Jesus says, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24 ESV)
We can worship the Lord with singing and dancing and shouting and clapping of hands and playing of instruments, but these external actions are not the essence of worship, rather they are the expression of worship. External actions are illustrations of an internal reality. Jesus says that, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34 ESV) And the same can be said about worship. It originates in our inner being and overflows into external actions.
So worship really occurs within us. The point I want to really drive home here is not that we must have an external expression, because that would be legalism, and legalism is like a contract which is the opposite of the covenantal relationship we are offered in Christ. However, it is completely natural to respond with a physical or external expressions of worship. So my point is this: knowing that worship is spiritual and unseen frees us to express this internal reality externally.
I have often sat in a church service and thought to myself, “I wish I was as spiritual as that guy, look at how he worships.”, and I feel false condemnation from that, which does not free me to worship, but instead paralyzes me from worshiping. The question I really need to be asking myself in this situation is, “Why am I not seeing Jesus the way that person sees Jesus?”, because truly if we see him as he is, we will worship, because that is the natural response to seeing him. Is there sin or unrepentance in my life keeping me from seeing Jesus? Am I being prideful? Is this a fear of man issue? Am I too focused on something that doesn’t matter right now? Surely the Holy Spirit can help us with this. I find it helpful to close my eyes. You do not need to know the lyrics to the song to worship Him.
Because your external actions are not essentially the worship, you should not feel any pressure to respond externally in a particular way. Let’s look at a practical example. I am not particularly a hand raiser when I worship. My shoulders get tired, the blood in my arms leaves my arms, and I get so distracted by hand raising that I cannot focus on God. In so many church environments this is the only external action we really see other than clapping of hands and singing. So we might feel a pressure to respond it this way. There is nothing wrong with raising of hands, but not everyone is going to respond in worship the same way. It’s called diversity, God made it, and it is a good and beautiful thing.
Also, worship is not primarily about people, it is primarily about God. However, worship is, in a way, for us, and let me explain this secondary purpose before it is misunderstood. We have been created by God to be worshipers of him. So when we worship him we are doing what we were made to do. In worship we feel more fulfillment and satisfaction and joy than any other way. Worship in this sense is not limited to singing, rather worship is extended to any form of obedience to God. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1 ESV)
When we truly worship Him, there is no wanting for other things and there is no place we would rather be. We find healing in worship, we find refuge in worship, we find comfort and rest and peace and so much more in worship. So worship is primarily for God, but we benefit greatly from it. Worshiping God is something we truly need for our spiritual health. We cannot live a healthy life void of worshiping God.
External actions of worship lacking an internal spiritual worship of truth is not worship. Internal spiritual worship lacking an external action of expression is worship. It would make sense for there to be an external response, but there doesn’t have to be one. Focus on God and worshiping him, in spirit and in truth and the external expressions will come later, and do not worry about how long it takes for external expressions to show up, because they are not the point. Enjoying God is the point and enjoying doing what you were created to do is the point and glorifying our God the way he deserves to be glorified is the point.
This is a link to a music video by Phil Wickham that is so relevant to these concepts: