September 21, 2008 by

Re-Thinking Worship (Part 2: The Overflow)


Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought, worship

Have you ever considered how true worship happens?

One of the most significant differences I see between Christ-following and other religions and belief systems of the world is in the area of worship. There’s a picture in Revelation 5 that illustrates this point.

Read it for yourself, but I’ll summarize it here. John sees God the Father on the throne, with a sealed scroll in His hand, and writing on it inside and out, containing seven seals. And an angel cries out, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” When no one was found who could open the scroll, John began to weep greatly. Then one of the elders comforted him and said, “Stop weeping; the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah…has overcome so as to open the scroll and break its seals.” Then John saw the Lamb of God (Christ) who received the scroll. And in response…all of heaven began to worship Him.

Let’s unpack this a little. In our western culture, we would see something sealed as something secret and unknown. But in the culture in which this passage was written, it meant something else. A sealed scroll was a sign of forfeited inheritance. If someone fell on hard times and had to sell their land, this was a forfeiture of inheritance. The terms of sale were written on the inside of the scroll. Then the scroll was sealed. However…especially in the days of ancient Israel, provision was made for the land to be bought back, or redeemed, by the nearest kinsman who was willing to do so. These were the terms of redemption, and they were written on the outside of the scroll.

So when we look at this picture in Revelation again, we see that this scroll was the document of mankind’s fallen position, of our forfeited inheritance. The reason John wept so was that no one was found who could meet the terms of redemption for us…until the Lamb of God appeared. When He took the scroll to break its seals, the natural response was to worship Him and declare His worthiness. Because through His death, He had met the terms of redemption. Because of what He had done.

My point for sharing all this?

In virtually every religion on the planet in which a god is worshiped, that worship is given as an attempt to appease that god’s wrath, or to curry that god’s favor–to provoke that deity to act in a certain manner. (This is also true of the religion we’ve wrongly made of Christianity.)

But in true Christ-following, we do not worship Him to gain His favor or deflect His wrath, or to get Him to do something. We worship Him as a natural response to what He has already done.

And this is how true worship happens. It is not a conjuring up, or working up of emotion. It is an overflow. An overflow of gratitude when we realize what He has done for us–the incredible price He paid to redeem us, and the incredible way He continues to touch our lives. An overflow of awe when we behold His glory and His beauty. An overflow of wonder and adoration when we recognize how indescribably amazing He is. When we begin to get a glimpse of who He is and what He’s done…it’s actually difficult not to worship.

It’s an overflow.

That does not mean that we always have to feel something in order to worship Him. There is never a time when Jesus is NOT worthy of our worship and praise, so there is never an inappropriate moment to offer that to Him. What it does mean is that at the heart of our worship is an understanding that we are responding to Him, that He’s the One Who initiated this–not us.

Putting this truth in the light of re-thinking our worship, two things come to mind…

First–many of us have lost the truth behind this, and have stopped seeing worship as an overflow, and begun to see it as a duty, or worse, as a self-serving thing. We have fallen into the practice of “worshiping” God to curry His favor, or because of what we can get out of it. This can be true of any worship format, be it traditional or contemporary. This makes our worship shallow at best, and false at worst–because worship is not about us. Never was.

Second–if worship is an overflow, and if worship is a lifestyle…then there are other ways for that overflow to be expressed than just in corporate singing. We can overflow in all sorts of ways–in artistic creativity, in our occupations, in caring for the poor, in promoting justice, in taking social responsibility, and in many other ways. Understanding this is going a long way toward reshaping my views of worship.

More on this later…but for now, let me invite you to re-think this along with me. When your heart overflows for God–what does it look like? What does it make you want to do?

How do you express that overflow? (Think outside the box of singing songs, although that’s totally appropriate; but what else do you do? Your own answers might surprise you…)

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

2 Responses to Re-Thinking Worship (Part 2: The Overflow)

  1. Amy

    Wow! Thank you for sharing more historical information about how the sealing of scrolls worked out in terms of forfeitures and sales. Knowing them makes a lot of sense, and just opened the eyes of my heart to understand Christ’s death at a new angle. (I love when this happens! There are just so many angles!)

    “So when we look at this picture in Revelation again, we see that this scroll was the document of mankind’s fallen position, of our forfeited inheritance. The reason John wept so was that no one was found who could meet the terms of redemption for us…until the Lamb of God appeared. When He took the scroll to break its seals, the natural response was to worship Him and declare His worthiness. Because through His death, He had met the terms of redemption. Because of what He had done.” -Jeff

    Very cool, indeed.

    Amen. I think it is very true that other religions “worship” their god’s in order to “appease” them. There’s no relationship in this. Sigh…As well, as you stated, Christianity (within the box of religion/institutional systems) has done the same.

    The good news is that we worship God, the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, because we love him! OUr worship is the result of His love, and our love for Him. It’s a result, not the causing to receive His love.

    Well done for raising the fact that we worship Him not just in times of rejoicing…..but during the times and seasons when we are amidst suffering or struggle. We can still worship Him…which is an outflow (I love that word, too) or expression of our love. In the midst of trying times, we can worship Papa because we know He’s right there with us, walking us through, and may very well be working good through it for us in the spiritual realm.

    In answering your question at the end, I’d say I express my worship to Papa, Son and Spirit as I tell Him how thankful and grateful I am in moments where I realize how much He’s done for me, or when He answers a prayer and I’m receiving the blessings; when I’m taking care of my dog (because God has given him to me as a gift and he is a great joy to me), when I sing songs along with my i-pod to God as I’m going on walks; when I listen to Podcasts of Christ followers and “Amen!” along with what they are saying, and actually engage in conversation with God while I’m listening; as I marvel at nature and my surroundings when I take hikes/walks/runs. There’s more, but those are just a few.

    ~Amy 🙂

  2. Sarah

    Thanks for this post, Jeff. I’ve been meaning to comment, and am finally getting around to it. Here’s some ways I express my worship, and how they are related to aspects of God (since we worship Him for who He is; part of that is emulating His nature):

    Spending time with my family, investing in my relationship with them as God our Father has invested in relationship with us. Also spending quality time with non-Christians is an important part of our worship. It gives us opportunity to imitate Jesus by enjoying the company of sinners, and exposing them to His acceptance (hopefully). The world isn’t a very accepting place, and this is how I worship an accepting God.

    Working toward justice for those who’ve been marginalized or powerless. (This is something both my husband and I have a heart for). Right now, we are in academic prep stages for a career change into the field of humanitarian-oriented work. Maybe not everyone is called to earn their living this way, but I think everyone can seek to work for justice where it is lacking. This is our worship of a God whose justice-answer was to give Himself. (

    And really pragmatically, I worship God by trying to consume responsibly. I’m not perfect at this, but we try to support businesses that are social justice oriented (like Plan Toys – a company that trains its Thai workers in the wooden toymaking trade, and uses rubber trees that are too old to produce latex anymore, and would otherwise be slashed and burned). For me, this isn’t some kind of political statement, but a Christian lifestyle that seeks to uplift others and steward resources wisely. I believe this reflects God’s heart to uplift the poor, and create an inheritance (both socially, economically, and environmentally) for the next generation.

    So those are a few of the ways. I can relate to what you were saying about worship being profound gratefulness. There are moments when God reveals some aspect of His nature to me – and it’s beyond articulation – it’s just this deep sense of awe in my heart at how wonderful, and kind He really is. 🙂

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