The highest human act is worship. It would be difficult to name something more important. A German hymn writer put it thus: “My first feeling (or impulse) is praise and thanks.” The last thought before falling asleep at night could be the same. Indeed it would seem right that our last breath could also be worship.
But what is it? Worship is giving our full attention to being present to the Highest. It is a focusing of what we are, or the energy of life, on the contemplation and adoration of God. Thus it is a free act of the will. . .
To review a point: one of the basic meanings of being made “in the image of God” is the ability we have been given to respond to God, and to do so of our own free will. Worship is humankind’s free response of praise to God’s freely given love.
In terms of the Divine Order, worship is the recognition by humankind that God indeed is primary – that is, of first importance. It is an affirmation of position . . . It is a facing of the sin of pride, which is as old as Adam and Eve; who wanted to be like God. It is a joyful or ready acceptance of our place in the economy of God. It is an act of submission.
There is a certain amount of relief in this; a trust that there is someone wiser in charge of the universe. There is an old story of the minister who was seen walking into the woods on the edge of the town at the same time every day. When a curious citizen asked him about the purpose of this exercise, he replied that he went to watch the train go by and to thank God that there was one thing that ran without him.
It follows that praise is a key part of worship.
The saying: “imitation is the highest form of flattery” may sound a bit manipulative; but there is a strong strain of truth in it. Imitating the Lord is a form of praise.
Worship in the form of praise is the enthronement of God. Psalm 22:3 “Yet thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.” A kind of democracy idea here – or, can be read into this text: praise is a vote for our God; and note that it is the praise of a people, not just an individual. Picture it – God’s throne is built out of praise . . . the praise of the many.
For many of us in the Anabaptist tradition praise is most comfortably expressed in music; in congregational singing. In other traditions and cultures, other forms of praise are practiced: lifting hands, dancing, shouting hallelujah, etc. It is what is happening in the heart that matters.
Praise is only the beginning of worship, but it keeps us facing in the right direction.