It is easy to spot wrong kinds of worship. But what are the expressions of acceptable worship? Here are six features.
First, our worship should be comprehensive. This is what Paul teaches in Romans 12:1-2: ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ We cannot keep a moment of time or a single activity for ourselves. This has to be our attitude, one of total devotion and commitment to the Lord who has done so much for us.
Secondly, our worship is an expression of confidence in God. This is how Paul describes worship in Philippians 3:3: ‘For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.’ He mentions three details of our worship: it is Spirit-led, it is Christ-centred, and it is a rejection of human abilities. This is the wonder of Christian worship: God is not only the object of worship, he is also the enabler of worship. By the Holy Spirit cleansing our hearts by confession of sin, applying the promises of the Word, and instructing us in the great doctrines of the faith, we are enabled to boast in Jesus Christ and all that he has done, is doing, and will do for us.
Thirdly, our worship is celestial. The writer to the Hebrews describes it in this way: ‘But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel’ (Heb. 12:22-24). People talk about worship gatherings. No visible gathering on earth can compare with this assembly. Yet it is our privilege to join it each time we meet together for worship. Of course, this great reality is far beyond our ability to understand. But the weakness of our minds should not diminish the rejoicing of our hearts.
Fourthly, our worship should be costly. We recall the incident when Jesus was watching people putting their offerings into the treasury. Rich persons made a great display of giving according to their ability. Then a poor widow came along and threw in a couple of coins, not worth very much. Yet the assessment of Jesus was that she had put in the most because she had put in all that she had. He told his disciples: ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on’ (Mark 12:43-44). It is a rather frightening thought that Jesus watches us as we give and assesses what we give.
Fifthly, worship of God has a corporate emphasis. Obviously, there is an aspect of worship that is private, another aspect that is connected to our homes, and other aspects that are displayed in other areas of life. Yet these other expressions of worship cannot excuse us from not meeting with other believers to worship God. It is not an expression of Christian liberty for a person to go for a walk because they can sense God in the countryside rather than go to church and worship with his people. The word that describes that choice is disobedience.
Sixthly, our worship should be consistent. By this, I mean that we should always be worshipping. Everything that we do is covered by Hebrews 12:28-29: ‘Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.’ This attitude will keep us from becoming like the people in Israel in Malachi’s day. As Jesus assured us, ‘But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you’ (Matt. 6:33).