WHEN MY KIDS WERE LITTLE...
...Sometimes their bedrooms got messy, and of course, I told them to go clean their rooms. Later on when I noticed they were playing again, I’d check their rooms to see if they’d done what I asked. Sometimes things that had been in the middle of the floor might have been moved by simply cramming them under a bed or piling them in a closet. Or the chaos on the desktop might have been simply stuffed into the open desk shelves so that the desktop was clear… I think you get the idea, their idea of “clean” didn’t match mine.
Can you relate? Have you ever asked someone to do something, and they “did” what you asked but not really? Have you ever “done” what you were asked but the person who asked you had actually expected more?
I’m reminded of the times in my life where I’ve been asked to do the dishes - maybe it was my parents or even my wife. Sometimes they got upset with me and claimed I didn’t finish the job. That frustrated me because I had done what they asked! At least good enough I thought. Besides, they didn’t say exactly that they meant to take care of the dirty pots on the stovetop too, or washing out the water bottles by hand, or wiping off the countertops, or cleaning out the sink, or sweeping the floor, or reorganizing the cabinets. You get the idea. The fact is, it’s pretty easy to intentionally or unintentionally oversimplify what someone asks of us and to feel like we did what we were asked to do without actually having done it.
It’s easy to oversimplify what God tells us to do too, and to miss out on what’s best for us because of our disobedience.
Worship is one example.
In Matthew 4:10. Jesus says, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” It’s his answer to Satan when Satan is trying to cause him to sin. There can be no doubt that if Jesus believed he was supposed to obey that command we are too. So if we’re supposed to worship, what does it mean to worship?
Normally, when I hear Christians use the word “worship” they mean singing, so does worship actually mean singing? And if we sing every Sunday morning at church, should we be satisfied that we have worshipped?
A quick search in any Bible app will show that worship is mentioned lots of times in the Bible, 254 on biblegateway.com (in the NIV version) for example. And a simple test of substituting “singing” where “worship” is mentioned will reveal that singing is not an adequate synonym for worship. Try for yourself.
SO WHAT IS WORSHIP?
Well, God didn’t tell us the answer in direct words like, “worship means…” So we’ve got to do a little digging.
We could even start with google, “Hey google, what does worship mean?” When I asked, google suggested feelings or expressions of reverence and adoration for a deity. Hmm. Is that what God means by worship? When I tried the substitution test again with “reverence and adoration” in place of worship, it was immediately clear that reverence and adoration seems like a much better definition of worship than just singing.
BUT, we know google is not the Bible. So let’s be careful. I’m no Biblical scholar, but I do know that the Bible wasn’t written in english. So I searched google for, “Hebrew word for worship in the Bible,” and I found that there are several Biblical Hebrew words scholars translated as “worship.” One of the prominent ones was shachah (shaw-khaw') which has to do with bowing down, paying homage, or being prostrate. Hmm. That’s helpful for the Old Testament of the Bible, but what about the New Testament that was written in Greek? So I tried another google search, “Greek word for worship in the Bible.” This time I found proskuneó (pros-koo-neh'-o) which - strangely - seems to be about kissing, kissing the ground apparently at least or maybe someone’s hand.
So both the Hebrew and Greek seem to go well with google’s thought, and from all three together, it seems like worship means to be like a ground kisser at God’s feet because of our reverence and adoration for Him. Another try at the substitution test gives me confidence that we’re headed in a good direction.
BUT, it occurs to me that we haven’t considered what God Himself actually says about worship in the Bible, and we certainly don’t want to leave Him out of our thinking!
So since Jesus is God, and since Jesus does a lot of talking in the New Testament, let’s start there. Returning to biblegateway.com and our keyword search for worship, I set the filter for New Testament references only, and easily found Jesus talking about worship. In fact, the first time Jesus mentions worship is actually in the verse I mentioned a few moments ago, Matthew 4:10, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” Substitution test: “be a reverent and adoring ground kisser before the Lord your God and serve Him only.” Not bad. That fits ok doesn’t it? But let’s not stop there.
