I want you to stop and think for a moment about the idea of worship. I want you to imagine that you are observing a congregation full of people who are attending a worship service. Now, as you scan that imaginary room in your mind, I want you to look at each person who is in attendance, and locate the ones you are MOST confident that they are truly engaged in worship. What do they look like? What do they sound like?
- Some of you probably imagined the true worshippers as those singing loudly.
- Some of you probably imagined those really engaged as the ones with their hands lifted high.
- Others of you probably imagined those fully enthralled as those on their knees, humble before the King.
- Others may even imagine the real worshippers as those sitting silent in prayer, confessing sin or meditating on a lyric or Scripture passage.
The truth is, that even though we all have images in our head of what it looks like to “really worship,” outside appearances can be deceiving. It is totally possibly to “look the part” on the outside, but actually be self-focused, not God focused on the inside. That is why God looks not at outward appearance alone, but at the heart. It is totally possible to be deep in worship in any one of the postures or volumes listed above. After all, it is what is going on inside us that best expresses our heart of worship.
In the first chapter of Luke, there is a passage that clearly depicts a person who is deeply engaged in worship. It is a song that was spoken by Mary to her cousin Elizabeth in response to all that God was doing in her life. This song has been termed the “Magnificat” because of the Latin render of the first word in the song and is recorded in Luke 1:46-55. Look below at a response of pure worship:
“And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name.
And His mercy is for those who fear Him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
in remembrance of His mercy,
as He spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
This song includes within it a great example of worship:
- Mary begins by orienting her worship from the inside out. It is “her soul” that “magnifies the Lord.” I am certain that her body was in a posture of worship as well, and emotion filled her voice . . . but those were products of a heart that was intent on focusing on God and not herself. We begin worship when we lift God high, from the inside out.
- Mary also begins her worship by marveling at, and praising God for saving her life, and for involving her in His plans. She does not come to God with a haughty attitude, but stands back in awe at the notion that the God of the universe loves her that much. Early in a time of worship, we should reflect on this amazing fact as well . . . God has taken notice of us and uses us in His plans on the earth. May we never grow tired of hearing this wonderful truth!
- Mary continues by declaring that God has been at work to provide relief for His people, fulfilling promises from ages ago. Mary worshipped God who was making good on promises that were nearly 2,000 years old at the time she first sung . . . harkening all the way back to God’s promises to Abraham. When we worship, we can pray to God and trust Him to make good on all His ancient promises to His people as well that we still reap benefits from today. Promises to be with us no matter what. Promises to forgive us our sins based on what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. Promises to one day come back to this earth and judge evil and re-establish paradise in a new heaven and new earth. We can worship God and praise Him based on the promises He has made to us through His Word.
- Mary’s song may appear spontaneous, but it is really populated with at least a dozen Old Testament references. Mary’s previous study of God’s Word provided the very vocabulary for her worship. We too study God’s Word to learn the language of God, and even more reasons for us to praise Him. Far more than an academic exercise, study of the Bible is a primer for worship.
Mary’s song is an often read passage at Christmas time for good reason. It is a wonderful, faithful response of worship from the heart of a person fully following God’s plan for her life. May God’s preservation of this song help each of us see an example of what it looks like to worship at Christmas time and throughout the year.