Worship: Our Response to God

Featuring Tom Kraeuter Posted on February 6, 2010

In the introduction I mentioned the various definitions of worship I have encountered over the years. Although brief definitions usually fall short of truly explaining Biblical worship, I believe this one has a lot of merit: Worship is the response of man when he encounters either God or God’s actions.

In one of his hymns, John Newton stated it this way:
Weak is the effort of my heart and cold my warmest thought,
But when I see Thee as Thou art I’ll praise Thee as I ought.

When we encounter the reality of God, true worship is the outcome.

Do you recall the encounter between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel? In front of the people of Israel, Elijah issued a challenge to the prophets of the false god Baal. “Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire— he is God” (1 Kings 18:23-24). The people agreed.

They did everything exactly as Elijah had said. Baal’s prophets prepared their sacrifice and called out to their god. From morning until evening they called out but nothing happened. Finally, it was Elijah’s turn. As if to really prove the point he had his helpers pour large jars of water on his sacrifice. He then stepped up and prayed that the Lord would show the people that He was indeed God. And He did. The bull, the wood, the stones, the soil and even the water were all consumed by the fire.

To me the response of the people really says it all. “When all the people saw this they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The LORD—He is God! The LORD—He is God!’” (1 Kings 18:39). No one needed to tell them what to do or how to respond. Worship is the natural response when people encounter God or His actions.

Some time ago I heard a pastor relating an incident of encountering God. This pastor was from a large church and they had a rather full orchestra that helped lead their times of worship. One day this pastor received a phone call from the head of the music department of a nearby major university. After the introductions the conversation went something like this:

“I understand that you have an orchestra that leads your music on Sunday mornings.” “That’s correct.” “I also understand that sometimes they play together with no musical score,” (what is
commonly referred to as “open worship” or “free worship,” playing a chord progression and allowing people to sing spontaneously unto the Lord) “and it sounds good.”
Again the pastor responded, “That’s correct.”
“Well, I’ll be honest. I’ve never heard of anything like that and it really does not make sense to me. What I’d like to do is come to your service sometime and record it and analyze it.” The pastor agreed and they set a date for the man to come and record their music.

On the given Sunday the man arrived and set up his reel-to-reel tape recorder on the front row of the auditorium. The service began and the orchestra played. At one point the worship leader had the orchestra play a simple chord progression and the people sang spontaneously unto the Lord. All of it was captured on tape.

The real capstone on the whole event occurred toward the end of the time of singing. The pastor looked down from the platform and was amazed. The head of the music department of the nearby major university was standing with his hands in the air and tears streaming down his face. No one had witnessed to him, nor had the sermon been preached. The man had encountered God and his immediate reaction was to worship.

1 Corinthians 14 offers a similar scenario. An unbeliever comes into the church and people are speaking forth prophetically. He is convicted by their words and he realizes that God is there. His response is similar to the man above. “So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). In this scene Paul does not suggest that someone will need to show the man scriptural precedent for bowing in worship. It is the obvious response.

In his book, Whatever Happened to Worship?, A.W. Tozer relates a fascinating account about Blaise Pascal, the famous 17th century French scientist.

(Pascal) is often classed as one the of the greatest thinkers of all time. He was considered a genius in mathematics, and his scientific inquiry was broad. He was a philosopher and a writer. But best of all, he experienced a personal, overwhelming encounter with God one night that changed his life.

Pascal wrote on a piece of paper a brief account of his experience, folded the paper and kept it in a pocket close to his heart, apparently as a reminder of what he had felt. Those who attended him at his death found the worn, creased paper. In Pascal’s own hand it read:

“From half-past ten at night to about half-after midnight—fire! O God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob—not the god of the philosophers and the wise. The God of Jesus Christ who can only be known in the ways of the Gospel: security -
feeling - peace - joy - tears of joy. Amen.”

Were these the expressions of a fanatic, an extremist?

No. Pascal’s mind was one of the greatest. But the living God had broken through and beyond all that was human and intellectual and philosophical. The astonished Pascal could only describe in one word the visitation in his spirit: “Fire!”

Understand that this was not a statement in sentences for others to read. It was the ecstatic utterance of a yielded man during two awesome hours in the presence
of his God.

There was no human engineering or manipulation there. There was only
wonder and awe and adoration wrought by the presence of the Holy Spirit as Pascal worshipped. [Tozer, A.W., Whatever Happened To Worship? (Camp Hill, Penn., Vine Books, 1985), pp. 90-91.]

The Bible is replete with similar illustrations of man’s reaction to God. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and John all relate the incident of Jesus walking on the water. By the time this happened the disciples had been with Jesus for some time. They had even seen Him perform numerous miracles. However, when the disciples saw Jesus walking across the water something happened in their hearts and minds. They suddenly realized this was not just an especially gifted man—this was God. Their response? “Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:33).

For us today, even if we have not had an extraordinary encounter with God, we have all witnessed the reality of God and His works. “We cannot worship rightly until we recapture, as the principle element of worship, the overwhelming sense of awe and reverence in the presence of God” [Bailey, Robert W., New Ways in Christian Worship (Nashville, Broadman, 1981), pp. 35-36.]. We have seen the wonder of God in His creation (Romans 1:20). We have experienced the acts of the Lord in His redemptive sacrifice. We have all “seen” enough of God that worship should be our ongoing response. The late Robert G. Lee said, “If I had a thousand heads and each head had a thousand tongues and each tongue spoke a thousand dialects and I could speak for eternity, I still could not praise Jesus sufficiently.”

Throughout the Bible and even in our age, as men encounter God or see His mighty hand at work, the instantaneous response is worship. There is no need for them to consider their actions. They realize they are in the presence of the Almighty and the only appropriate response is worship.