It is the biblical Greek word for worship. I remember sitting in class, learning the ancient language, and being confused by the different alphabet, and all of the darn parsing. It was aggravating.
But of all the words that I was required to learn, this was the one that is most recognizable, and most familiar, even today, years separated from all Greek. There were moments when my first-year Greek teacher would interrupt the daily dosing of Greek to provide some commentary. It was one of those great moments when one of my theology professors would break with the rote information we were required to learn, and would bring their thoughts, their comments, and their life experiences to the table. It was in those moments that all of the textual learning of the bible, and all of the literary and historical and theological guidings combined to form my collegiate education. I could learn the information on my own. I needed guidance, however, at how all of this information could ever apply to a career (?) in ministry. I know that now, and those teachable moments served me well.
So when this word was covered in class, as were were required to translate various biblical verses, my professor stopped for a minute to explain this word. All words (well, maybe not all of them, but a great many) have very literal meanings, and then the more common meanings. If this word were literally translated into the New Testament text, then it would look unfamiliar. But as it is, the word proskuneo, is generally translated as worship.
But it’s literal meaning helps to identify this word a little more.
For, literally, it means nose to the ground.
I grow tired of all of the contemporary offerings of how to define true worship. I really do. And as I have moved into a greater role in leading worship with my own church, I now feel a resisting urge to teach true worship. And I’m afraid most of what we are learning about worship is, well, off course.
We are offered, by a contemporary religious society, different expressions of worship. New music, new books, new sermons, all of these provide a healthy dose of what we now define as worship. God has certainly gifted some people with incredible abilities in music and words. But those things, those songs and writings, they are not worship. And if we need these things to aspire to worship, then we are sorely lacking.
Worship is a complete act of submission. It is a complete act of humility. It is a complete knowledge of our fraility. If we have not learned that, then no song, or book, or sermon, can ever really teach us that. It may delight our senses, and give us new ways to submit, but those items should never be substitutes for the literal act of touching our noses to the ground.
So we should really, truly aspire to a posture of frailty. And that is so difficult. We are reared in a society of dominance, and we are taught postures of authority. We sit in classrooms that teach us to succeed. We work in jobs where we readily see the avenues to greater success. We learn to be authoritative. We learn competition. In the seats of modern collegiate learning, rarely, if ever, are students taught humility. And how to teach something so broad, and so simple, anyway?
One of the challenges faced by modern worship leaders is to offer postures of frailty in their leading. There is a fine line for this. Successful musicians perform their songs and hymns under flashing lights and with outstanding ticket sales. There is a dichotomy here. They should be paid for their work. But when does their acceptance of great amounts of money cross the line from frailty and humility to more than enough? Local worship leaders find the same struggle. When do we sacrifice older, more favorite modes of what has been known as “worship,” for truer, more meaningful, and more literal modes which can literally teach humility?
I am reminded of Paul, who, as a minister and preacher, offered postures of frailtiy numerous times — when he was supported and paid by various churches, to earning his own wages in a different occupation, to being bound and imprisoned. No other man has been so successful at leading people into postures of frailty than him.
True worship is tough. It may be defined as a daily act. It may be defined as the next big thing. But it can never escape the truest, most literal meaning, written by the ones who followed the one most deserving of true worship.
Those writers, those disciples, those men and women — they lived their lives with their noses to the ground. And that posture gave them lives at which we cringe. Crucifixion. Stoning. Death threats. Chased out of town. Ostracized.
They took whatever was given, ever how tough, because they lived their lives with their noses to the ground.
And in that posture, it is very tough to see anything other than the feet of the one you are following.