What is Worship?

This Sunday begins the season of Lent that lasts 40 days, just like Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days (see Matthew 4). It’s a season of repentance and reconnecting with God.

Watch the entire service here, including special music throughout the service by Woven, the women’s acapella group from Bethel College:

Read Matthew 4:1-11 and Psalm 32 here.

Worship the Lord your God and serve him only. –Matthew 4:10, Deuteronomy 6:13

What is worship?  First, the obvious answer: It’s this hour we’re in right now, that thing we do at church, right?  Yes. And worship is adoration.  We have a prayer of adoration every Sunday at the beginning of worship. Our bulletin says at the top of the service order that we’re here to worship God.

But there’s so much more to life than just this one hour each week.  There are 168 hours in a week. What happens in the other 167 hours?  …Sleep, yes.  Some of you right now are already doing the math, so I’ll just tell you that if you sleep about 8 hours a night, then 56 hours a week we are sleeping.

111 hoursWho or what are we worshiping the other 111 hours? It’s an important question because worship is dangerous. Our temptation in each of those 111 hours is to give our worship to the people and things in our lives instead of God.

eddie-carolina-stigson-ecIZe6MdUH8-unsplashToday in Matthew we read the classic story of temptation, Jesus in the wilderness.  Today is the first Sunday of the season of Lent, and we’re reading the story of Jesus’ temptation because this is what Lent is patterned after.  Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing to begin his public ministry.  Similarly, we spend 40 days preparing to celebrate Easter.

During the 40 days that Jesus was in the wilderness, the devil tempted Jesus three times, and each time Jesus responds with verses from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.

Jesus is fasting, and the first temptation is to break the fast by turning stones into bread. It’s an invitation to doubt God’s provision. Jesus stands firm and says, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

The second temptation is to for Jesus to test God by throwing himself off a cliff, and Jesus again refutes the temptation with scripture:  “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

In the third temptation, Satan offers Jesus power and control over all the kingdoms of the world, a funny thing to offer someone who is God in the flesh.  Jesus’ response is again a scripture. Deuteronomy 6:13 You must worship the Lord your God and serve him only.

Was the temptation for Jesus to worship Satan?  Yes, and to worship prosperity, security, power and control.

When we look more closely at Jesus’ response, that verse from Deuteronomy, we find that the word “worship” is an interesting conundrum. (Not a snare drum or a bass drum, but a conundrum.)

Here in Matthew 4:10 the verse reads “worship the Lord your God,” but in Deuteronomy 6:13 the verse says “fear the Lord your God.”  Did Jesus misquote?  Or is worship also fear?

In Deuteronomy, the word in Hebrew is yirah, which means both worship and fear.

In the story of Jonah we see the word yirah used both ways in the same scene.  God has told Jonah to go preach to Nineveh, and instead Jonah heads in the opposite direction.  Jonah gets on a ship headed for Spain and suddenly there’s a violent storm.  Everyone is terrified.  Yirah.

Jonah tells them that the storm has happened because God is angry at Jonah.  Jonah tells them to throw him overboard, so they do, and the storm stops.  Then the crew, now dramatically realizing that this is the hand of God, fall to their faces bowing in worship of God. Yirah.[1]

Same word.  Worship the Lord your God.  Fear the Lord your God.  Oddly contrasting and yet intertwined.

Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Fear of God is a beginning.  Fear at least acknowledges that God exists and that God has the power to affect our lives.

It’s a beginning that grows into more of a relationship with God as we spend time talking to and listening to God.  As we read from the Old Testament on into the New Testament and learn more and more about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and all the things they’ve done for us, and are doing, and promise to keep on doing, fear becomes respect, which becomes adoration and love.

The word in Greek that Jesus uses for worship when he quotes Deuteronomy is a word that means to bow down before someone, to worship and to serve the object of our worship.  The more we listen to and serve Jesus, the more our worship grows.

Like Dobby the house elf in the Harry Potter series.  Dobby is a great example of fear growing into worship.

Dobby1House elves are like slaves in the wizarding world. Dobby is skittish and nervous because house elves are often mistreated and punished if they don’t please their masters, so Dobby is afraid of people.  But Hermione helps Harry see house elves as more than slaves and so Harry treats Dobby like a friend.  Not surprisingly, Dobby becomes less afraid, and becomes devoted to serving Harry.

