For as far back as God has allowed us to look in eternity past, there has been worship. As long as there has been any created being in heaven there has been worship. At the heart of the mutiny in heaven, led by the archangel Lucifer, was the issue of worship. Lucifer being an archangel, obviously had something to do with the worship of heaven, but pride entered his heart and he thought he ought to be the one who should be worshiped. Fully a third of the angelic host joined him in his rebellion, trying to unseat God from the throne so Lucifer himself could sit on the throne and let all the hosts of heaven worship him.
The next time there is recorded a face-to-face encounter over worship between Lucifer (now Satan) and God, was after Jesus was baptized by John in the river Jordan. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. At the heart of that temptation, we find Satan still trying to get God to bow down to him. Satan knew that if the Lord Jesus were to bend one knee to him in worship, He would be acknowledging Satan as being a superior being and he would have won the battle that to this day, goes on in the heavenlies over the allegiance (worship) of mankind.
Fundamentally, the battle that goes on in the heavenlies is over worship. Who is mankind going to bow before and worship? Thats the issue that faces missionaries when they go to the far- flung fields of the earth. That is the issue that faces every worship leader here in North America. Who are those people in the pew, who are the people the missionaries have gone to minister to and to preach the gospel to–who are they going to worship? What are they going to worship?
Basically God has placed in the human nature of man the need and desire to worship. You can go to the most remote area on earth, and you discover that you dont have to teach people to worship. Theyre already worshiping some god. Sometimes its a multiplicity of gods, but theyre already acknowledging a higher, supreme being. We are all worshipers.
A friend of mine who is a pastor of a large church in Arkansas, said to me, “Ron, if I had more worshipers in the pew on Sunday morning, Id have better worship.”
I said, “Your pews are full of worshipers… Theyre all worshiping something.” During professional football season when the Sunday game is on TV and the pastor goes past noon and starts encroaching upon that which is most important to some of the people in the church, you start seeing the restlessness. That which is most important to them is not in church; its not God. They are wanting to get home so they can kneel before that which is most important to them on the Lords day. Everyone worships something or someone.
What Does Worship Mean?
The word thats used for worship in the Old Testament more than any other word is the word shachach. Whenever you see that word in Hebrew or translated into whatever language, it has the meaning of bowing, of stooping, of bending, of kneeling, of prostrating yourself before the one you are worshiping. In the Old Testament they did it physically. But many times when they were actually going through the physical act that defines this word, if their heart wasnt in it, God was not paying any attention to what they were doing.
In the first chapter of Isaiah God said, “I wont even listen to you when you lift your hands to me in prayer,” because their heart was not in it. Worshiping God in spirit and in truth is fundamentally an issue of the heart. This is what Jesus said the Father is looking for, and this is true even today (John 4:23-24).
In the New Testament the word that is used more than any other word for worship is the word proskyneo, which means essentially the same thing–to bow, to bend, to stoop, to kneel. It adds this beautiful picture of kissing the hand of the one youre worshiping. If we do not do this physically, at least in our heart there will be this attitude of bowing, of bending, of stooping, of kneeling before the one we worship if we are truly worshiping God.
When you look at the Evangelical Church today across North America, and I have to speak in generalities here, you have to ask the question as to how many of our churches really are worshiping God. Do you see this attitude of bowing, of kneeling, of bending before the one we are worshiping? Probably most of our churches are caught up in the new trends of today and are doing more celebrating than worshiping. Celebration is very much a part of our lives. Were told to celebrate. The children of Israel were told to celebrate and remember the Passover, for instance. Im not speaking against celebration, but the problem I see today is that in many churches this attitude and spirit of celebration has taken over the church and there is very little if any true worship.
I am convinced that a lost person or a backsliding Christian can actually enjoy many of our celebration services today. We want people to feel good when they come. Theres nothing wrong with trying to lift a persons spirits. But the music in it all is so powerful it can make a sinner feel good in the midst of what we call our worship services. He can even go away feeling, “I want to go back to a place like that. That made me feel good.”
If that is all that happens to a sinner or a backsliding Christian in a worship service, we have missed it. I dont believe that a backsliding Christian or an unbeliever can actually enjoy true worship. In true worship we are having an encounter with a holy God.
