What Does The Bible Say About Worship?
Does the Bible tell us much about worship? What is the proper way to worship according to the Bible?
What is Worship?
If you ask someone on the street what worship is they'll probably say something like showing a reverent love and devotion some deity, god, idol, or other sacred object and it might include ceremonies, prayers, or other religious forms that are practiced but what does God call worship? The Bible says godly worship is something altogether different. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word used for worship is "shachah" and means "to bow down" or "prostrate oneself" so worship is not described in the Bible as just praise or raising our hands but bowing down and lying flat (prostrate) on the ground. In the New Testament, it's somewhat different as the Greek word "proskyneō" means "to kiss the hand" or "in token of reverence" so taken together a true worship of God, according to the Bible, means to bow down and to prostrate oneself and show a deep, abiding, holy reverence for God. That is what the Bible calls true worship, but we must do it in spirit too.
Worship in Spirit and in Truth
Paul wrote that believers are "to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1). Jesus had been talking with a Samaritan woman at the well when He told her what God desires in our worship of Him, saying "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24) so worship is only true worship if it is done in truth and in the spirit. Perhaps Jesus was referring to the Holy Spirit because you cannot even know truth without the Advocate or Helper and so there'd be no way to know how to worship God. Paul wrote in Romans 8 that we need the Spirit's help even in praying, as "the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Rom 8:26-27). We need a little help and God's Spirit can help us worship God in the right way and help us use the right words.
What does biblical worship look like? It's very similar in both the Old and the New Testaments. In most cases, those who came before God's presence or had an epiphany (encounter with God), fell down on the ground before Him. When Isaiah "saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple" (Isaiah 6:1) he said "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5) and the Apostle John similarly fell down before the Lord's presence (Rev 1:17), just as we would all do. One great example of biblical worship is where Anna, an eighty-four year old widow who "did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day" (Luke 2:37) worshiped God by fasting and by prayer so that is part of true worship and she was certainly doing it in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). This doesn't mean fasting and prayer are necessary to worship but they can be part of the worship of God. After Jesus' resurrection and His ascension into heaven the disciples "worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God" (Luke 24:52-53) so worship should be a joyful experience. When the Greek's used the word worship (proskyneō), as was used in Luke 24:53, it was generally understood in the area of Judea and Asia-Minor, to mean "to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound" reverence" (Strong's Number G4352). There are literally dozens of accounts in the gospels where people came to Jesus and fell at His feet and also worshiped Him.
There are some people out there who actually worship angels even though it is contrary to biblical doctrine. They might not bow down to them or make a graven image of one but some actually pray to them which is clearly idolatry. Some have an obsession with anything that has to do with angels (magazines, websites, etc.) however anytime someone tried to worship an angel got rebuked. The Apostle John encountered an angel and he "fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God." For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Rev 19:10). Here the angel tells John, as well as all of us, to "Worship God" and to John "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers." Once again, John just doesn't seem to get yet "And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God" (Rev 22:8-9). Twice in less than three chapters the angel tells John to not worship him but "Worship God." John didn't intend to worship angels; it's probable that he was just so overwhelmed by the experience. I can't be too hard on John because I'd probably have done the very same thing.
There is also the danger of worshiping someone or something else besides God as the Bible prophesied that "those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur" (Rev 19:20). Remember how Satan sought worship from Jesus in the temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:7) but Jesus said to Satan (and to us) "It is written, "'You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve'" (Luke 4:8). Worshiping anything or anyone else besides God is idolatry and those who do such things will see a fate so horrible, it can hardly be imagined (Rev 21:8).
One definition of worship is that of "touching one's head to the ground" which I believe is totally appropriate. You can do this by the biblically prescribed prostrate position or lying flat on the ground after bowing down (if possible). Why do we worship? We are commanded to worship but we should feel compelled to do so because our God is worthy of all honor, praise, glory, and worship. In Revelation 22:3, the Apostle John writes that the day is coming when "No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him."
Article by Pastor Jack Wellman