I recently started reading this an audiobook recommended by a friend. The audiobook, entitled Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is written by a devout formerly Muslim man named Nabeel Qureshi. As I was listening yesterday, I was deeply impressed by the surpassing reverence that Nabeel, and many other Muslims, exhibit during worship.
This has always been my deep impression that I have Islam. Although I am a Christian, I know that many Christians, myself included, do not exercise nearly the same amount of reverence for Jesus as Muslims do for Allah.
Coincidentally, this week I spent some time doing research on Adventist forms of worship, especially in the writings of Ellen White and other Adventist pioneers. These pioneers put great emphasis on reverence that should be conducted in church (for example, casual conversations should occur outside of the building, the sanctuary should remain a quiet and reverent place before and after the service, etc.) Some argue that these pioneers were particularly Victorian because they came out of Puritan backgrounds. But I think there is definitely biblical grounds for way more reverence in our worship today.
Consider that it was fairly commonplace in scripture for an entire assembly to bow prostrate to God when worshipping Him. This happened throughout wide spans of history:
- Worship in the wilderness (Leviticus 9:24)
- Worship in the era of the Kings (1 Kings 18:39, 1 Chronicles 29:20)
- Post-exilic worship (Nehemiah 8:6)
- Worship in heaven (Revelation 4:10, 7:11, 19:4)
Furthermore, reverence in the form of bowing with one's face to the earth has been a pattern in the personal lives of nearly all of the Bible's faith heros:
- Job (Job 1:20)
- Abram (Genesis 17:3)
- Moses (Numbers 20:6, Deuteronomy 9:18)
- Joshua (Joshua 5:14, 7:6)
- Samson's parents (Judges 13:20)
- David (1 Chronicles 21:16)
- Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:18)
- Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:28, 9:8)
- Daniel (Daniel 8:17)
- Those healed by Jesus (Luke 5:12, 17:16)
- The disciples (Matthew 17:6)
- The women that followed Jesus (Luke 24:5)
- John (Revelation 1:17)
- Paul (Acts 9:3)
It was also a characteristic of those who were not necessarily Jews or Christians. They too would worship with their faces to the ground
- The magi (Matthew 2:11)
- Balaam (Numbers 22:31)
- Unclean spirits (Mark 3:11, cf. 1 Samuel 5:3, Psalm 97:7, James 2:19) (I mean, whoah. Think about that... Devils themselves do a better job of worshipping God that we do...)
Even Jesus, who was God, bowed with His face to the ground (Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:35)
A lot of modern day Christians say that perhaps we are too formal when we pray, and that we need to lighten up a little bit. I think this is a valid point. For example, there is this quote
Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Steps to Christ, p. 93
But talking with a friend need not be mutually exclusive with showing reverence or respect. Yesterday, Mateja and I watched the movie "War Room" and one of the things that I really appreciated about the movie was that the daughter said things like "no, maam" when having heart-to-heart conversations with her mother. Theirs was a relationship that was filled with respect while, at the same time, being heartfelt and sincere.
It is good for our own hearts to recognize the magnificence of God, the one to whom we are praying. It is also good for others to see the reverence with which we worship God. What type of a God do others think we worship, when we casually start eating without so much as bowing our heads at the workplace to thank God for the food? And what does the Muslim think of Jesus when we barely lower our heads in public worship, while they cover their heads and fall down prostrate to speak to Allah?
I think that for many of us, it would do us well to re-evaluate the reverence with which we worship God.