In light of the biblical words used to express the concept of worship, here’s the picture that emerges: (1) The basis for true worship is that God is infinitely superior to us, and we are infinitely inferior to him. He is infinite; we are finite. He is the Creator; we are the created. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the source of all things and the completer of all things; we are utterly dependent on him for every breath we take and every moment we live; He is unimaginably strong; we are weak. He is incalculably rich; we are poor. He is the vine; we are the branches, and without him we can do nothing and we are in fact nothing. The absolute superiority of God, and the absolute inferiority of ourselves in relation to God, is the biblical basis for true worship. This leads to number two.
(2) The essence of true worship is awe and humility. True worship is a holy fear of God that’s born from seeing something of the sheer magnitude of who he is. It’s a sense of astonishment at the beauty of his glory. It’s a sense of being enthralled with him and captivated by him and drawn to him like a moth to a flame. It’s a sense of curiosity and a desire to explore him and come to know the breadth and length and height and depth of him.
True worship is also a bowing of our hearts before the Lord in light of who he is. It’s a willingness to let go of the things of the world and grasp onto the things of God to such an extent that even our speech is marked by the praise of God. It’s a disposition to give thanks to God always and for everything because we know that he is God and we are not. We know that he has absolute control over all circumstances and therefore that he has some intention or purpose in mind for everything we go through. We know that we are nothing before him and that we deserve nothing from him and that every comfort we have in this life is an immense mercy. True worship is submitting ourselves to God in all circumstances of life and obeying him at every turn, and it’s demonstrating that submission by submitting to one another out of reverence for him.
The essence of true worship is awe and humility—awe is most often expressed through singing and otherwise praising God, humility is most often expressed through obedience and submission to God. And so when I think of worship, I like to picture a coin one side of which is called praise—this side represents our sense of awe and wonderment before God. The other side of the coin is called submission—this side represents our sense of humility and bowing before the Lord in the way we live our lives. Praise is the expression of awe, submission is the expression of humility, and taken together these two things represent the essence of true worship.