Spiritual Disciplines: What is Worship?

The Hebrew word shachah means “to worship, prostrate oneself, bow down”. In 1 Samuel 24:8 shachah is translated “bowed” when describing David’s response to King Saul. In Exodus 34:8 it is translated “worshipped” describing Moses’ reaction to experiencing the Lord’s presence on Mount Sinai. In general, shachah gives the picture of acknowledging and yielding to a higher authority. In the example of 1 Samuel 24:8 David bowed to King Saul not as an act of worship but to simply show respect to God ordained authority. Although this yielding is a necessary component, worship also goes beyond this attitude to a deeper level.

To worship something or someone is to put it first in our lives. It is the thing we ultimately desire. In Exodus 20:3 we are told “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The verse teaches us to put God first and acknowledges that it will be our tendency to elevate other things over God. Something will be valued above all else. When we worship something, we elevate what we worship to a position of primary focus and pursuit. We put ourselves under its authority and power. We yield to its desires, instructions, or urges. Worship is giving it our allegiance and following where it leads. The one thing we should worship is God. Paul describes the Christian life as a “living sacrifice” in Romans 12:1. While Paul does not use the word “worship”, he describes the inner-attitude and focus of a life that is focused on worshiping God. It is a life yielded to God and his instruction for living.

God’s creation is good – corrupted by sin, but good. One of the ways God’s goodness is displayed is through him creating good things and giving man the capacity to enjoy these good things. Scriptures give us freedom to enjoy many things like work, relationships, beauty, creation, and food to name a few. However, worship goes beyond enjoying something, and God alone is to be worshiped. When we value something, we will spend time thinking about and understanding it. We get excited when it comes to mind and are on the constant lookout for the desired object. We experience sadness and hurt when we experience loss or when what we desire doesn’t come through in the way we hoped. You can see how this might be with many different possible objects of worship like: God, sports, sex, money, relationship, appearance, affirmation, food, pleasure, work, and so on. The more time we spend pursuing something, whether mental or behavioral, the more it will begin to take “center stage” in our lives. As it moves to “center stage” its importance is becoming more elevated, and we become more emotionally invested in it. This emotional attachment can happen with anything in life and is not necessarily bad. It is important however, to recognize our human tendency to elevate something as most important either by conscious choice or by the amount of time and resources we put into something. This object, whether good or bad, will become what we worship.

This highlights the importance of deliberately choosing what we will worship and setting aside time to worship. If we don’t consciously choose to worship God, then we will inevitably end up worshiping something or someone else. This is one of the reasons Joshua challenges the people in Joshua 24:15 to “choose you this day whom you will serve”. Joshua knows the people will serve and therefore worship something. He is exhorting them to make a conscious choice about who or what they will serve. Without purposefully choosing our object of worship, we will drift along in life. We will find ourselves pursuing whatever brings pleasure in the moment without even considering its impact. As we walk through life, we are to enjoy the good things we have been given but see them as blessings for our Creator. As we keep this reality in mind, we will be better able to enjoy the created while maintaining the ultimate purpose of worshiping the Creator.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you define worship?
  2. How does worship affect our heart, minds and body?
  3. In what ways can you yield your life to God?
  4. What is the difference between enjoying something and worshiping something?
  5. List some of the people, things, desires that can become idols in your life.
  6. Describe ways we can identify when we are worshiping something other than God.
  7. How is worship both an act of the will and the heart? (Consider: Exodus 34:6-8 and Joshua 24:15)
  8. How would you distinguish moments of worship from a life of worship?
  9. Scriptures to Consider: Deuteronomy 5:4-15, Exodus 20:2-6, Exodus 34:14, 1 Chronicles 16:23-31, Revelation 4:8-11, Philippians 3:3-11

To view the complete PDF, click here.

For Further Information:

Gods at War: Defeating the Idols that Battle for Your Heart amazon.com
Author: Kyle Idelman
This 256-page book helps every believer recognize there are false gods at war within each of us, and they battle for the place of glory and control in our lives.


Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life amazon.com
Author: Donald Whitney
This 352-page book drawn from a rich heritage will guide you through a carefully selected array of disciplines. By illustrating why the disciplines are important, showing how each one will help you grow in godliness, and offering practical suggestions for cultivating them.


Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life: Workbook amazon.com
Author: Donald Whitney
This companion guide to Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life takes you through a carefully selected array of disciplines that will help you grow in godliness. Ideal for personal or small-group use.