The Practice of Biblical Worship: Submission

This lesson reviews the spiritual exercise that prepares the Christian for worship as a lifestyle and not simply a regular activity at an appointed time.
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In the previous lesson I explained that the language of communication with God is the language of praise, mercy, request, confession, supplication, confirmation, remembrance, adoration and new direction.

Remember that if you are not communicating with God using these languages, you are not really worshipping. You may be at a worship event but you are not worshipping.

So we have talked about the essence of worship (communication) and the various languages used to communicate with God, but how do we get "good" at worship?

Returning to my sports analogy, sport is about competition and winning. You get good at your sport by training, practicing and competing often, etc. Your type of training depends on your sport. I saw a program that showed how an Olympic table tennis player trained. Among other things, this world-class ping pong player used a skipping rope to improve his foot speed because there is a lot of lateral movement in this sport.

What then is the practice or training for worship? How do you improve your communication abilities with God? In a word, by practicing the virtue of submission.

This is an easy one to figure out because of the Hebrew and Greek words translated into the English word "worship":

  • Hebrew – SHACHAH: to bow down, to prostrate.
  • Greek – PROSKUNEO: to kiss forward, to do reverence, to bow down before.

These words gave an image of one who was in submission to and reverence of another one, usually God. And so the practice of worship, the spirit of worship, the way one actually approaches God for that communication is in a position of submission.

In answer to the question, "How do we improve our worship services?" one should reply, "Learn and practice greater submission to God."

Of course that is not what men do, is it? No, we try other things.

In order to improve our worship we "codify" our rituals and make these the practice of our worship. In other words we think the value of our worship is tied to the correctness of our rituals rather than the submission of our wills to God. Of course this is a normal "human" phenomena when it comes to worshipping God and also in religion in general.

  • The Muslims do this. They have the 5 pillars of faith which guide their entire religious and worship experience.
    • Pillar 1 – The confession, "There is no god but Allah and Mohamed is his prophet."
    • Pillar 2 – Alms giving, 2½% zakat
    • Pillar 3 – Prayer, five times per day facing Mecca (east)
    • Pillar 4 – Fasting, RAMADAN (holy month)
    • Pillar 5 – Pilgrimage to Mecca
  • The Sikhs have the same formulas for worship and religious life called the 5 Ks:
    • KESH, long hair and beard
    • KANGHA, comb/turban
    • KACHH, shorts
    • KARPA, steel bracelet
    • KIRPAN, sword (small knife)
  • The Orthodox Jews with the YARMUKLE (skull cap), long sideburns (curls), round hats, long black coat and dress.

Every religion tries to codify their rituals or particular dress and focus exclusively on these things to create or even enhance their worship to God.

In some instances we do the same. We think that improving our a cappella singing is the way to improving worship. We spend money to expand our auditoriums, add cry rooms, create power point images, hire more ministers, fire the one we have, add worship teams, start clapping, get women to pray… thinking all of these will improve worship.

We focus on the rituals, the mechanics, rather than the "spirit," thinking that changes on the outside will create changes on the inside. And yet we know, because the Bible teaches us, that change, worship and spiritual things must first take place on the inside before the outside things are affected.

Listen to the words of one who knew how to worship God in spirit and truth:

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
- Psalm 51:12
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
- Psalm 34:18

Does Jesus not say:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Matthew 5:3

And Paul summarizes perfectly the entire issue of the practice of worship when he says,

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
- Romans 12:1 (NLT)

The essence of worship is communication using the language of praise and prayer.

The spiritual exercise, the vehicle that brings our communication before God is our submissive hearts and will.

If worship were like a computer:

  • The rituals, the building, the order of worship, this is the hardware.
  • The language of communication (praise, request, supplication, confession, etc.), this is the software – it brings the computer to life.
  • Submission of one's will to God is the internet connection.

Practical Applications

This example may be easy to understand but not easy to apply because we are sometimes confused about how each part works. Here are some common mistakes:

1. We think it is all about hardware

Maintain the status quo… two songs, one prayer, communion, sermon, invitation song, closing prayer, out the door! All the energy is used to maintain the building and personnel so we can repeat this process once or more a week. We resist any change based on our belief that we have "restored" New Testament Christianity by building this hardware and no change is needed or permitted.

  • Problem: We do not understand what Biblical worship is.
  • Result: Dry, lifeless churches, dwindling in members, poor spiritual lives, small faith.

2. We think it is all about the software

Get rid of bulky hardware, we upgrade to an iPad or iPhone.

