That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life...
Philippians 2:15-16a

Monday, August 22, 2011

Worship ~ Significance of Action (Pt. 3)

As I've mentioned before in these posts, I've recently been reading and studying verses in the Bible about worship.  The Scripture mentions the word worship, worshipped, and/or worshipping in 188 verses.  These articles are not meant to be an exhaustive study on worship, but instead, they are some observations I've made.  I'm learning a lot about what God's Word has to say about worship.  A lot of it is things I've known, but God is just renewing and deepening my understanding.  I hope by writing down my thoughts, others will be encouraged.

One thing that's really stood out to me when reading these verses about worship is what the people were doing while they were worshipping.   Worship is something that encompasses our entire being.  It involves our mind, emotions, spirit, and even our actions.  Action is significant, because it shows what's in our heart, and how many times have we heard that worship should come from our hearts.  Much modern Christian worship is characterized by bodily actions such as raising hands, lifting heads, closing eyes, and swaying.  There's some extreme groups who call themselves Christians who even convulse, laugh hysterically, and roll around on the floor all in the name of worship.   A quick google search of worship images will reveal a majority of this type of picture.  

There's nothing inherently wrong with raising one's hands or looking up while worshipping. However,  I found that more frequently in Scripture something completely opposite was happening. Not every verse that mentions worship says what the people were doing, but some do.  Out of the 188 verses, 37 of them describe worship as bowing the head, falling down, kneeling, and/or falling down on one's face.  I've selected a few verses to illustrate this.  One from the end of the Bible, one from the beginning, and one from the middle, just to show that God's Word is consistent throughout.

Revelation 22:8 And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things.

Genesis 24:26 And the man bowed down his head, and worshipped the LORD.

Psalm 95:6 O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker.

My question is this.  If most of the actions accompanying worship in the Bible are bowing, kneeling and falling on one's face, why are we constantly portraying worship as the complete opposite today? Again, out of these 188 verses dealing with worship, only twice is worship described as lifting something up.  Count that: 2 times versus 37 times.  Here's the first verse.  Read it carefully.
Nehemiah 8:6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
If you read this verse carefully, you noticed that the lifting up of hands actually DID NOT accompany the worship.  The people lifted up their hands in agreement with what Ezra was saying.  They worshiped by bowing their heads and having their faces towards the ground. 

Second verse. Deuteronomy 4:19 And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.
This verse is also interesting, because it is speaking about false worship.  This whole passage is a command to Israel against falling into the ways of the heathen nations around them and worshipping idols.  Part of that warning is this verse reminding Israel to take caution about looking at the power of the heavenly bodies and forgetting that it's God who created them. 

Think about that verse, and then think about this picture that I found on a Christian graphics website.  What does it look like this person is worshipping?
 Or what about this picture.  What's being worshipped here?  (also from the same website)
This one kind of reminds me of this verse. Ezekiel 8:16 And he brought me into the inner court of the LORD's house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east.

Reading these verses and knowing how many Christians today worship made me ask the question... why?  Why do so many lift their hands, when in the Scriptures they were falling on their faces?  Why do we use a sun and lifted hands in so many pictures showing worship, when Israel was specifically forbidden to look at the sun?  Again, I'm not saying that lifting your hands towards the sky when worshipping God is wrong in and of itself.  I'm just saying, it didn't happen a whole lot in Scripture.  I believe there's significance to the fact that 37 times in the Scripture worship is accompanied by bowing, kneeling, or falling down.  

These actions speak strongly to an attitude of humility and reverence. Think about it. When someone is showing reverence to the Queen of England, they don't run up to her, start jumping, raising their hands, tossing their heads back, swaying back and forth (to loud, heavily syncopated music), and closing their eyes.  They bow and/or kneel.  Sometimes our actions do speak louder than our words.  Does not our Lord and Saviour deserve more respect, reverence, and awe than the Queen of England?  Is God not more important than the most powerful dignitary on earth?  Should not our actions as ambassadors of Christ reflect this truth?   Should not our worship be characterized by these attitudes?  Worship is not about me. Worship is about God.  The Bible says that God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).  It also says that God will lift up those who humble themselves before Him (James 4:10).  How many praise and worship songs speak of us lifting up God?  This is totally backwards and somewhat ridiculous.  God doesn't need us to lift Him up!!  He's already lifted up. He's God!  In the last post we saw that worship is an act of sacrifice and faith.  Here we see that in our physical actions, our worship should be characterized by humility and reverence.  Does that mean that lifting up one's hands is not showing humility?  Not necessarily, but I do think we should think about it.  

The outward action is significant, but it's what's in our heart that is more significant.  If we approach God with and attitude of reverence and humility in our worship, our outward actions will reflect that.  I believe that's what was happening in many of these verses that I read.  Those worshipping God were awed by His greatness and majesty and goodness, and they responded by worshipping Him in reverence and humility accompanied by actions that testified to what was in their hearts.  The attitude and the action are connected.  

By the way, there are times with the Scripture does tell us to lift our hands and our eyes.  Consider these verses.
Psalm 119:48 My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.
Psalm 121:1 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

Some things to think about...

More to follow...

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