Our great father of faith, Abraham, teaches us lessons about bowing to our Creator.

Several years ago, during a ministry trip to South Africa, I visited an aquarium in Pretoria displaying a wonderful variety of creatures that were indigenous to South African waters.

I was intrigued by a very strange looking fish, the South African Rockfish. I remember commenting, “Lord, that’s the ugliest fish I’ve ever seen!” In a flash, these words came to my mind: “I didn’t create it for you.” Coupled with God’s rebuke for my arrogance were the familiar words of Revelation 4:11, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (KJV).

That insight has affected the way I think about my relationship to my Creator. I’ve often thought of a quote from the movie, “Chariots of Fire,” a film about Scottish missionary and Olympic runner Eric Liddell. He described his love for running this way: “When God made me, He made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

When a man grasps this beautiful insight, all of life becomes filled with meaning. In fact, the very living of that life becomes a continual state of worship. When I share Liddell’s words with an audience, I often ask them to turn to the person sitting next to them and ask, “Have you given Him any pleasure lately?”

Another such insight came to me during a very unusual prayer seminar at our church in Pittsburgh. Every session of the seminar began with two wonderfully juxtapositioned quotations. The first was, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” And the second, while not theological, was just as basic to the seminar: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” I like to relate these two statements to worship. First of all, worshiping God ought to produce the purest and highest form of enjoyment. And second, it must always be the mainspring of a life lived in eternal relevancy — it is the main thing.

The writer of Hebrews exhorted us to be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12, NASB). There follows a discussion of Abraham, the “father of the faithful.” A study of his life reveals the beauty of worship, and it helps answer a few common questions. What is a worship service? What constitutes an act of worship? What was the Abrahamic example of worship, and how does it apply for today?

Sincerity alone does not guarantee an “acceptable” act of worship. Paul told the Athenians, “You worship in ignorance” (Acts 17:23, NASB).

The Hebrew word “shachah” and the Greek word “proskuneo” are the two primary words in the Old and New Testaments that are translated “worship.” They both share the same properties of bowing, falling to the ground, touching the head to the ground, obeisance and kissing the hand (Greek). All of these words are basic to the biblical idea of worship. Once again, they are outward symbols of an inward devotion. In other words, the outward acts of worship will not please God if our hearts are far from Him.

In most of the modern translations, Genesis 22:5 is the first instance of the English word “worship” translated from the Hebrew word “shachah.” This word has several shades of meaning, but the most basic expression of this word is to “bow down.” Its literal meaning can be seen in its numerous uses in the Old Testament (Gen. 18:2, 23:7,12). In Genesis 24:26, Abraham’s servant “bowed low and worshiped the Lord” as an expression of gratitude for the Lord’s favor.

In Genesis 18, Abraham modeled five principles of worship — five “protocols” of worship that he had learned after 25 years of following the Lord.

1. He Recognized. All that Abraham did was in response to God’s initiative. The first verse says, “The Lord appeared to him.” We are the objects of His search. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that “the Father seeks true worshipers” (John 4:23, NASB). True worship will originate in heaven, and find respondents in heaven and earth. It isn’t enough for the Lord to come to us; we need to know it is the Lord. Abraham recognized the Lord — his Lord.

We can never come to terms with biblical worship if we don’t settle the question, Who’s in charge? This is not a visit from some earthly head of state; this is the Lord of the universe. Abraham settled the question of who would be the focus of his worship and lived in that relationship. That was the third time the Scriptures say, “the Lord appeared” to Abraham. His senses were exercised and he responded.

2. He Relinquished. Abraham liked to sit under the shade cover of his tent door, his place of refuge from the afternoon heat. When Abraham saw the Lord, Abraham left his favorite place of natural refuge. The call to worship is the call to leave the familiar and the comfortable. Abraham had already demonstrated his willingness to do this when the Lord first called him to follow Him.

3. He Ran. “And when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them” (18:2). This was the response of one who saw a familiar and beloved friend. The Scriptures refer to Abraham as the “friend of God,” and this was the response of one who was eager to greet an honored guest. Jesus told the Pharisees that “Abraham rejoiced to see my day” (John 8:56, NASB). A 100-year-old man running to meet his beloved Lord speaks volumes about the nature of their relationship.

4. He Revered. He “bowed himself to the earth.” In both the Old and New Testaments, the primary meaning for the word most often translated worship has the inherent idea of prostrating one’s self on the ground before a superior. On some occasions it means to bend the knee or to lower the head.

Abraham expressed his worship without holding back. But in many of our typical worship services, the most we will do is bow our heads.

5. He Responded. Abraham responded out of his identity. The one who had hundreds of servants recognized his role as “Your servant.” Someone once said, “The only right a servant has is to know clearly the will of his Master.” Abraham was a servant and his most consummate act of worship was yet to come. In Genesis 22, as he was approaching Mount Moriah, he described his intended obedience to God as an act of worship. His heavy-hearted task was to fulfill the strange but sure command to “offer” his son Isaac.

His words are the life-breath of every worshiper since then. They are filled with the promise of a planned obedience as well as the expectation of a supernatural intervention. It’s as though he was saying, “I don’t know how all of this is going to turn out, but I am going to do as the Lord commanded, and, somehow, both Isaac and I will meet you here.”

In the Scriptures, Abraham’s obedience would stand as the “highest expression” of worship — of pleasing God — until Jesus Christ came. Jesus not only lived His life to please His father, but He was the beloved Son who died to please Him. The obedience of the Son is what saved us. Now, as we walk as Jesus did, we give the greatest possible expression of worship. This is the offering that becomes the “sweet-smelling savor” to God.

By Joseph Garlington