I have held my fair share of gym memberships over the years—enough to realize the purpose behind all the machines that you find there. They aren’t there just to get your body into a wide variety of physical positions—sitting, standing, lying down, bending over. Their purpose is to exercise, and thereby strengthen, the various
muscles of your body as you go through the various positions and the ever-increasing amounts of resistance.
It is the same when it comes to worship—it also comes with a purpose!
The word for “worship” in the New Testament Greek carries with it the idea of a person literally lying prostrate before someone else. Picture for yourself, perhaps, the thousands of Muslims at the call to prayer, on their knees with their foreheads to the ground. Better yet, picture Martin Luther in the movies made of his life, where he is lying completely flat on his face on the cold stone floor of the church. That is the word picture behind the idea of “worship.”
But when it comes to the use of that word “worship” in the New Testament, that is not all that is involved. When the wise men came and “worshiped” the newborn Christ child, it was not simply a matter of the physical act of prostrating themselves before Him and then going home. The tax collector in the temple, in Jesus’ parable, was not there for the simple act of pounding himself on the chest. The leper didn’t fall at Jesus’ feet because he tripped. All these instances were “purposeful” worship.
It is the same way for us in our worship! Those physical actions—taking those steps as we “go to church” where we sit, stand, fold our hands, bow our heads—dare never become an end in and of themselves!
Jesus made it clear, in His response to one of the devil’s wilderness temptations, that our worship has an object. He also made clear Who the object of our worship is:
“. . . [I]t is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve’” (Matthew 4:10).
We know Who it is that we worship! He is the almighty God, the Creator of the universe, the Lord of heaven and earth. So it is fitting that our worship takes the form of praise, as it did with King David, who wrote, “I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works” (Psalm 9:1).
We worship Him because we know what He has done for our physical well-being. When that man who was born blind was introduced to the One Who had healed him, “. . . he said, ‘Lord, I believe!’ And he worshiped Him” (John 9:38).
We worship Him because we know what He has done for our salvation! At His ascension, after Jesus had completed the work His Father had sent Him to do, He ascended to heaven, at which time His disciples
“. . . worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52).
And because we know who He is, and what He has done for us with His material and spiritual blessings, let’s continue to go to Him for all of our ongoing needs, as His people have always done. Let us be like Jairus in Matthew 9:18, who “. . . came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.’” Or the leper in Matthew 8:2, who
“. . . came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’”
May such worship ever be ours—not just a physical position, but purposeful bowing in heartfelt respect before our God Who has loved and saved, guarded and kept each one of us!
Paul Krause is pastor of Trinity Ev. Lutheran Church in Watertown, South Dakota, and Zion Ev. Lutheran Church in Hidewood Township, South Dakota.