While I’m a bit late in joining the discussion, the first question is intriguing and a wonderful starting point: “When you strip everything away and get to the essense, what is worship?”
I’m not sure that I’m qualified to answer this question at all, but I’ll start of with this:
Worship begins when I see where I end and God begins. Worship is the response borne out of the understanding that I have no leverage with God, that he is holy, and that every breath, every motion, every small of creation that I can muster up to express that sentiment was itself a gift of grace from God. And I am awed that the Giver is amazed when the gift is returned in my voice, my words, and my actions. The Giver has made me a giver; and in essence, worship is the act of taking on the image of God as one who gives without fear of unrequited love.
I am most moved when I read some of the responses of those who have no leverage before God and yet are unafraid to bear the consequences.
In Daniel 3, when the Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago are challenged by King Nebuchadnezzar to worship his likeness or be thrown in the fire. The king finishes with a most megalomaniacal question, “If you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
Their response is unbelievable: refuse by saying, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
“Even if he does not”? Wow. That’s worship.
Or check out Job, after the tragedies have beset him, he still has the faith to say, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him”. That’s an attitude of worship.
As I view worship, there is this crazy notion that my trust in God, my hope in God, my love for God is so real and palpable, I don’t even care if God doesn’t acknowledge it, because he’s still worth it. He’s that worth it. In my mind, it’s very similar to the cliffhanging that love is between my wife and me. I had no idea how this was going to turn out, but there was a point in our budding relationship, where I didn’t even care if she loved me back. I loved her so much that it was no longer dependent on her reciprocation of it.
Sound stalker-ish? Maybe. But I had the right heart about it. I didn’t want to possess her or control her. I love her, and in my mind and heart, she didn’t have to love me back, it wouldn’t change the way I feel. That’s when I started to get a glimpse of how God loves us. And that’s where I get the notion that I could love God the same way.
Repentance is worship. A life of repentance is synonymous with a life of worship.
In Judges 10:11-16, there is an interesting story where God plays coy: “You have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!”
The response here again is remarkable about how strong the conviction is to repentance: “‘We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.’ Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD.”
That’s the essence of worship to me: an admission to God that this is where I end and He begins. Even if I can’t earn his favor, he is worthy of worship and I’m learning to live with any consequence to that.