Low lights, repetitive words, and raised hands. These are often the images that come to mind when we hear the word “worship”, at least in this country. Interestingly, almost all forms of corporate worship around the globe consist of music in some way. Music is a universal language that we all speak. It speaks to us in ways mere words can’t quite reach."Music is a universal language that we all speak. It speaks to us in ways mere words can't quite reach." -Christina Boatright #collegiatedisciplemaker Six Truths to Teach Your Students about True Worship Click To Tweet
That positive relationship with worship music changed for me about six years ago when I experienced my first of many traumatic events. Listening to worship music elicited no response from me. I was numb because feelings—of any sort—were too overwhelming for my brain to process. I shut down, and I began to deeply struggle with the meaning of worship. I realized that I had mistakenly equated worship with an emotional response to God. I don’t think I’m alone in that false equivalence. The problem with viewing worship that way is that it becomes almost like a drug seeking our next spiritual high. When that emotional response is gone, we are left with nothing, and we don’t know how to worship. When all that I thought was worship was shed from my heart, I began to grasp what true worship is and what it is not.
As disciplers of college students, we have the opportunity to teach our students the true meaning of worship. Many of them probably falsely equate worship with music, worship with a specific time in a service, worship with happy feelings, or worship with emotion. Many of them may not have thought deeply about what worship means and how to worship well. If we’re going to disciple them toward a right view of worship, we have to understand it ourselves.
With that in mind, here are six things I’ve learned about worship. I challenge you to intentionally strive to instill these in your students.
True Worship is Not About You
Worship is not about you in any way. Worship is about the living God and His worthiness to be praised, to be lifted high. True worship requires humility of heart, differentiating between your place and His. Think of the story in Luke 18:10-14 where two men went to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee who thanked God he wasn’t like all those sinners. He prayed a “look at all I do for you” prayer. The other was a tax collector. He wasn’t even able to lift his eyes up to Heaven; he merely pleaded, “God have mercy on me, a sinner”. Jesus tells us that the tax collector walked away justified before God for his humble cry, while the Pharisee did not. Why? The tax collector had a right understanding of who God is and his need for God. The Pharisee did not. True worship is about exalting God, not yourself.
True Worship is Simple
You don’t need music, low lights, or fancy words to worship the living God. Sure, all those things are wonderful, but they aren’t necessary. All God wants to see is our heart, humbly knelt before Him, wanting more of Him and less of ourselves. You don’t need lights, smoke, and poetry to do that. You just need Jesus. True worship can be quite simple.
True Worship Isn’t a Feeling
Worship does not need to elicit an emotional response from you to be considered worship. You don’t need to feel something to be worshiping God. Can worship bring beautiful feelings with it? Absolutely! Can worship flow out of feelings? Sometimes! But even when you don’t “feel” God, He is still worthy of being praised. Stop chasing the feelings and start seeking out and uplifting the Lord. True worship isn’t based on your shifting feelings but on the unchanging truths of who God is.
True Worship Isn’t Always Happy
Worship does not have to be happy all the time. You can worship when you are angry, sad, heartbroken, in love, happy, and in pain. The truth is worship never depends on how we feel but solely on the majesty of God in the face of our humanity. Being human involves a wide range of feelings and experiences, many of which are not “positive”. When we learn to draw near to God and praise Him for who He is even in the midst of tough experiences and feelings, we actually find deeper worship. True worship involves the full range of human emotion and experience.
True Worship isn’t Time or Space Bound
You don’t have to be in a church or a conference to worship Jesus. Worship can take place anywhere, at any time, in the heart of man to the heart of God. True worship isn’t restricted to certain times or places.
True Worship Includes Corporate Worship
Corporate worship is necessary because it brings clarity of purpose for the whole body of believers. Worship knits us together as a family and reveals the heart. The New Testament authors assume that corporate worship will be a normative rhythm for the church. True worship isn’t limited to corporate worship, but it includes it.
Worshiping in Spirit and Truth
Jesus said in John 4:23-24:
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in Spirit and in truth.”
This is Jesus’ response to the Samaritan woman when she asked about the right place to worship. Jesus is saying to her that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you worship. It matters who you worship and why you worship Him. Through Jesus’s work on the Cross and the resulting indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are always with the Lord in Spirit, and we can worship Him all the time. He is the truth worthy of our worship, whether we feel like it or not, in good times and in bad, with others or by ourselves.
As you get ready to begin the semester, consider how you can model true worship for your students. Think about how you use the word “worship” and what you are teaching them about what worship is and isn’t. Above all else, seek Jesus. Stand in awe of His glory. Worship without hindrance, because He is worthy.