There are times, after a worship service, when people will come up to me and say things like: “That was awesome worship” or “Worship was really great today!” Such statements are flattering, but what do they mean? Usually it means a variety of things ranging from: “the music rocked!”, or “you sang my favorite song!” Sometimes people were genuinely touched by God’s presence through music and prayer. But even if it is the latter (more noble) response, I often wonder: Who are we to judge how “awesome” worship is?
In the New Testament Greek, there are two words that are translated as “worship.” One word is proskuneo. This is actually a compound word: pros means to show reverence (where we get the word “prostrate” – the position of ultimate reverence and respect) and kuneo which means “to kiss.” In our worship of God we have a sense of both revering His greatness and drawing near in intimacy. This is the definition of worship that is most familiar to us: we praise, we clap, we lift hands, we sing, we kneel and we stand out of a sense of proskuneo.
The other word for worship is latreuo. This word means “service.” It is the word used in Romans 12:1 where we admonished to worship the Lord by offering our bodies to Him as a living sacrifice. Literally, this means that our worship is the daily giving our lives over to His service. We worship God as we serve Him; we honor His name as we do His will. This is the “forgotten side” of worship. People often leave their worship of God in the building on Sunday morning, but the rest of the week is indulged in the worship of the “self” and other things. For what we serve is what we worship.
King Saul was an expert at proskuneo worship. He could praise, he could dance, he could prophesy. He could even present burnt offerings to God. He had “awesome” worship experiences – God talked to him all the time! But was God pleased with his worship? NO! As good as he was at proskuneo worship, he neglected latreuo worship. The prophet Samuel had to chastise Saul many times: God does not want your sacrifice; He wants your obedience!
In Matthew 21:28-31, Jesus shared a parable about two sons. The father asked each son to do something. The first son said the right thing (proskuneo) but did the wrong thing. The second son said the wrong thing, but did the right thing (latreuo). Which son was more highly regarded by the father? The second son.
Now don’t get me wrong. It is good to proskuneo; to give God praise and thanksgiving. It is wonderful to sing to the Lord and to dance in His presence. It truly is exhilarating and right for people to get connected with God in corporate and private proskuneo. But let’s not forget to worship God with our lives, our decisions, our day to day doings and dealings. Don’t forget to latreuo – or our proskuneo will become empty and worthless. (Even as I’m writing this, I’m hearing a commercial for praise and worship CDs on the TV – “awesome worship” for only $29.95!)
You see, we are not in the place to judge whether worship is “awesome” or “lousy”. Only God is in that place. And when the Lord looks upon the lives of His children and sees that they are walking in His Spirit, obeying His commands, expressing His love and compassion to a lost world, and surrendered to living out His will in the daily ordinary experiences of life, is when He will say:
“Now, THAT is awesome worship!”
Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love. Take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.
(Charles Wesley, “Take My Life”)