The Lost Act of Worship

I’m going out on a limb here, but recently I’ve only been able to focus on one “act” of worship in the New Testament … that is, one thing that is physically done in connection with the word worship:

Bowing down.

Yup, that’s right. Worship in spirit and in truth when you worship. Offer your body as a living sacrifice, your spiritual act of worship. Sing when you’re happy. Sing and edify others. Pray without ceasing and in the Spirit. Speak in tongues and interpret and prophesy when you’re gathered. Read a bit of scripture. Commune at the table. Give from the heart as you’ve purposed. Give verbal praise to God, which was done in the temple, in the synagogues, in the streets and in the country – among other contexts in the scriptures. All good things to do. All good things to do in several different contexts, alone and together; in big groups or small; on Sunday or not. (That’s more than 5 acts of worship already, isn’t it? – Though I guess my fellowship isn’t real big on tongues and interpretation, either…)

All things that are good to do together, when gathered and especially on the first day of the week; that makes it handy to do them.

But the one physical thing to do as a part of worship that keeps popping up in scripture is bowing down, kneeling, falling on one’s face, doing obesiance. No matter how it’s phrased, it’s consistently there.

Here’s a short list, just from the New Testament:

That’s a very short list. Search Bible Gateway for “knee” and “kneel” in the New Testament, and you’ll find even more. Because kneeling was a physical way, in almost every instance, for those people to express their humility, brokenness, even shame of themselves; and their respect, need, and/or request of the God they came before, often in the person of Jesus.

It doesn’t seem to be limited to one culture; to Jews only, and not to Gentiles; to earthly creatures, and not to heavenly beings.

It doesn’t seem to be limited by time to one era; to the law and prophets only, and not to anno Domini.

It doesn’t seem to be limited by circumstance to one context: to church only, but not in the street or at home or at work.

I won’t go into it all again; I’ve blogged about it before, not quite a year ago.

What I will do is confess.

I’ve been more conscious of kneeling and faithful to the practice of it, especially when beseeching God in public or private prayer – but I’ve been holding back. I’ve been falling to ONE knee. I’m not a big fan of the “command, example, inference” hermeneutic, but if I were … I’d have to say my approach to God is still not scriptural. The word is almost always plural – “knees,” not “knee” – when used in scripture.

But in a larger hermeneutic – the hermeneutic of the heart – I think my single bent knee is an expression of half-knee’d faith and a half-hearted prayer life. I want it to be double-kneed (smiting against each other as in the case of Belshazzar when necessary!).

I want it to be full-hearted, in spirit and in truth.

I want it to express the faith that if I get down on both knees – even at fifty and after knee surgery on the right one – God will give me the strength to stand again. Even if that strength comes at the hand of a brother or sister nearby … or even a complete stranger.

Because I really believe it does no good to express something that’s not in in your heart … any more than it is to have something in your heart for God that you will not express in a way He’s described so many of His beloved ones doing.

Is that silly? Am I picking nits and swallowing camels here?

Or is this really the lost act of worship?

12 thoughts on “The Lost Act of Worship

  1. Maybe losing this form of worship is why we struggle so much with humility…I am relieved though that this post was about “bowing”, when I read it in bloglines I first thought you said Bowling!! Couldn’t quite grasp that one.

  2. Donna, maybe what you saw was my previous post, < HREF="" REL="nofollow">The Church Bowling Alley<>….

  3. You know, I remember that now…but no I just mis-read it. It is like the bottle of water I was drinking today said “non-Carbonated and Pure drinking water” I saw “non-Pure drinking water….I am a little weird…

  4. Thanks for that post, Keith! I do agree with you on some level, that is possibly a lost act of worship. I do remember once when I knelt to pray as an actual part of a “worship service.” When I was in high school, I was at the Youth In Action youth rally in Jonesboro, and the speaker (I don’t remember who he was) talked for awhile about the holiness of God. He ended his sermon with a prayer, and as he approached that, he had us all both take off our shoes AND kneel there at our seats. So that was an interesting experience, one I’m glad I was able to participate in. But yes, sadly, for the most part, it is something overlooked in our assemblies or, dare I say, is something that is sometimes looked down upon as being done to draw attention to oneself. I myself, in my private time, am not much of a kneeler, more prostrate is my style, and am comfortable with this in “less formal” settings. For example, when I was in college, we had our weekly devotionals at someone’s home, so being gathered there, and being seated on the floor made it easier to be prostrate in prayer. I love the new Movement worship on Thursday nights!!! Again, I feel the relaxed atmosphere there, where I have yet to be completely on the floor, but am often drawn to be bowed down (as much so as I can lean forward and bow down there in my seat) and it’s amazing to experience that kind of worship. Until recently, it’s been awhile since I’ve truly worshiped like that. So I appreciate your thoughts on this subject. And I am quickly catching up on the reading of many of your old posts as well, which all seem to be just as thought-provoking and encouraging.Lacey

  5. Thanks, all of you – I know a lot of folks are self-conscious about kneeling or bowing in public worship, and I’ll confess that sometimes I am, too.But you know what? I’m not responsible for others being distracted or feeling moved to judge my motives. I NEVER have read any account where Jesus held back because of what someone else might think of Him.We’re each responsible for our own focus in worship.We’re each responsible for the openness of our hearts toward others, and the (at least AMERICAN, if not CHRISTIAN) presumption of innocence.In fact, I am becoming more and more convicted that if I’m not willing to live on the edge in my imitation of Christ, there’s no reason at all to expect others to treat me the way He said they would (at the close of the Beatitudes).I don’t have to be obnoxious about it.Yet I am called to be <>BOLD<>!

  6. There are several religious groups that have pews with built in kneeling “benches” on the back of each pew and I think that is a great idea, myself. I would be in favor of that and would practice it (as best I could, which I couldn’t always do, such as now with my left leg in a boot/cast that I can’t really get up and down on).I’ve seen kneeling benches in antique stores and Tom and I have looked at them. Many people used to have them in their homes and in private chapels and such. Maybe we should revive that tradition and not only have kneeling benches and pews fit with places to kneel behind each one, but also kneeling benches in our homes to use in practice on a regular basis.What do you think? Ever thought about that, in addition to having them in church buildings? I even thought about buying one one time in an antique store, but it was more than we could afford. It was old and somehow that meant a lot to me, too, to think that it had been used by others many times over.

  7. Great post. It is lost in some churches — in fact, after ALL the churches I’ve been to (7 or so) only two of them were places where you could kneel and no one would look at you funny.On an unrelated note, I think you may have gotten a new photo since the last time I was here!Looks great!

  8. Keith,Thanks. I “kneeded” the reminder. Engaging the body brings my heart into shrper focus.–Rusty

  9. Keith, I think you are dead on. It’s also very ironic, because yesterday at DT I was sitting beside the aisle, and I wanted to get out in the aisle and get on my knees…….but I was afraid I would call attention to myself or make somebody mad. Maybe one day I will just go ahead and do what my heart is calling me to do.Where are our kneeling benches? It for SURE is a lost act of worship.DU

  10. Long ago my Papa would kneel everytime he prayed publicly. I only thought he was such a Godly man!I miss him. I too worry too much about what others will think, not only with kneeling (you know I CAN’T lead prayer) but with raising my hands or even closing my eyes….we have got this messed up!

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