Often we are more interested in what the world thinks and how the world feels than with what God thinks and with how God feels. Weve gone so far that were trying to accommodate the world with what we do in the church rather than doing what God has called us to do. Worship is the exclusive right, privilege and responsibility of Gods children. Unbelievers cannot yet worship God because they have not as yet become worshipers. They have not been birthed into the family of God. They have nothing to offer God.
The thing that must happen is for them to receive from God the gift of eternal life. They must recognize their lostness and turn to Him in repentance of sin, and then they will become the recipients of His gift of eternal life. At that moment they become worshipers of God. Worship continues all through our Christian lives on the earth, and were going to be worshiping in heaven for the rest of eternity.
Fundamentally worship is the foundation for everything else. God is looking for worshipers. If were not a worshiping kind of person, then everything else in life does not reach the point that God wants it to reach. It will not have the anointing and the power of God the Holy Spirit on it.
In a lot of churches today weve turned the gathering, which is exclusively for believers, into an evangelistic outreach, and our worship has suffered. There are all kinds of meetings and services, including evangelistic services, that ought to be focused on evangelism. I believe, however, that fundamentally evangelism is supposed to take place outside the church.
Look at all the gatherings throughout the Old Testament. They were for the nation of Israel. Look at the gatherings in the New Testament. They were for believers. And, “Oh, thank God” when an unbeliever walks in like in Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). What was happening? As far as we know there was nothing directed or focused on that unbeliever so he or she knew the need for a Savior. But the church was going on with what they were supposed to do as they were gathering. They were praying. They were listening to the apostles doctrine. They were worshiping God. And that unbeliever says, “Surely God must be in this place.” Why? Because it was different. Today we are trying to become like the world so the world will feel at home when they come to church. The world is shaping us into its mold. The world should never feel “at home” in church.
Unbelievers need to understand that when they come to faith and join the church, they might have to learn a new vocabulary. There are words that they dont know. But what are we doing? Were redefining or were taking out some of the words that have been historically a part of the church. Rather than helping the new convert to learn new words, were trying to accommodate the world by changing our vocabulary to fit them. We say, “Oh, you dont know about hymns? Ill tell you what –we wont sing hymns anymore.” So we bring in other things. Sometimes new believers have to be taught to dress a little differently because theyve come into the community of faith. We dont have to try to be different; we are different. We are a peculiar people (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9). We have been set apart. We are a holy people.
I believe that when we get back to worshiping God and being the people were called to be, when were gathered together the unbeliever will come under the conviction of sin and the Holy Spirit will do a work in that unbelievers heart that He cannot do in the atmosphere were often providing for Him.
During the Welsh Revival in 1904-05, theres very little record of evangelistic preaching. But a hundred thousand people or so came to Christ in a matter of six months. What happened? Those dear Welsh people, many of whom had been praying for years, some still remembering the revival in the mid 1800s, cried out to God. Then Evan Roberts, whom God would use greatly in the Welsh Revival, heard Seth Joshua say that what the Welsh church needs more than anything is to be bent by the Lord, and he cried, “Lord, bend me!” In a matter of months the Welsh church was getting their hearts right with God. The leaders were crying out to God. All of a sudden God came!
In the midst of those worship and praise services, times of prayer and singing, the world would walk into that atmosphere where God was so present, and theyd fall on their faces, crying out to God for mercy. What had happened? Gods peoples hearts were right toward Him and toward one another, and He could bless them. In many of our churches a fundamental reason we are not seeing God work in the mighty power that we long to see Him work in is that were not in a condition to be blessed. We pray, “O God, bless our service!” A better prayer might be, “O God, show us why Youre not able to bless us so we can get our hearts right, and become blessable.”
God is as desirous to bless us today as He has ever wanted to bless His people in all the ages past. Many times when we havent been experiencing His blessing, we try to work up substitutes for it. There is much substituting today, just like in Jeremiah 2. The people didnt even know that God had departed. No one was even asking, “Where is the Lord?” And today we arent asking, “Where is the Lord?” because weve become so accustomed to substituting for His manifest presence that we dont even miss Him when He is not there.
In so much of whats happening today, we have performers on the stage and spectators in the pew. Many people today go to church to see what they can get rather than what they can give, not understanding that there is no such thing as worship without giving. Im not talking about something in the offering plate. Thats a part of it, an outward expression of whats in the heart, but today people come to get rather than to give.
