A dictionary definition? Come on, doesn’t that sound a little clinical, a little sterile? There’s got to be something deeper to worship than that–something that captures the reckless abandon and passionate surrender we should sense when we worship God.
There is. Scripture captures the real essence of what the word truly means in Greek. It is proskuneo, which means “to kiss the hand to (toward).”
Still not satisfied? Then let me paint a picture of what this word is trying to convey. We’re all familiar with it. We’ve seen it in many of our movies. It’s the scene where a man stands outside his girlfriend’s window, singing a serenade for the whole world to hear. He doesn’t have the slightest care what others think. He only knows that all the affection bubbling up in his heart can no longer be contained. And as he unashamedly looks for the best expression of what he is feeling, he suddenly begins kissing his hands and throwing them toward the one he loves. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of him, because the one he loves is well worth the display of emotion.
That’s the kind of love and abandon that comes when we worship in the way Jesus described to a woman one day at a well in Samaria. He said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, NKJV).
Can you imagine the impact this thought must have had upon that woman? Having been married and divorced five times, she had given up on real marital love and had settled for a pale imitation. Then this stranger from Galilee shows up, awakening the innate desire within her–which is in every human heart–to worship. Jesus begins to talk to her, but not about a human relationship. Jesus wants to redeem her longing for meaningful relationship as He offers her the way to have an eternal relationship with her Creator.
You’ve got to marvel at the concept of worship when you consider it through the eyes of a non-believer. I have often seen visitors do a double-take as they enter our sanctuary and encounter people with eyes closed, emotionally engaged, singing songs the visitor has never heard on any top 10 list. Yet, as unfamiliar as it may be, there is an intrigue that draws them to wonder and that begs for understanding as it resonates with their own need to worship.
The intrigue and call that underlies the scene in our sanctuary is a reverent love and ardent devotion. The Bible calls that expression worship. Also underlying that scene in the sanctuary is the truth that Jesus was sharing with the woman at the well in Samaria.
Jesus said that worship is not about a place. It’s about a Person. It’s not about the here and now, but about the there and then. Worship supernaturally connects heaven and earth. It is what unites the reality of this existence with our eternal life. Worship is not the song service at church. That time of singing songs is simply a serious, significant revelation of our heart’s attitude toward God.
In order to worship, we must walk daily in the reality of faith–either God is real to us or He is not. That’s why the way we worship will reveal the truth about what we actually believe. If God is not at the forefront of our hearts in everyday life, He certainly won’t take a front seat just because we walk into a church and sing a few songs. We might be able to put on a show for those around us, but we’re not impressing heaven, and we’re not really worshiping God.
But because we were created to worship, we will worship whatever is at the forefront of our lives. We see this drive to worship displayed in many ways. Like the guy who paints his face the colors of his favorite team and then proceeds in a passionate display of adoration to cheer on his team to victory. He wouldn’t miss a single game. He doesn’t care that you or I may think he’s nuts.
We witness the act of worship in the lives of people given fully to their careers. The idea that an 80-hour workweek might take its toll on family, friends and sanity hasn’t even crossed their minds. They climb the ladder of success, determined to attain power and status, ignoring all the signs of relational and physical deterioration. Career is what they live for.
This world worships continually because we were created to do so. We worship what we believe to be worth it–sports, prestige, power, material possessions, relationships, vices, recreation–the list is endless. And all of these things get our passion, our reverent love, our life.
Is what we are worshiping truly worth it?
You might be surprised by God’s take on this subject. The Bible says, “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17, NKJV).
There’s nothing wrong with our enjoying God’s creation. He made it for that specific purpose. The problem comes when we begin to trust in and elevate the creation to the status of the Creator. Instead of believing what they knew was the truth about God, they deliberately chose to believe lies: “So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen” (Romans 1:25, NLT).
When we expend inordinate amounts of time and affection on the things of this life, rather than on the matters of eternity, we have missed the mark. Blaise Pascal said, “Our imagination so powerfully magnifies time, by continued reflection upon it, and so diminishes eternity for want of reflection upon it, that we make nothing of eternity and eternity of nothing.”
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God explains why this is a problem:
“Israel is like a thief who feels shame only when he gets caught. They, their kings, officials, priests, and prophets–all are alike in this. To an image carved from a piece of wood they say, ‘You are my father.’ To an idol chiseled from a block of stone they say, ‘You are my mother.’ They turn their backs on me, but in times of trouble they cry out to me, ‘Come and save us!’ But why not call on these gods you have made? When trouble comes, let them save you if they can! For you have as many gods as there are towns in Judah” (Jeremiah 2:26-28, NLT).
God wants us to consider a simple question: Can these things to which we have devoted ourselves actually save us in times of trouble or give us hope for anything beyond this life? The answer, of course, is no. Only God Almighty, our Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace and Everlasting Father, has the power to redeem.
As incredible as this may sound, God gave us the ultimate example of worship by laying down His life for us. Christ’s death on the cross is the quintessential act of worship–an ardent display of devotion, an expression of love beyond question, abandonment beyond all proportions, a kiss from God’s hand to us. The Bible says, “Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed” (Psalm 85:10, NKJV). In Christ and His sacrifice, we see something truly worthy of our worship.
I hope that when you find yourself engaging with what makes you passionate, what you show devotion to, what you love, you’ll remember God’s admonition to keep your priorities straight. Your career won’t be able to heal you from the stroke you got by overworking. No man or woman on earth can fill your soul with the sense of purpose, well-being and satisfaction that God can. A beautiful home can’t offer you a place in heaven when you’re on your deathbed. And there are no season passes to eternal life. The only Name upon which we can call to save us and which is worthy of our worship is the Name of Jesus. “No one else can save us. Indeed, we can be saved only by the power of the one named Jesus and not by any other person” (Acts 4:12, GWT).
Whether we are in a church building, on the beach or in the quiet of our own home, I pray that we will reflect upon who God is, all that God has done for us and His act of passionate love through Christ. May we find ourselves welling up with a sense of love and devotion that causes us to lose ourselves in an unrestrained expression of affection that has us throwing kisses like a little child to the One and only God, our Father, who is undeniably worth our worship.
Bob Coy is scheduled to lead a seminar Nov. 2-4 at the Billy Graham Training Center, near Asheville, N.C.