I grew up in a church with strong Presbyterian roots. Sunday services were very formal, filled with lots of readings and hymn singing. Conversations about Jesus and faith were largely intellectual and much less emotional.
You did not witness hand raising or swaying to and fro and the only time I can ever recall clapping to a song in my entire childhood, outside of Sunday School, was to the hymn “O Lord Our Lord How Majestic Is Your Name in All the Earth,” and even then, it was a very short two claps on a certain beat. If you know, you know.
I also grew up in a family with Italian roots and with a mom who is very expressive. I inherited both traits and embody the stereotype of the Italian who talks with their hands. The louder and more excited I am, the faster and higher my hands’ flail.
This, along with other experiences in my childhood collided and left me feeling trapped. Is there a right and wrong way to worship? Are hymns better than contemporary Christian music? Is worship more than just singing at church? How do I worship?
When I started my freshman year of college I was confronted with even more styles of worship. People kneeling when they felt led, hands raised all around the room, people praying between choruses, some swaying and bouncing, others full on dancing. Conversations about Jesus had an emotional level, beyond just doctrine, which I had not witnessed much of.
Worship was taking place in many different forms before my eyes, and I knew that the perspective I had maintained of worship for most of my life was incomplete. While I recognized that I was created to worship and the creation was too — Psalm 19:1 says that “the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies his handiwork” — I wanted to figure out what the Bible says about worship and how I could experience more complete worship.
I began to ask, “What exactly is worship?” and “How do I worship the Lord beyond just singing in church?” I did some research and found many instances in which the Bible talks about worship, but I have picked four points out of 1 Chronicles 16:23-31 that really struck me.
Worship looks like…
Singing is the most obvious of the four ways that we worship. Verse 23 of 1 Chronicles 16:23-31 says “Sing to the Lord all the earth!” Why? Because of the salvation he offers (vs. 23), his marvelous works (vs. 24), he is great (vs. 25), he is holy (vs. 28), and because he reigns (vs. 31)! In Psalm 100 we are told to “make a joyful noise” and to “come into his presence with singing!” because he is good and because he made us. Singing to the Lord can be our most natural form of worship. It is classic hymns and contemporary Christian music. It is hands raised or hands down. It can have movement or it can be still. Ultimately, it should be to glorify God.
“If the sum of all our praises still falls shy, Then we’ll sing again a hundred billion times”
Ascribe means “to attribute to,” and this phrase is all over the Bible when it comes to expressing adoration to the Lord. Expressing adoration looks like verbally celebrating the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness. It means intentionally taking the time to talk about what the Lord is doing in your life and the lives of others and giving him all the glory for every good thing. We are “to declare his glory among the nations (vs. 24) and to “ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” (vs. 29) Again we see this in Psalm 29, that the Lord is over all and everything is because of him; for this reason, we express adoration.
“God of creation, there at the start, before the beginning of time With no point of reference, You spoke to the dark, and fleshed out the wonder of light”
Living a holy life
Verse 29 of 1 Chronicles 16 says to approach the Lord in the “splendor of holiness”– living a holy life. Romans 12:1 talks about living a holy life as our act of spiritual worship: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” We glorify God with our lives when we “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8) When we live lives “worthy of the Gospel of Christ,” (Phil 1:27) we live lives of worship.
“If it all reveals your nature, So will I”
Acknowledging God as first in your life
The Lord is to be feared above all other gods (1 Chronicles 16:25). His greatness causes creation to tremble (vs. 29) and to recognize that he reigns above all (vs. 26, 31). The 10 Commandments declare that we shall have no other gods before him (Exodus 20:3) because he is our Lord (Exodus 20:2). No other being or object should command the respect and honor that is due to the Lord.
“If creation sings your praises, so will I…”