Because the Jews had defended it so fanatically, the Roman general Pompey was anxious to see what was in the temple's most sacred room, the Holy of Holies. He was surprised to find it empty. He wondered why so many Jews had died to defend an empty room!1 He didn't understand the concept of a God 'eternal, immortal, invisible' (1 Timothy 1:17). Worship is about recognition. It is the time in a Christian's week when he remembers the majesty of his God. It is the time she acknowledges the greatness of her God's character and deeds. It is the time when God's people as a group acknowledge and fulfill one of His strongest desires. The Bible commands: '…acknowledge him…' (Proverbs 3:6).
We must recognize the distance between God and man.
In the year that king Uzziah died, Isaiah saw '…the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up…' (Isaiah 6:1). Worshippers do not come before God on a horizontal field. One does not approach his Creator as he does his buddy at the ball field or her friend on the telephone. God corrected those who '…thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself…' (Psalm 50:21). It is a vertical plane that we ascend to be in God's presence. Isaiah shows our approach is vertical in both (1) position ('high,' 'lofty') and (2) moral ('holy') terms: 'For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place…' (Isaiah 57:15).
In terms of position, '…God is in heaven, and thou upon earth…' (Ecclesiastes 5:2; cf. Psalm 2:4; Psalm 68:4; Ephesians 1:20-21). We pray: 'Our Father which art in heaven…' (Matthew 6:9). 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts' (Isaiah 55:9). Even God's name is 'exalted'2 (Isaiah 12:4).
In terms of morality, the Bible contrasts God's absolute holiness (high) with man's sinfulness (low). 'And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts… Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…' (Isaiah 6:3-5). God wants us to recognize our condition before coming before Him: 'Only acknowledge [recognize] thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the LORD…and ye have not obeyed my voice…' (Jeremiah 3:13; cf. Jeremiah 14:20; Hosea 5:15). 'Likewise reckon [recognize] ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord' (Romans 6:11). Only the worshiper who recognizes this distance and manifests the corresponding humble attitude is allowed to approach the divine Being: '…with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones' (Isaiah 57:15b).
The primary Old Testament word for worship (shachah) means 'to bow down; to prostrate one's self; to do obeisance' (cf. Genesis 24:52; Exodus 4:31). When Albert Thorwaldsen completed his fa-mous statue of Christ, he invited a friend to see it. The Danish sculptor had created a portrayal of Christ with his arms out-stretched and his head bowed. The friend looked and said, 'I can't see his face.' Thorwaldsen replied, 'If you want to see the face of Christ, you must get on your knees.' Only when God's servants humble themselves in worship to God can we see Him clearly.
We must recognize our dependence upon God.
When one becomes impressed with the truth of God's majesty, then he naturally feels weak and insignificant. In the divine presence, Isaiah said, 'Woe is me' and was 'undone'3 (Isaiah 6:5). The Psalmist expressed it this way: 'When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?' (Psalm 8:4-5).4 The recognition is accurate-we are totally dependent upon God. An appropriate worship song is, I Need Thee Every Hour, for worship is an acknowledgement to God that we recognize He is our provider, sustainer, redeemer-our very existence totally depends upon Him. It is in God that we 'live, and move, and have our being' (Acts 17:28; cf. Luke 20:38). David saw men as being in God's sling, which could be slung out of its middle at any time (1 Samuel 25:29). By Christ 'all things consist' (Colossians 1:17); He upholds 'all things by the word of his power' (Hebrews 1:3). God hath life in Himself (John 5:26); He is the very fountain of life (Psalm 36:9). Job put it simply: 'In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind' (Psalm 12:10).
A true worshipper recognizes God's desire to be worshipped.
Worship may not mean much to us, but it is a 'big thing' to God. A visit home with the grandchildren may seem like more trouble than it is worth to parents, but to grandparents that visit is the highlight of the week (or perhaps the year). If we could ascribe to God such humanlike terms, we might say, 'Worship is the highlight of God's week.' To borrow the language of Solomon's love song,5 we can almost hear God saying at worship time: 'O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely' (Song of Solomon 2:14). The eternal Father takes '…pleasure6 in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy' (Psalm 147:11). A Christian's prayers 'delight' God (Proverbs 15:18). The Father 'seeketh such to worship him' (John 4:23).
In the Old Testament, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders were told to worship 'afar off' (Exodus 24:1), but now we are invited to 'draw near7 to God' (Hebrews 7:19; Hebrews 10:22). We may even come 'boldly' to His throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).8
When one goes by the Washington Monument, he cannot help but look up; his glance rises 550 feet. Similarly, when we glimpse God in the distance, we cannot help but want to go up in worship.
1Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
2sagab, 'inaccessible; high, lofty.'
3damah, 'to be dumb or silent; hence to fail or perish; be brought to silence…'
4God, though, does not consider man insignificant. He made man in His own image (Genesis 1:26, 27). He paid the highest price for our fellowship-the humiliation, suffering, and separation of His Son (Hebrews 12:2; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; Matthew 27:46). We are constantly in His thoughts (Psalm 40:5). He values our worship.
5Some see this as a picture of God's love relationship with His church.
6Interestingly, this word (ratsah) can also mean 'to satisfy a debt' which reminds us of how much we owe God and how little He asks of us in return.
7proserchomai, 'to approach, visit, worship.'
8There are stipulations, of course. We must come through our High Priest and Mediator, Christ (Hebrews 4:15,15; 1 Tim. 2:5). We must come with clean hands and pure hearts (James 4:8).