How does the Bible define worship? Do churches have biblical worship today?
The use of the word worship in the Hebrew is the verb “shachah” which means “to bow down, to prostrate oneself” or to “lay flat on the ground” and that’s just what we see in the Old Testament as they lay prostrate before the Lord when He appears as “the angel of the Lord” (Ex 3:2) or in a vision as with Isaiah (6:5). As for the New Testament, the Greek word for worship that is most often used is “proskyneo” which means to “kiss the hand, to fall on the knees,” or to “prostrate oneself” so worship in both the Old Testament and the New Testament are very similar to one another, however there are other Greek renditions of the word worship like “prokeneuo” which means to “pay homage” and “sebazomai” which mean “to render religious honor.” The word used for “worship” is from the old English word “weorþscipe” with the root of it being “worthiness” or “worth-ship” or “worth – to give” or in its simplest form, “worth something” and God is more than worthy to be worshiped, so how should we worship God? What is the definition of biblical worship?
Worshiping in Spirit and Truth
When Jesus was speaking with the Samaritan Woman at the Well, He told her, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24) but what did Jesus mean by saying “the Father is seeking such people to worship him” in “spirit and in truth?” The Greek word Jesus’ used for “spirit” is “pneuma” which can mean the Third Person of the Trinity but can also mean the human spirit or the vital principal by which the body is animated (the human spirit), so we must worship God by means of our own humanity and by the Holy Spirit, which gives us utterance when we’re at a loss for words when praying (Rom 8:26), but equally important is to worship God in truth or truthfully worship God and not just so that others may see. When we don’t worship God truthfully, that is with insincerity, it’s all for nothing. That “form of religion” is useless to God and does not glorify Him.
When churches gather for what is often called “worship services,” church members pay homage, give thanks, and some I know, literally lay flat on the ground. When I pray, I tend to lay flat on the ground and worship in a similar manner, as God is most worthy of such praise, honor, glory, and worship. Those who gather for worship, worship God in various ways. Some bow their heads, others lift they eyes and hands toward heaven, and still others worship silently with eyes closed. There is no commanded position in which to worship God but for those who desire to show God homage, respect, and reverence, they might display in it ways that we’re not comfortable with but that’s okay; worship is toward God and for God to be seen by God and not by humans.
What is acceptable worship? What is this even an issue? Because Jesus told the woman at the well that God is seeking those to worship Him in spirit and in truth and do worship God inappropriately is to offer worship that He does not accept as the author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29). God accepted Jacob’s worship as “Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff” (Heb 11:21). We no longer offer animal sacrifices due to Jesus’ perfect, once-and-for-all supreme sacrifice so what is expected of us when we come to worship God? Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). For certain, we are to “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness” (Psalm 29:2) and the psalmist says “let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker” (Psalm 95:6) which is my prescribed method of worshiping God in private. So again, the psalmist writes “Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth” (Psalm 96:9) and so “Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy” (Psalm 99:9). That is worship that is acceptable to God.
If you are not quite sure how to worship God, just look at the biblical examples in this article and determine which method of worship you prefer. I love to worship in song, praise, reading the psalms, or just in silent adoration but as for me, I lay flat on the ground, if possible at the time, or with raised hands and closed eyes but that’s just for me. The way you worship is up to you as long as you do it in deep, holy, reverential fear and respect for God is worthy to be worshiped and in fact, that’s what the word worship means! He is most worthy!