One day Harry frees Dobby by tricking Dobby’s owner, Draco Malfoy, into giving him a sock, because in the world of Harry Potter giving a house elf an article of clothing frees them.  No longer bound as a servant, Dobby keeps helping Harry because Dobby has grown to love Harry.

Worship is love.

And worship is trust.  Proverbs 3:5 tells us to trust in the Lord with all our hearts.  God knows that we are easily tempted to follow our hearts instead of Jesus.

Who or what do we desire so much that we would give anything to have it?  What is your heart set on?  We often ask the one we should worship for the things we do worship.  What is your heart’s desire?

Is it a thing or a person? Is it fame or power?  Is it wisdom or strength? Is it health or control? Is it riches or talent?

For a young man name Eugene, it is fame and talent.  He’s the fictional hero of a somewhat obscure movie that came out in 1986 called Crossroads.[2]  (Not the Brittany Spears movie from 2002!)

crossroads-1986In the movie, Ralph Macchio plays Eugene, a student at Julliard School of Music. He’s studying classical guitar, but what Eugene really wants is to play the blues.  He becomes fascinated with the early blues legend Robert Johnson and discovers that part of the legend is that Robert wrote a song that’s been lost to the ages that tells how Johnson got famous by selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads.

If you’re a student of classic literature or popular fiction or theater, you probably already recognize this plot that’s been used over and over again, but in this movie they tell the story with a whole bunch of awesome blues music.  The score is by the famous bluesman Ry Cooder, and most of the guitar work is played by another blues legend Steve Vai.  If you love the blues, you might want to watch this movie.

Crossroads 3You’ve probably already guessed that Eugene goes on a quest to find that lost song.  But really what he’s after is to become a successful blues guitarist.  And his quest brings him to a crossroads in the middle of nowhere in Mississippi where Eugene sells his soul to the devil in exchange for what his heart most desires.

1_NygK8IMEdbsRiSWDcR7MwgThat crossroads in Mississippi looks a lot like a crossroads in the middle of nowhere Kansas.  You don’t have to go very far away from here to find one.  And if you want something bad enough to sell your soul to the devil, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d be willing to meet you at whatever crossroads you choose.

It’s easy to get there because worship is temptation.  We love to love.  And God gave us hearts and minds that get passionate about all kinds of things, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The temptation is to let those things be the main thing, or to seek to find answers and success in other ways instead than seeking and trusting God.  In his Confessions (1.1), Augustine famously says, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in You.”[3]  Our hearts long for us to worship God and God alone.

In the movie Crossroads, Eugene does sell his soul to the devil, and it may be that we have faced the temptation to do the same, and set our hearts on the wrong things, or the wrong people.  The Bible tells us that we will face temptation, but no temptation is more powerful than God’s ability to show us a way out. In 1 Corinthians 10:13 God promises to show us the way out: “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Our psalm for today shows us the way out.

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you  and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
    And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. -Psalm 32:5

Jesus came to show us the way out.  Turning to Jesus, confessing our fears and failures, and putting all our trust in God.

Unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord. Psalm 32:10

At the beginning of this message, I said there are 111 hours in every week.  It’s a great number to remind us that in every hour, God is our number one. Jesus his son is our number one. The Holy Spirit is our number one.

111 God Jesus SpiritLent is a great time to think about who or what we worship.  Who or what are our hearts set upon?  At least once a day, we need to remind our hearts to worship God.

Our temptation is to set our hearts on the things God created instead of on God. Or to put our trust in people or things instead of God.  That’s why Jesus told us to “Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

What if once in each of those 111 hours we made a point of simply saying, “Thank you, God,” for whatever is happening in that hour?  Or even just say, “I love you, Lord.”

Praising God refocuses our hearts on God and reminds us to love and to trust God alone.

That is worship.


Memory verse: For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory. -Psalm 32:7


[1] VanGemeren, New International Dictionary of the Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, p.528.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossroads_(1986_film)

[3] Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine–Coffin (London: Penguin, 1961), 21. As quoted by Timothy A. Beach-Verney in Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson. Feasting on the Gospels–Matthew, Volume 1: A Feasting on the Word Commentary. Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

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