  • Let's do house churches, experiment with other ways to feel about God.
  • Encourage spiritual experimentation like speaking in tongues. Hey, women prophesying in tongues, why not? It is all about communication, isn't it?

This extreme forgets that communication (worship) with and before God is regulated by Him in His Word.

  • He gives us the language.
  • He establishes the significance of the rituals and their forms.
  • He provides the guidelines for how and when we worship and for what purpose.

This is where submission comes in.

A. In Romans 12:1, Paul explains that our personal, daily, spiritual worship is expressed mainly in the way we submit our bodies to God in purity, service, and obedience.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
- Romans 12:1 (NLT)

I may not have the opportunity or time to articulate my worship in words to communicate my love, praise, etc. to God. However, the actions of my body as I submit to His will in the way I think and act are a continual act of worship – true spiritual worship to Him. In this way my actions and my words form a unified communication that serve as my complete devotion to the Lord each day. When Jesus said God was looking for those who would worship Him in spirit and truth, this is what He meant.

Submission on a daily basis permits one to be in a worship mode constantly, an idea much superior to the Muslim concept of daily prayer repeated fives times facing east.

B. In I Corinthians 11-15, Paul explains the necessity for submission in corporate worship as well.

We do not have time to examine each subject Paul discusses here, but obviously there were problems in the corporate or public worship assemblies of the Corinthians.

These included:

  • Dress codes – veils for women to wear or not to wear.
  • Proper behavior concerning fellowship meals and the Lord's Supper.
  • The value / practice of spiritual gifts in the assembly.

The thread that runs through all of these chapters is that these Christians were not using the gifts or participating in the rituals according to God's will.

The answer was not, for example, to let women wear what they wanted or ban them from public worship altogether, or to do away with fellowship meals and communion because it caused so much trouble, or to restrict tongue speaking, or limit the service to one prayer and one teaching per week. Let's make our rules!

The answer was to be in submission to God's will for public worship just as one was in submission to His will for personal / private worship.

Paul briefly outlined what this meant for our everyday lives in Romans 12:1-2: (purity, service, devotion). This is the exercise of submission in our personal lives from Monday to Saturday. He does the same for public worship as well.

Because of submission to God's will which is the true practice of worship:

1. The women continued in that day to wear their veils in conformity to cultural norms. And they were silent in church, not leading or teaching in conformity to eternal / spiritual norms. The common denominator was submission to God's will. On one hand they did not contravene a cultural norm (veils) so as to not create a scandal. On the other, they submitted to the eternal and spiritual (not cultural) principle of male spiritual leadership in the home and now in the church.

Two different reasons, one reaction: submission – the true spirit of worship by women at that time.

2. The men also submitted to the "order" or "process" that Paul imposed in order to provide a more uniform assembly. Submission was the antidote to the chaos and competition that was tearing apart the church.

They had great "software" (tongues, prophecy, knowledge, etc.) but were unable to communicate because there was little submission to divine order.

3. Everyone had to submit to one another in Christian love so that their witness to others would be effective. Jesus said, "This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, in the way you love one another." (John 13:35). Note He did not say, "How you love the lost, the poor, the world," but how you love one another.

The chapter on love in I Corinthians 13 is really the nuts and bolts of how we are to submit one to another. Mutual submission is the practice of Christian love. It is the proof that we are disciples and our best witness for Christ. Without this kind of submission there is no worship to God.

And so, in avoiding the extremes (focus on the status quo, maintain the rituals OR dump everything and try to create our own spiritual experience), we need to find the right balance to enhance our communication with God in worship.

That balance is an effort at being in submission to His will in both our personal everyday lives which produces an ongoing spiritual and acceptable worship to God AND our corporate assemblies because God has revealed the behavior, attitude, and practice that He accepts during these times.

In his famous devotional book entitled, "My Utmost for His Highest," Oswald Chambers writes that we as Christians become "broken bread and poured out wine." A wonderful description of the merging of our personal and public worship as those who are in submission to God.

This submission not only elevates our communication to the threshold of heaven, it also brings us to the true blessing of worship – transcendence.

Discussion Questions

  1. List key elements of the language of communication (worshipping) with God and explain how these are essential to successfully communicate with God?
  2. What is the practice or training for worship?
  3. In what ways do we codify (make legal) worship practices to try to improve our worship?
  4. Defend the following statement:
    • "Change, worship, and spiritual things must first take place on the inside before outside things are affected."
  5. What is the relationship between Romans 12:1 and worshipping in Spirit and Truth (John 4:24)?
  6. Discuss the principle behind Paul's instructions concerning worship from I Corinthians 11-15.
  7. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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