So did we learn anything last night? (or whenever you were worshiping in public with the body of Christ)?
One of the things that is sticking with me about why we have public meetings that include worship is the Greek word proskuneo. In the Greek New Testament a version of that word is used sixty times. It was used by the ancient Greeks to designate the custom of prostrating oneself before a person and kissing their feet, the hem of their garment, the ground, etc.; the Persians did this in the presence of their deified king, and the Greeks before a divinity or something holy. By the time of the New Testament proskuneo denotes a kneeling or prostration to do homage to a person or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication. The wise men did it before the baby Jesus.
To a great degree proskuneo is something that is done on the “inside”—in our spirit—defined by Jesus in John 4:23-24: “…the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” Jesus unleashes a new relationship with God. Everyone can be true worshipers from our hearts. It is about love. Worshiping in our spirit is prostrating and bowing down our inner person before the Lord. It’s asking nothing of Him, but losing ourselves in adoration, reverence and homage.
This is good, and Jesus calls us to have that private, personal sense of reverence for God, to experience that adoration and union. I think we can get one-sided about that, however. Individualistic, Eurocentric thinkers love that element of our spirituality. It pretty much fits our DIY sense of the world. But they often miss something very important: what God is doing when we worship. They often just get us to think about what we ought to be doing — we need to “get right with God.” For instance, the interpreters of John 4 often fail to note that Jesus is having this conversation about worship in spirit and truth in public. He doesn’t ask the woman for obeisance; he asks her for a drink, for connection. She not only makes the connection herself, she ends up connecting her whole village with their Lord.
While I think it would do every one of us a world of good to stop reading this right now and get down on our knees and touch our foreheads to the floor in a deep sense of being in the presence of our holy God, there might be more to proskuneo than that. (Really, before you go on, do it. Have you ever done that? Try prostration for a minute. Your heart lives in a body). One of the Lord’s teachings that is rarely applied to worship should be applied. It is this amazing paragraph from the parable of the prodigal son:
I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:18-21).
The son had it in his mind that he would stop being a rebel; he would end the sin addiction. It came to his mind that he could go home and kiss the hem of his father’s garment in humility. Though he was unworthy, he could appeal to his father’s mercy and perhaps be treated as well as one of his slaves. To his surprise — and this is the endlessly-wonderful surprise of the Lord’s story and of the Lord’s work — the Father was looking for his child to come home and ran down the road to meet him. Right when the child was going to fall at his feet, the father lifted him up and embraced him, he kissed him. It was in that embrace that the son cried out his great fear, despair and hope “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your child.”
Many teachers encourage us to recover our sense of proskuneo and kiss the dirt. That is a good thing. But I think we should make sure not to miss the message of Jesus as he shows us God’s part of the worship relationship. God also “kisses the dirt,” so to speak, when he kisses us prodigals! Worship is a drama of reconnection. Our public meetings are, among many things, a public support group for people who need to learn how to be in love with God in public, to claim their identity as God’s child, no matter where they came from. Among the many things we are learning about worship, I am focused on the kiss. When we worship, it is a lot like kissing God. When we have our Sunday meetings, it is PDA in the first degree.