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What does it mean… worship?


“Worship” is one of those words we use, and think we know… but it is also one of those I find really hard to translate into French. And that’s because there’s no equivalent: the French would tend to use “adoration”. So I have found myself in the situation where I have to explain what “worship” is. And I struggled. So I asked my friends on twitter and face-to-face, but their answers generally didn’t tell me much about the essence of worship. That should have told me I was looking in the wrong place, but I think I got there eventually.

Photo credit: Mauro Cateb, under CC license.

So here’s a few thoughts I picked up along the way:

  • The Greek word used for “worship” in most instances in the New Testament is proskuneo. The translation is a bit contentious: one I’ve read is “to lean forward to kiss”, which conjures up, in today’s society, images of two close friends greeting each other. Other translation guides seem to point towards lying down, prostrate, to kiss the feet of a sovereign; and towards the evolution of the word to mean simple submission.
    Regardless of the actual meaning, though, there are  two important elements:
    Pro at the root of proskuneo implies a movement and a direction.
    There is a definite closeness involved in kissing. That should also be the case in worship.
  • The Latin used in some hymns is colo, from which we get the word colony. The first meaning is to cultivate a land, but ultimately, it means properly inhabiting a place. Indwelling brings the idea of closeness to a new level which encompasses our entire being.
Most importantly, though, worship is relational. It is not something that comes from us – the only thing we bring is an attitude of submission which allows us to respond. Worship is then our response: “a feeling of awe and wonder, your mind gets blown away and worship is the response that you can’t control”. That was the first answer I got when I asked people how they defined worship. I wasn’t satisfied because I wanted to be able to look at worship separately from anything else. But I realised such a task is impossible: worship does not make sense in an empty space; it does not mean anything apart from God. It is, first and foremost a response.

This is where modern languages are less helpful. Worship comes from worth-ship: thus worship is about declaring God’s worth (as compared to other things). Worship taken literally is nothing else than magnifying God. The German word used for worship songs means “praise (and prayer)”. The French, as I mentioned above, is the same as “adoration”. None of these mean anything independently of God, but they can be performed in a vacuum.
And it looks to me as though we have lost something in the process. Worship can sometimes be understood as constricted to worship songs, which in turn can be limited to praise, and literally describing God’s worth. Now it is right to give God thanks and praise, but worship is about so much more than that!

How do you see worship?

And, even though I just said worship isn’t just when we sing, singing can help worshipping, so:
what is your favourite worship song?

Praying with others


There is a large extent to which I used to have issues with praying out loud. To me, prayer was (and still is) between God and me, and there was little point in sharing that moment with others. On the contrary, it seemed to me that, in praying out loud, I was more trying to conform to my small group’s expectations: that I was praying in order to be seen to be praying.

Matthew 6:5-6 is of little comfort there:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (ESV)

And yet we have prayer meetings, pray out loud, whether in church or in small groups. Here’s some reasons why:

1. The prayer flows more naturally, and has a more natural close. Speaking the prayer forces your mind to slow down and be fully concentrated on the prayer.

2. It helps build others up.

3. It brings discipline in your own prayer practice. If only because you arrange to pray with others regularly.

4. It brings accountability to your prayer practice. People remember what you pray for, and will ask you how that went. You will know when to push through with prayer.

5. “Praying for” something or someone is vague. With other people praying with you, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, more aspects will be covered.

These reasons have helped me appreciate corporate prayer and rid me of the feeling that I complied with the practice as a hypocrite. Praying with others for the sake of being seen praying is, obviously, wrong. Praying is not a tickbox on a behavioural list.

But if you are in that place where you are  not sure why you say some of your prayers, push through – it will end up making your prayer life much richer.

6 ways to become bolder in prayer


God longs to be asked for what he wants to give. And God’s riches for us is infinite. Therefore, we should pray with boldness, whether for others or for ourselves.

Image credit: detail from J. Hannan-Briggs, reused under CC license

Praying with boldness is not simply praying for extravagant things.

I could see a dead body and pray that it come back to life. I could equally pray for peace in the Middle East. But unless I have faith, not only that God can do what I ask, but also that he will, then my prayer is that of a hypocrite.

For that reason, bolting onto prayer coping mechanisms for when prayers might not be answered can be a very bad idea. Because if I pray, thinking “if it doesn’t work, then it will all be put to right when the Kingdom comes”, then I am not expecting an answer to my prayer.

For that reason too, I limit the content of my prayer to what I believe God will do, and try to push those boundaries, rather than the boundaries of what I pray for.

So how can we increase real boldness in prayer?

1. Pray with others. Chances are, other people in your group, will have boldness in some areas where you.
2. Wait on the Spirit to inspire your prayers, and trust that he will lead you well in prayer (how to increase your trust in the Spirit is another matter, though!)
3. Hear “success stories” of prayer. This has its converse, obviously, which is to tell people about your success stories. Careful, though, as keeping a prayer diary may soon turn in “checking whether God is answering my prayers” – which is a sneaky way of doubt to be instilled into your own prayer practice.
4. Offer to pray for others when you see something is up with them. I have found it easier to believe God will help others, rather than help “unworthy me” (though there is no truth in that belief, sometimes you can’t help feeling that way!)
5. Be ready for the consequences. Think what will happen when you pray for patience. Or for your heart to be opened up to be able to love more. Just in thinking about what your prayer will do, its reality will hit home and you will be more confident to pray (or realise you didn’t want what you were going to ask for).
6. Pray for more boldness.

Anything to add to the list?


the opening sentence is paraphrasing from Forsyth’s Soul of Prayer, quoted in another very good piece here.
you may also want to read my older post on prayer, which I’ll soon move to this blog along with the comments here.

Praying at all times?

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Image by davedhetre reused under CC license

The story of Jesus calming the storm can be read on many levels: at the most basic, it is a display of Jesus’s authority over the storm. On a different level, we can draw parallels with prayer. Looking closer, we notice that Jesus rebukes his disciples when they wake him.

Puzzlement follows. Why should he rebuke his disciples when all they do is give over the matters to him? When they place their trust in him?

There are two elements:

  1. They turn to Jesus when they are most afraid. Only as a last resort, almost reluctantly.
  2. They actually are afraid. This is where we must keep in mind that it is Jesus who suggested the trip.

Praying at all times is important. It is a privilege, and the way to know the peace that comes from God. This should be done in thanksgiving, and in complete confidence that God will see us through.

But in this story, the disciples had to wake up Jesus, because they feared – feared that the plan he had set would not come through. In doing so, they did not recognise that Jesus had authority over all.

When the going gets tough, we sometimes feel like we must pray – “pray until something happens”. Should we do so, or should we simply trust God has heard our prayers?

Still, there is another lesson to be drawn from this story. Jesus woke up. Even when we wake up God for no serious reason, he calms us and the storm.