There are quotation marks around Jesus’ words, so let’s make sure we know what He’s quoting. Biblegateway.com reveals the source of His quote with a tiny little letter after the verse that I clicked on and learned that Jesus was quoting the Old Testament from Deuteronomy 6:13. It says, “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only.” That’s interesting. Jesus translated “fear” as “worship.” It’s also interesting that our developing definition of worship doesn’t seem too out of place here either, “be a reverent and adoring ground kisser before the Lord your God and serve Him only.”
That said, I think God actually gives us a better description of the kind of ground kisser he wants us to be a little earlier in Deuteronomy 6. In verse 5 He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This verse clarifies that God is concerned with everything on our insides and everything on our outsides. It reveals that ground kissing can be a posture of the body AND a posture of the heart and soul.
SO WHAT DOES WORSHIP MEAN?
I’d say worship means to bow down and kiss the ground before God because I love Him with all my heart, soul, and strength - with both my heart and my body. And when I use our substitution test again, the concepts of that definition fit well wherever worship of God is mentioned.
Do you remember the messy bedroom and the dishes? It’s pretty easy to intentionally or unintentionally oversimplify what someone asks of us. Then it’s pretty easy to feel like we did do what we were asked without actually having done it. That’s true with cleaning a bedroom, or doing the dishes, and it’s true with worship if we suppose worship just means singing.
So what should we do now? We should try to worship God as He says we should because that’s what He wants and that’s the best for us. But how?
One way is to confess that it’s easy and common for me to be a ground kisser before other things with parts of my heart and soul and strength. So if God wants my ALL, a good place to start is to try and identify where my heart and soul and strength is bowed when it’s not bowed before Him. Here are some questions that I’d encourage you to prayerfully consider. They can help you see where parts of your heart, soul, and strength may be bowed that they shouldn’t be.
Who is the focus of your adoration? When you are thankful.
Is it your garden, your grandchildren, what’s in your garage, your game console?
Where do you turn for consolation? When you are hurting.
The refrigerator, the recliner, the resort?
What do you choose for decoration? To make yourself comfortable.
I’m not saying decoration, or consolation, or adoration is bad - not at all. I am saying that it’s possible to be a reverent and adoring ground kisser before other gods that can be easily disguised by good things like family or phone or friends or food.
What is your attitude towards reservation? Of your time or your stuff or your money
Your answers to these questions are clues for you to prayerfully consider that can reveal places and ways where you might not have realized that you have given parts of your heart to other gods.
What kinds of thoughts are your favorites for your meditation? When you’ve got space to think or daydream
What is the source of your motivation? When you’re determined? When you want to give up?
What are the reasons for your celebration? When you’re feeling victorious
Who is the standard for imitation? When you’re aspiring to be better
A wise friend of mine profoundly observed, “If you don’t look, you don’t notice it.” Today, let’s look and let’s worship.
Heavenly Father, please grant us the grace to want to and the grace to have the ability to turn our whole heart and soul and strength away from other gods and bow down before You alone. Please help us to worship You in the way You want and to see and believe doing things Your way is absolutely the best for us. Amen.
HOW TO WORSHIP FROM LAST YEAR'S PRACTICING PRESENCE GUIDE
Visit riversidechurch.org/practicingpresence for a PDF guide on worship and other ways to get closer to God through intentional time.
How to Worship a King
In How To Worship A King, Zach unveils the power and beauty of true worship beyond any known song or melody, and carefully builds understanding and compelling evidence into the intended purpose of worship as a powerful weapon designed by God for the advancement and building of His Kingdom, here on earth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Scott and Erin Ribble moved to Florida from Wisconsin in 2017. Scott works as a missionary with YouthHOPE, a ministry of New International whose headquarters is in Fort Myers. Prior to Florida, Scott had a career in the construction industry and Erin has had an accomplished career in the "Mom" industry. They have 4 kids ranging from a soon to be high schooler to college graduate.