“Worship is when we sing songs to God.” That would be an answer typically heard today. Worship is often thought of as the music part of the Sunday morning service. We have our worship time (meaning the songs) and then we get on with the rest of the morning service. But music is just a part of worship.
So just what is worship? Is it praying to God? Reading God’s Word? Serving God’s people? Yes, and more! Worship is an attitude of submission to God as our Lord. The Old Testament word most often used for worship is hishtavah, meaning to “bow down” reverently before God. When scholars translated the Old Testament into Greek so that the people in the Greco-Roman empire could read it, they used the Greek word proskeneo. We get our English word “prostrate” from that word. That word is found 26 times in the Gospels and 21 times in the book of the Revelation. In each case, it refers to bowing before the Lord.
But is our physical posture what is being referred to here? Certainly, most of the time, the bodily posture of bending down on knee or falling flat on our faces represents an attitude of honor or service to the object of our worship.
But consider the recent very public protests against policies of our country by certain professional athletes. At the singing of the national anthem in many NFL games, these athletes will “take a knee” as their expression of protest. In this case, the posture represents just the opposite of worship!
What does this suggest to us? Our external posture is not as important as our heart “posture.” Jesus called out the religious leaders, whose external posture may have been “correct,” but their heart “posture” belied an attitude of pride and hostility to Jesus. Jesus quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are mere human rules.” (Matthew 15:8-9)
Jesus taught about true worship in a conversation with the woman at the well: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24). Worship is not a place. It is not an external posture. It is an internal, Spirit-empowered, bowing before the One who deserves our worship!
Let us worship, in the Spirit and in truth!
Ron Olson serves as pastor of Bowman United Methodist Church.