The Act of Worship.
I’ve sometimes heard Christians use the expression: “All of life is worship.” Now I can see why someone would say that, and I certainly sympathise with the sentiment – to an extent. When folk use this expression, the heart behind it in a well-meaning Christian is that in everything we do we should exalt Christ and honour God. It expresses the idea that all of life is an act of total devotion to God. Praise God when that’s a big concern in the lives of His people! However, I much prefer the expression: “All of life is to be worshipful.” Now why the distinction? Am I simply being pedantic? I don’t think so, because there’s actually something important at stake here.
You see worship is, in fact, an “act.” It is a specific and defined action. In the words of John Frame, “It is something we do, a verb.” It is not vague, but distinct. Like gardening, or walking. One cannot say that gardening and eating are the same thing, nor can one say that carpentry and worship are the same. Worship is not a vague notion, it is something distinct that we do. The Bible is amply furnished with examples proving this to be the case (more on that in a moment). This is an important point to emphasise in an age when there are many vague notions of worship abounding. At its worst, the “all of life is worship” idea comes at the detriment and degrading of actual worship.
The fact of the matter is that all of life is not worship. All of life ought to be conducted worshipfully, but all of life is not worship as such. The problem with the idea that all of life is worship is that it generally tends to meld worship with other activities, and thus turns it into something indistinct. There is, however, a distinction between worshipping God and washing the dishes. Non-Christians do not worship, but they do wash dishes. Perhaps we may worship as we wash, and we may wash worshipfully, but we certainly do not bring the kitchen sink along on the Lord’s Day as we come to worship God together (unless perhaps you have three or more young children).
So why do I say that worship is a specific act? As I see it, I do so simply because scripture does so. As Abraham spoke to his young men, for example, he was not worshipping, rather he went to a particular place so that he could worship (Genesis 22:5). When Moses and Aaron came to tell the people of Israel that God had sent them, they worshiped (Exodus 4:31). When Joshua met the commander of the Lord’s army, he fell down and worshipped (Joshua 5:14). Those are just a few examples showing that worship in the Bible is overwhelmingly defined as a specific and focused act of devotion to God – distinct from the many other things that we do in life. Don’t believe me? Pull out your concordance and do your own study, it’s all right there. Scripture refers to worship almost exclusively in terms of direct acts of devotion by the worshipper directed to his God. Again, I may be worshipful as I wash the dishes, I may even worship God in my heart as I do them, but washing the dishes is not worship per se. It may be an act of service, it may be done in a spirit of worship (i.e. with praise and thanksgiving, and maybe even for the purpose of praise and thanksgiving), but it is not worship in and of itself. The “all of life is worship” kind of phraseology, while laudable in the thrust of its sentiment, is theologically confusing and often misleading.
All of this really opens up new horizons and questions. Since worship is an act, a distinct something, we must then ask questions like: How do we worship? Why do we worship? When should we worship? These and more are all important questions to consider. Perhaps I might leave you with a simple application to ponder. Let me ask you, how often do you self-consciously think about worship? If the answer is “not much,” then allow me to encourage you to pursue this, to grow in it further. When we take an interest in a hobby or sport, we study it and learn about it – we do it often. Worship is the most important thing that we can do, how much more then ought we to consider worship? Be students of worship therefore! Let me encourage you to think more about this important topic. There is a book in our church library: “The Worship of God: Reformed Concepts of Biblical Worship.” It’s a great book. Let me encourage you to borrow it and read! There are plenty of other helpful books also, as well as sermon resources online. If you’re interested, drop me an email and I’ll get you started.
Soli Deo Gloria!