Now for a brief word about music. Today when people think about worship they think exclusively of music. Some churches have gone so far as to name the director of music as the “director of worship” or the “pastor of worship.” Why have we done that? Its because many today feel that worship is music and music is worship, and some people actually worship music. In some churches music has become more important than it ought to be.
The fact is, you dont even have to have music to worship. Most of the worship accounts in Scripture are without music. Of course, the Psalms are set to music. But even though I am a musician, my most profound worship experiences, my most personal encounters with God, have been without music. Maybe youve met God in a small group of people where music is not a part. Im not saying music is not important. Music is vitally important. But we have to have an understanding of what worship is fundamentally.
What better place is there to go if we want to understand about worship than to Gods word? The real issue today is not the how of worship; it is the who of worship. Today, however, when you go to worship conferences, most of the time is spent talking about how to do it. What has worked for you? What styles do you use? But the real issue is not the how. The fundamental issue begins with the who, it begins with God. When you begin with the how of worship youre bound to get off track, because that begins with man and what mans tastes are. We have to begin with the who of worship because how we respond to God in worship is directly impacted by how we see God and who we see Him to be.
In Revelation, chapter four, we read: “After this,” after the last word of our Lord to the churches, “I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter. And immediately I was in the Spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
“And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold. And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty….”
It says, “They rest not day and night, saying….” This is going on in heaven right now day and night, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.”
Can you believe that they never get bored, and it never becomes mundane to them? Why? Because they are in Gods presence. When we return to worship, and God is manifesting His presence among His people, there arent going to be people who say, “That was boring.” Today many people will say just that if they are not given a flesh-driven, emotional experience, that is more adrenalin than the Holy Spirit.
“Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to Him that sat on the throne, who liveth forever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before Him…” Every time that honour and glory and thanks to Him who sat on the throne was given, the four and twenty elders fall down. They “…fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that liveth forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
Because We Love Him
Because we love God we worship Him. It is for this we are born: to worship. And there is one fundamental reason why we worship as individuals and corporately as a body, and that is to ascribe to Him the worth and the value that are His and to present our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. In the New Testament thats what worship is all about.
Under the New Covenant the worshiper becomes the worship offering. In the Old Testament the lambs that were sacrificed didnt know what was happening; they were dead sacrifices. But in the New Testament the offering becomes a living sacrifice. A living sacrifice knows whats happening. We, the ones who make the sacrifice are also the sacrifice itself. The worshiper is the worship offering. The fundamental thing that God is looking for in you and in me as individuals as well as the corporate body when we gather to worship Him, is the placing of our bodies, our lives, on the altar of worship.
Worshiping God, the Sovereign One
Worship ascribes to God His worth and surrenders to Him in light of who He is. This is what we find in this passage in Revelation. There is one word that ought to have jumped off the page to you as we were reading Revelation 4–“the throne.” Ten times in this one chapter John talks about that throne. This is what seems to dominate Johns mind. As we observe the perfect worshiper in heaven, notice that everything else arranges itself around that throne. All created life, the church, the angelic world–everything is in subjection to the One who sits on the throne.
When we come to worship, the congregation has gathered to meet the One sitting on the throne. Theres no true worship without an encounter with that throne. It is the same throne that Isaiah met. Just as we see here in heaven, when we worship we acknowledge that all authority, power, dominion, control and supremacy belong to Him who sits on the throne.
Isaiah said, “I saw the Lord sitting on the throne, high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1). It seemed as though Isaiah had to lose sight of an earthly throne before he could see “the throne.” In the lives of many of our people today, perhaps even in the lives of many worship leaders and pastors, there are other thrones, and because of that they cannot see clearly “the throne.” Oh, how we ourselves must be worshipers so our people will become worshipers!
The focus of our worship will be on God if were going to worship. When people come to church these days, is it easy for them to see God? Many times they see a multitude of other things standing in the way of getting a correct understanding of who God is–the God they have come to worship.
Very often it is man who is standing on center stage. Im not talking so much about the physical as I am the spiritual. God will not share His glory with any man or woman. The moment man takes over is the moment that God is ushered to the wings, as it were. The people may hear music, but are they hearing God? They may hear a sermon, but are they meeting God? They may enjoy a good performance, but are they having an encounter with Almighty God? We often try to get people to enjoy themselves rather than see themselves in the light of the One who sits on the throne. The focus of our worship, if its authentic worship, will be on God, and God will be the one who receives all the glory.
