In many churches, the phrase "praise and worship" describes a certain style of music. Although worship certainly includes music, it also involves much more. One definition of worship might be "any act of devotion which is offered to God." In His conversation with the Samaritan woman, recorded in John 4, Jesus outlines some of the most important features of true biblical worship.
Not all worship is considered “true” worship. The kind of worshiper God seeks is one who worships “in the Spirit and in truth” (v. 24). Jesus contrasts this with worship that is only external or, as we might say today, worship that is just “going through the motions.” The Jews and the Samaritans disagreed about the location where God should be worshiped. According to Jesus, the Jews were right (v. 22). However, Christ’s coming signaled a change. Instead of worship being centered in Jerusalem and requiring a priest and sacrifices that pointed to a coming savior, true worship would now celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus Himself (Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 26).
True worship reflects God’s nature. Since He is spirit, He is not confined to any particular geographic space. He does not dwell in temples and does not have needs as we do. God does not need our offerings or the affirmation of our praise to be happy. Instead, true worship recognizes our complete dependence upon Him (Acts 17:24–25). We usually think of worship as our gift to God, but, in reality, it is the other way around. When we offer praise and thanksgiving to God, we are the ones who benefit.
God seeks this kind of person to worship Him. Not all worship is acceptable. This was one of the first lessons humanity learned after the fall. God accepted Abel’s offering but rejected Cain’s (Gen. 4:4–5). The fundamental difference between the two offerings was a matter of faith (Heb. 11:4).
In the same way, our worship is acceptable to God when it is offered by faith through Jesus Christ. Those who have placed their faith in Christ offer their lives to God as a “living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). We do not do this to earn a righteous standing before God but as an expression of thanksgiving for His mercy. If you know Jesus as your Savior, your whole life is an exercise in praise and thanksgiving.
To learn more about the true nature of worship, read Tozer on Worship and Entertainment by A. W. Tozer and James L. Snyder (Moody Publishers).