Here’s the question I’ve wondered about: in heaven, would I feel any of the restrained feelings I have here about expressing worship? Even when some of us say that worship is not our primary pathway to connecting with God, I wonder: is that an option? And if I make the case that a particular style of worship (pop band, four chord songs, repeating lyric lines, etc.) is not the particular method that floats my boat, then what is it that would make me throw my hands up, sing at the top of my lungs, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” and then fall on my face? Apparently that’s what’s happening there according to John the Revelator. And is it really that I struggle with what my pre-Christian neighbor would think if they stumbled into a setting like that with me, or am I afraid to admit my self-consciousness…or even my lack of faith, because Jesus is here now and I rarely do that even at home alone?
The topic of worship forces a lot of dross to the surface. And there just isn’t enough time on the weekends to tackle not only the theology of worship but the internal emotional and spiritual wrestling that takes place.
In Vineyard seminars on this topic, we used to teach that there were three primary words used for describing worth to God: worship, praise and rejoice. As I understand it, each has three to five different expressive Greek or Hebrew words. We can create a continuum, perhaps somewhat arbitrarily, of the full spectrum of expression that God gives us to use.
At one end, the word we translate worship may have more to do with quietness or stillness. There may be bowing involved. The most commonly used Greek word in the New Testament is proskuneo—it literally means to kiss or to come close or come toward and kiss. It’s a submissive expression of intimacy.
Along the arrow we come to the expression praise. In the Old Testament alone, there are at least three different Hebrew words each with different meanings that we simply translate as praise. There is the word halal, the root word of hallelujah. It means to brag, or to boast. Another word is yadah, meaning to worship with your hands extended. The psalmist talks about lifting our hands in His name as an act of worship. As I mentioned this weekend, in the New Testament, Paul said he wanted people everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer. My friend Dan Cox brought a coworker to the Vineyard who asked, “Why do some people raise their hands?” Dan told him they have to go to the bathroom.
Still another Hebrew word translated as praise is zamar. That literally means to strike a stringed instrument with your fingers. If that’s not a case for a Les Paul in church, I don’t know what is. It obviously suggests we’re to have music involved with our worship.
Lastly, we have the expression rejoice. There are lots of Hebrew and Greek words translated as rejoice, but they mostly mean to shout, jump or dance. It means to take full expressive pleasure in God. My oldest daughter was in Rome when Italy won the World Cup: imagine that scene. I saw a game show where a struggling single mom and her six kids won an all-expense paid vacation and a new car. They went crazy and started crying and jumping and screaming and hugging each other. The weekend we announced the total pledged for the Luke 4 Challenge was like that: jumping-and-shouting excitement. Rejoicing is electric, unrestrained joy.
Now if we were honest, we could write on either end of the graphic: “I’m comfortable with this” and “I’m not so sure about this…this borders on weirdness.”
Tell the truth: where are you on that spectrum?
When Jesus quoted Isaiah and said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,” that can go either way. And I get nervous.