“And I heard every creature in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and on the sea and all that is in them singing, To Him who sits on the throne and unto the Lamb be praise, and honour, and glory, and power for ever and for ever.” Worship begins when we acknowledge the authority of God. We acknowledge His sovereignty. He sits on the throne.
Worshiping God, the Eternal One
Secondly, we acknowledge His eternity as the One who lives forever and ever. We acknowledge His authority over time and space. Hes the One whose very name means I AM THE GREAT I AM. We worship the One for whom a thousand years is just as a day, the One who is not bound by watches and calendars. God is eternal in His very essence. God does not exist in time; time exists in God. God does not exist in space; space exists in God. God is eternal; it is His very essence. Therefore everything that God does has eternal consequences.
Our people need to understand this, and we as Gods children, birthed into the family of God need to understand that we are eternal beings; therefore, whatever we do has eternal consequences. I believe a lot of folk would live differently if they realized that what they do as eternal beings has eternal consequences. God created man for a love relationship. It was not a short-term experiment. It was for eternity. Romans 1:20 says that since the creation of the world, Gods invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Worshiping God as Creator and Redeemer
Also we find here that when we worship we acknowledge Gods activity in creation and redemption. Hes the God who created these marvelous bodies of ours. These bodies that are made up of over ten trillion cells, and each one of these ten trillion cells contains at least one hundred thousand genes that make up our unique genetic code. Every minute three billion of our cells are dying, and three billion new cells are replacing the dead cells. And every single one of those three billion new cells contains a hundred thousand genes.
I dont understand how anybody in research, science, medicine or anybody who understands the universe and understands Gods creation cannot but fall on their faces in worship and say, “O God, how great Thou art!” We as believers have lost the awe and wonder of the God of creation. Our people need to have that restored to them when they come to church.
Gods people are coming to a throne –the One of all authority, the God of eternity, the God of creation, and of course, the God of redemption. There is a Lamb in heaven! When we come to worship, were coming to a Lamb. Right now in heaven is the same Lamb who shed His blood on a cross–making that ultimate, final sacrifice!
The Response Factor in Worship
It is one thing to acknowledge all of this. But worship is incomplete if we only acknowledge who God is. There are a lot of people today in our churches who are acknowledging it. Theyre saying the words. Theyre going through all of the form. They think, “Yes, I believe Hes the Sovereign One. I believe Hes the God of eternity. I believe He created the world. I believe He created me. I believe that the Lamb of God shed His blood for me. I believe all that.”
But worship is incomplete without our responding to the One who sits on the throne. In Revelation 4:10 we find them responding. The first response is the submitting of themselves to the One on the throne. True, authentic worship demands a heart attitude of submission on the part of the worshiper. If we really see God on the throne, how can there be any other response on our part but to submit to the One who is of all authority and sovereignty? But how many of our people when they come to worship have any thought of submitting their will to the One they are singing about and the One they say theyve come to worship? Do you think God hears what were singing to Him, no matter how wonderful it may sound, if we have no plans whatsoever to submit to Him?
In both Revelation four and five, we see them lying flat in humility and adoration. There can be no other appropriate response. I believe, however, that in the American Church today, there may be more strutting than stooping. Where there is strutting, there is no worship. In the strutting God departs and is on the outside of the Church. I say this carefully and I say this as a musician, I believe today in the world of music, outside the church and now even inside the church, often “God is being used to display mans talent rather than mans talent being used to display God.” Nowadays we have our fan clubs. We have our following of popular Christian entertainers. What do you think God thinks?
What many consider to be Gods formula for revival in 2 Chronicles 7:14, begins with, “If my people will humble themselves”…even before prayer…and then “pray,” because God will not hear the prayer of a proud or strutting person. He only hears the prayer of the humble ones. The passage of the publican and the Pharisee is a clear example of the one to whom God is going to respond. The motto of the Welsh Church in 1904-1905 was, “Bend the Church and save the world.” The Welsh Church bent themselves and were bent by God. The whole world knew about it before long. Every revival in history has begun with a humbling and a repenting on the part of Gods children.
