Ask Father Paul
Sept. 4, 2013
Answers to your questions about life, religion and the Bible
Is there a right and a wrong way to worship?
Dear Father Paul: I am a 13- year-old girl. I spent the weekend with my cousin recently and went to her church. The worship time there was very different from my church to say the least. Not wild or crazy, but lively for sure with drums and guitars, people saying “Praise the Lord,” raising their hands, and bowing down. I liked it a lot. So, which way is the “right” way to worship … my church, where we are mostly silent, or my cousin’s? — Jenny in Tennessee
Dear Jenny: What a great question. There are some 200,000 churches in America, and there are probably that many types or styles of worship. Is there a “right” way to worship God, or can we just worship God any way we like? And, if there is a right way to worship God, what should it look like according to the Bible?
In the Bible there are two words translated into English as “worship.” In the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible), the Hebrew word translated into English as worship is “Sachah,” which means to prostrate oneself, or to bow down or to do reverence. In the New Testament (originally written in Greek) the Greek word translated into English as worship is “Proskuneo,” which means to crouch down or to fawn, to do reverence or adoration … or to prostrate oneself. So the “worship of God” is virtually the same in both the Old and the New Testament scriptures. Clearly the Bible tells us to worship God in these ancient ways with both our voices and our bodies, not just silently in our hearts.
In John 4:24 Jesus himself tells us this: “True worshipers must worship God in Spirit and in Truth.” This means that there is, indeed, such a thing as true (correct) worship and also false (incorrect) worship, and that correct, Biblical worship, is not a mere suggestion, but rather is mandated by God. “Worship in Truth” means, I think, worshipping according to God’s word, the Bible, which contains all truth … while “worshipping in Spirit” means worshipping God with all of our hearts. In addition, true (God approved) worship does not change over time or with the culture or to suit our new “styles.” See Malachi 3:6, “For I am the Lord, I change not.”
Our best Biblical models for true worship are found in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem (where everyone worshiped God, sometimes for hours, even days on end) and also in the worship going on now around the throne of God in heaven, where, according to Revelation, worship goes on 24/7. The Bible reveals that worship of God in these two places was and is anything but quiet…it’s lively … it’s exuberant … with bowing, chanting, music, and vocal exclamations of praise, with hands lifted high by the worshipers as symbols of surrender and of the receiving of blessings from God.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. You mentioned that the people in the church you visited lifted their hands in worship. Sadly this ancient Biblical practice has largely been lost to the modern church. Yet, the Bible tells us plainly in 11 different places that we are to lift our hands to God when we worship him. The apostle Paul instructs us in this regard in I Timothy 2:8 (NLT) where he says: “In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.”
I have found in my more than 40-plus years of ministry that many Americans, especially American men, have a real problem bowing, raising hands in surrender, and in general humbling themselves outwardly and publicly in praise and worship of God. I’ve even had men say to me, “I’m an American, and I don’t bow down to anybody.” I understand that attitude, because I used to feel the same way myself. I reply, “Fine, when you are ready to worship God in Spirit and Truth as he requires, he is ready to receive your worship.”
Personally, when I am worshiping God I like to imagine that I am a small adoring and humble child crawling up onto my loving heavenly father’s lap, laying my head on his chest and wrapping my arms around his strong shoulders. If we do truly love God, as he commands “with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength,” worshiping him will be a joy, not a burden … an honor, not a chore … and we won’t really care whether people think we are a little goofy or not.
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[Father Paul Massey is pastor of Church of the Holy Cross in Fayetteville, Ga. More information about the church is at www.holycrosschurch.wordpress.com]