Our family recently rewatched The Princess Bride. It’s one of our favorite movies and an all-time classic. One reason is because it’s so quotable.
In the film, the Sicilian mastermind Vizzini leads a trio of criminals who kidnap the princess. Famous for his intelligence, Vizzini sets trap after deadly trap for the hero Wesley as he tries to rescue the princess. Each time Wesley overcomes these traps, Vizzini exclaims, “Inconceivable!” Eventually, one of his fellow criminals tells him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
As Christians, we can sometimes be like Vizzini. Our faith has a rich vocabulary. We can be familiar with the words, use them often, and yet not truly understand them.
One example of this is the word worship. Because it’s so familiar, it’s easy to assume we are doing it right. Because we don’t truly understand it, we often end up doing it wrong.
Getting Worship Right
This isn’t a new problem. From the beginning humans have struggled to get worship right. And the stakes are high. Getting worship wrong can have deadly consequences.
The story of Cain and Abel is about worship and its impact on our relationships. When we fail to worship God the way he requires it not only separates us from him, it often ruins our relationship with those around us. It’s a sad lesson we learn from the two brothers.
Right worship is important to God. Jesus tells us the Father is looking for people who will worship him the way he wants: “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.”1
On the other hand, Jesus warns we can worship God in a way that is empty and useless: “They honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”2
Worship is important to God and it impacts our lives and relationships. That’s why it’s important we get it right.
Principles of Worship
So what does it mean to worship God? Here’s a simple definition: We worship God when we live with him at the center of our attention, our affections, and our actions.
The order is important. Worship begins when we give God our attention. This is why the Bible so often calls us to remember who God is and what he has already done. Remembering and recounting God’s past goodness is an attention-focusing exercise.3
When we give God our attention it shifts our affections. What’s on the inside matters to God: “Man looks on the outward appearance but the LORD looks on the heart.”4 Our hearts are like mirrors; they reflect the things we expose them to. When we fix our attention on the Lord, our affections begin to change and our values start to align with his.
However, true worship goes beyond our attention and affections. Remember, worship is living with God at the center of our lives. If our daily actions don’t reflect this reality, we are falling short of worshipping in spirit and truth.
Worship is something we must choose. When we choose to give God our attention, he changes our affections, and that motivates us to action. We become true worshippers, the kind of people the Father is looking for.
Practices of Worship
Principles are good but what about practices? How do we worship God?
As explained above, worship starts by giving God our attention. Here are some ways to reset your focus on him.
Morning devotions. “In the morning, O LORD, you will hear my voice; in the morning I will order my prayer to you and eagerly watch.”5
One of the best ways to give God our attention is to start each day with Bible reading and prayer. Ordering your morning routine in this way is one of the simplest and most powerful forms of worship.
Fasting. Much of life is spent chasing earthly things. The Bible warns us against living for the desires of the flesh—things like food, sex, and entertainment.6 The desires of the flesh are not wrong; they are simply limited to this temporal, earthly life.
When we abstain from a desire of the flesh for a period of time, it enables us to use the space created to focus on God instead. This is a simple way to elevate our frame of view from the earthly to the heavenly.
Gathering. It’s easy to lose our focus when we’re isolated. That’s why the Bible tells us to gather regularly with other believers for the express purpose of exhorting and encouraging one another to fix our attention on Jesus.7 This fits with the most basic understanding of what church is—a family of believers seeking to follow Jesus together.
Giving thanks. When we gather with other believers, a simple practice for giving God our attention is to thank him publicly for where we’ve seen his faithfulness.
“I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.”8
These practices help us set our attention on God. As we do them, we can trust him to change our affections. “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”9
When your attention and affections are set on God, you will soon discover actions he wants you to take. These actions are the outworking of your devotion. While I can’t tell you exactly what those actions will be, here are some things to keep in mind.
Worship is more about our lifestyle than our dedication to religious ritual. What you do in everyday places is more important than what you do in religious spaces.10
Worship is usually costly. Our modern ideal revolves around what we get from worship rather than what we give to it. We should remember the words of King David: “I will not offer sacrifices to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.”11
Designed to Worship
Humans used to think the earth was the center of the universe and that everything revolved around us. It can appear that way from our terrestrial point of view. If you watch the sun by day and the stars at night, they seem to be revolving around us. Eventually, we realized the truth about our place in the galaxy: the sun is at the center and we are the ones orbiting.
The earth was made to orbit and we who are made of earth are designed to worship. The earth can never be the center, even if it wants to be. We will all revolve around something in life.
We are all worshippers. What will hold our attention, claim our affections, and drive our actions? What—or who—will we worship?
God is looking for people who get worship right. You can be one of those people. I hope the principles and practices in this article can help you become someone who worships God in spirit and in truth.
- John 4.23
- Matthew 15.8-9
- The connection between attention and worship could also help explain why God established a weekly cycle where we pause and give him our full attention every seventh day. Think of the Sabbath as an “attention tether”.
- 1 Samuel 16.7
- Psalm 5.3
- See Romans 8.5-8
- See Hebrews 10.24-25
- Psalm 40.9-10
- Ezekiel 36.26
- See Micah 6.6-8; 1 Samuel 15.22; Proverbs 21.3
- 2 Samuel 24.21-25