But theres something else in this passage; its in the family of submission. I see an abdicating of rights. Around “the throne” are twenty-four seats or in some translations, twenty-four little thrones, and upon these thrones sit twenty-four elders and upon the elders heads are crowns of gold. What does a crown represent? A crown represents authority and rights. What do we find these twenty-four elders doing over and over again? Theyre taking the crowns off their heads and they are placing the crowns at the feet of the One sitting on the throne. They are abdicating their rights to themselves and turning over those rights to another.
We have no rights. I thank God for the inalienable rights that we have as American citizens. But when it comes to the things of the spirit we have surrendered our rights to another. We were bought with a price–the price of the blood of Gods Son. We have surrendered our rights.
This issue of rights is an issue in the Church today, not just out in the world. The whole matter of abortion is over rights, and sadly, its just as great a problem in the American Evangelical Church as it is outside in the world. “I have rights to my body. I can do…” No, you dont. The body of a believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit. As a believer I dont have rights.
At the core of many of our church splits is this matter of rights. “If I dont get my rights then Im going to stay here and cause problems, or Ill start another church of my own.” Think of the breakup of the Christian family today, the tragedy of the high percentage of divorce in the Church today. Fundamentally its over rights. “I have my rights and if I dont get my rights Im going to split.”
Can you believe that in the Church today we have divided the body that Christ has put together? We have divided it over the issue of music. “I have rights to have this music so were going to have a service that has my kind of music. Others can have a service with their kind of music. I as a member of the church have a right to my music.” Can you believe that we have divided the body that Christ has put together, and weve done it over what “we” like and what “our” rights and “our” tastes are?
My rights. Whose rights?
God has bought me outright;I am no longer my own.
My rights. Whose rights?
God has bought me outright that through me His glory might be known.
I belong to God. I am no longer my own.
Worship Climaxes in Service to God
I believe that worship climaxes with the surrender of our bodies, of our lives, in service to the One were worshiping. Do you think God accepts anything we offer to Him without at least the heart bent toward serving Him? Worship does not end in church. We leave to worship Him in service.
In the New Testament its interchangeable–worship and service. Your “reasonable service” (Romans 12:2) is a part of worship; it is serving God. Do you think that we have offered God in our churches that which He has accepted if we leave the church not planning to serve Him all week long?
How many of our people are truly worshipers of God? It is your responsibility as worship leaders to help your people understand what they have come to do. Over the months and years, lead them little by little into becoming participators in worshiping the one true God, and not only in the church service, but also when out in serving. When we get back to worshiping God, well not have to worry about gaining new members and people being saved. I believe that when the members become true worshipers of God, when they leave the building, they will be lighting and salting the world we live in.
I want to close with this little song, making this our final offering, as it were, as we worship today individually and as a corporate body:
This place, O Lord, the altar,
The offering my life.
My body, Lord, I give to You,
A living sacrifice.
Lord, I surrender all my rights,
My will, my talents, too.
Lord, not a thing would I hold back,
I yield my all to You.
This offering of worship, Lord, we make to You, the One who alone is worthy of our worship. Amen.
Source: Ron Owens, Edited from a message delivered at the “Heart-Cry for Revival” Conference near Asheville, North Carolina, May 23-27, 2000 from Sermonindex.net.
About Author: Ron Owens, aka Ronald J. Owens (worship leader, author, poet), was born in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, Canada. His father was a Christian pastor who was active in establishing new churches, and as a result the family lived in several different places in the eastern Canadian provinces, before moving to Switzerland when Ron was in his mid-teens. Returning to North America for college-level studies, he came to the USA, attended a Bible College while also taking private voice lessons at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. It was there he met his wife, Patricia. They both have one son named Jeff. After completing a university degree in Louisiana and doing some graduate studies at the University of Texas, Ron and his wife became a musical team, traveling widely in North America and in many other countries. Mr. Owens books are Return to Worship: A God-Centered Approach (1999), They Could Not Stop the Music (2000), The Milldale Story (2011), Ron Dunn (2013), Call Me Blue, Iris: Trophy of Grace, and Manley Beasley: Man of Faith – Instrument of Revival (2016). Visit for more information about The Owens Ministries.
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Through “letters” addressed to the church and to worship leaders, Return to Worship looks at worship in light of what Scripture says and illustrates. It looks at the fundamentals necessary for the offering to God of that which is acceptable to Him. It gives help for the restoration of authentic worship to those churches that do a lot of celebrating but little true worshiping.
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