The Up and Down of Worship
Exalt the LORD our God! Bow low before his feet, for he is holy!
When I was about five years old, my family joined another family on a weekend vacation in Palm Springs, California. When Sunday morning rolled around, my parents informed me that we were going with them to their church. They warned me that there would be no Sunday school and that the worship service would be different from what I had experienced in our Methodist church back home. Different, indeed! For one thing, most of the service, except for the short sermon and some of the prayers was in a language I did not understand (Latin). Furthermore, it seemed to me as if the congregation was going up and down the whole time, up to stand, down to kneel, up again, down again. I didn't mind moving around a bit, but I had no idea which way I was supposed to go or when or why. I came away from that service glad that my church didn't require so many ups and downs.
In Psalm 99, there is a distinct up and down movement, though it isn't quite the same as what I experienced five decades ago in Palm Springs. Verse 2 says that the Lord is "exalted above all the nations." The Hebrew word, translated here as "exalted" literally means "high" or "higher than." Then, verse 5 adds, "Exalt the LORD our God!" using a verb that is from the same root as "exalted" in verse 2. Of course we don't actually lift God up higher as we worship him. Rather, our worship acknowledges and celebrates the fact of God's supreme highness, his ultimate sovereignty, might, justice, and holiness.
Psalm 99:5, after calling us to "Exalt the LORD our God!" continues, "Bow low before his feet, for he is holy." The Hebrew of this verse speaks literally of bowing down before God's footstool, the place where he rests his feet while sitting upon his royal throne. The verb translated here as "Bow low" is the basic Hebrew word for worship. Worship, from this perspective, is submitting and offering ourselves to God as we would before a human king, only holding nothing back. We worship with heart, soul, mind, and strength. Our action of bowing down accentuates the exalted position of God, who is higher than all other gods. So, the up and down of worship in Psalm 99 has to do with the "upness" of God, which we acknowledge with our own "downness."
I come from a Christian tradition that rarely bows in congregational worship. And I did not kneel when I said my prayers as a child. So, the physical action of bowing before God does not come easily to me. But, I have discovered that sometimes when I literally bow before God, my heart follows. My body leads my soul in offering myself to God, all that I am for his glory and purposes. Kneeling before the Lord helps me to experience the fact that he is exalted above everything else in the universe.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What is your experience of kneeling or bowing in prayer or worship? Do you think physical bowing can help you humble your heart before God? Why or why not? Do you bow as part of your communication with God? Why or why not?
PRAYER: Mighty King, love of justice, you have established fairness. You have acted with justice and righteousness through Israel and throughout history. You are exalted above all other gods, above everything I value and desire and serve. Thus, I bow before you this day, offering to you my whole self in humble worship. Amen.
Moving Beyond Mediocrity
This article is part of our series, Moving Beyond Mediocrity. How often in your daily life do you think, “I wish I could do better”? It’s the feeling you get when you realize you aren’t really trying. Your job, your family, even your hobbies: they are worth working harder. But what does it take to move beyond mediocrity? How do you quit using your education, your upbringing, your circumstances, even your faith, as an excuse to keep you from doing your best? Join us as we discuss giving it our all in our workplaces and our homes, in our communities and our churches, for the common good and for the glory of God. Also, consider inviting others to join you by sharing these stories via email, Facebook, Twitter, or networks you are part of.
Image by Russ. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.