Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.
– Matthew 28:9, NIV
Worship. It’s an interesting concept, seen all throughout the pages of Scripture and Christian literature. In modern language Christians speak of a “worship group”, meaning a church band appointed to lead people to a mental state of adoring God during a time of music. People speak of a “worship time”, meaning an appointed slot within a Christian gathering in which music with Christian lyrics is played and sung in an attempt to glorify God and unite people in looking to Him and seeking Him, adoring Him with their voices or instruments. We know that this isn’t the essence of true worship, but at times can have the potential to lead people to it, or make the space for God to work it in people. We hear Christian speakers or writers talk of worship as a lifestyle, and living to honour and please God in all we do. We see “worship” used as an adjective (worship band, worship time, worship music), a noun (their worship), and a verb (we worship in song, we live to worship). But what does it mean?
Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
– Psalm 100:2, NIV
The Greek word is “proskuneo”. This is defined (by the NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon) like this: To kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence; among the Orientals, esp. the Persians, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence; in the NT by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication; used of homage shown to men and beings of superior rank. Reverence, prostration, respect, homage… It seems to be something to do with honour. Let’s look at what it means from the context of a time of private prayer. Honouring God with a “lifestyle of worship” is what we aim for, what God wants from us, and what worship – at least in my opinion – is supposed to mean. But for now let us think a little about specific times set aside for worshipping God, through which He might teach us more about how to live this worshipful lifestyle that He desires.
Prostration before the King of kings
In Scripture we see people falling before God on sight, or as soon as they recognise His presence. When faced with the immense majesty of God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and earth, perhaps any of us would fall on our faces in adoration. When Jesus was walking on earth, people fell on their knees before Him in worship, too – for example in Mark 5:6. Can you imagine, Jesus is walking along a road and someone falls to their knees with their head on the ground as an expression of worship and adoration? I’m sure in some cultures people still do this as a sign of immense honour and respect. It makes me wonder, what would be the modern-day equivalent in Western society?
Different people express themselves in different ways, but the imagery given by outward action of falling to the knees before someone reflects an inward mentality, a deep awareness of being in the presence of Someone who is so worthy, worthy of so much more than we could possibly ever give, and in whose presence we really couldn’t ever deserve to be. This could be the outcome of an overflow of gratitude, or a reminder of the greatness and immeasurable power possessed by this Being who chooses to dwell with (and in) us, or countless other things. Just the concept of God’s holiness, how pure and clean and uncontaminated and majestic He is, should be enough to bring us to our knees in humility and worship – especially with the realisation that this holy and wonderful Creator God chooses us messed-up humans as His friends, His children.
The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.
– Psalm 95:5-7, NIV
One thing is certain: when people worship, the focus is on God. All attention is given to Him. There is no chance of finding someone in this state of proskuneo while at the same time thinking about tomorrow’s dinner, or the shopping that needs to be done, or the girl down the road. All attention is given to the One being honoured. Andrew Murray said in his book Lord, Teach Me To Pray: “As long as in our worship of God we are chiefly occupied with our own thoughts and exercises, we shall not meet Him who is a Spirit, the Unseen One. But to the man who withdraws himself from all that is of the world and man, and prepares to wait on God alone, the Father will reveal Himself.”
When we choose to come before God and “worship” Him, we must leave behind our own agenda and our situations and our friends and everything else going on in the comparatively trivial existence of our lives, and choose to focus solely on Him, our Beloved, our Creator, our God. He is truly awesome, and worthy of our worship. There is certainly a time for talking with Him about ourselves and our lives and our situations and our thoughts, and this is important, but worship is set apart for total focus on Him – not questioning Him or asking Him for things but simply honouring Him and being in His presence, whatever that could possibly mean. Maybe in that place we are also aware of how small and insignificant and messy and disgraceful we are in comparison to His greatness and beauty and grace. We see in Luke 5:7-9 just one of many examples of people falling before the Lord in awareness of their own sin compared with His awesomeness.
Sacrifice of Praise
Perhaps we find this a difficult concept and even more difficult in practice. How do we come before God in this state of prostrate-ness, to focus on Him and honour Him when we might not feel it, or are not amazed or overwhelmingly thankful or even conscious of His presence or His love? Perhaps the mere idea of worship intimidates us because we may not know how to overcome the distractions of life, or the pain of facing God alone, or the difficulty of setting our minds solely on Him.
From that place, we can choose to offer Him what some refer to as a sacrifice of praise: making the decision to praise Him even when we really do not feel like it, ESPECIALLY when we really do not feel like it. In those times, may we learn to surrender. May we be open to God’s voice, His challenge or inspiration or guidance. May we give God our knees, and ask Him to lead us into a place of true worship. Some people find it helpful to speak out words that have been meaningful to them in their journey with Him, or names of Him that come to mind when they consider His greatness and His goodness. When the mere concept of worshipping God makes us feel angry and sick, may we worship Him anyway, in any way we know how. We may not end up “feeling” anything, or having any sense of wonder or presence or love, or any new revelation – but God sees us, and He receives us and our worship with open arms and abundant love.
Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy. […] Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.
– Psalm 99:5;9, NIV
Even in the sense of God’s absence, in the “dark night of the soul”, where we feel surrounded by emptiness and where everything feels meaningless, when we begin to question everything we had ever held to be true when God felt near, still we can worship God simply by choosing to come before Him again. This decision is tough – we need His Spirit to help us and lead us into a place of worship – so may we surrender and let Him guide us. Let us surrender to God everything within us, all our anxieties and fears and frustrations and despair, and throw ourselves upon Him in surrender and in worship. Madame Guyon in her book A Short And Easy Method Of Prayer talks of waiting in affectionate patience for the return of the Beloved. God has not left us, but in the lack of understanding, in the frustration and the “Why?! How?! Where are You?!” we can still come and put ourselves in a place of prayer, open to Him. This openness and conscious prayer in the darkest of times is absolutely an act of worship – it is choosing His way instead of listening to the fact that everything in our head and our emotions are screaming that it is the last place we want to be.
One important realisation is that we are messed-up humans, and that by our very nature we have no right to come anywhere near God. We have nothing pure to offer Him, and we are a mess. We cannot truly worship God at all, on our own. We need Him. He has chosen us, adopted us, cleansed us, purified us, and made us blameless and worthy before Him…! If this reality does not fill us with an awe of Him that leads to worship, who knows what will. So may we surrender to God our knees, and recognise that we cannot worship Him alone; that we need Him – and He can enable us to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24), as only He knows how. May we give Him our worship and our praise – as a lifestyle, and a mentality, and a form of private prayer. May we surrender, and allow Him to lead us to His feet to adore Him.
Holy and Awesome God,
I choose to come before You now to worship You.
It seems impossible on my own – so I give You my knees, my worship, my praise.
Please shape me and teach me.
I want to worship You, really worship You, in a way that pleases You.
Please accept my surrender and help me to truly honour You, in profound reverence.
Help me recognise Your holiness and worship accordingly.
I surrender to You my knees and pray that You’d lead me.
May I live in Your strength, worshiping You in all situations.