit within us that we truly worship God. Anything else is not Christian worship. Again, as Dr King said, “Everywhere and at all times, the love ethic of Jesus is a radiant light revealing the ugliness of our stale conformity”.

King’s life of course was one of the best examples we have of radical worship. He lived a life of radical non-conformity to the status quo that was racial segregation in the United States. In the end it cost him his life; that was the price he was willing to pay to live a life of genuine worship.

"When we worship in our churches this Sunday, let us be sure that we have first committed ourselves to living out a life of love of God and neighbour. Let us heed and live out the words of Amos. Let us commit ourselves to letting justice flow like a river and righteousness like an ever-lasting stream. Then, when we lift our voices and hands in song, will we be offering true worship."

What we see from his life, and from the life of countless others before and since, is that worship is therefore about commitment. It is about commitment to something greater than yourself. It is commitment despite the fact that it might be unpopular and go against what the majority say, even the majority of other Christians. 

If we look at people throughout history who have taken an unpopular stand to live a life of true worship, we see that, often, their greatest opposition came from their own people. Of course, Jesus found this. His greatest opposition came from the religious leaders and teachers of the Law, the very ones who should have known better.

When we worship in our churches this Sunday, let us be sure that we have first committed ourselves to living out a life of love of God and neighbour. Let us heed and live out the words of Amos. Let us commit ourselves to letting justice flow like a river and righteousness like an ever-lasting stream. Then, when we lift our voices and hands in song, will we be offering true worship.