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When we face up to the glory of God, we soon find ourselves facedown in worship. To worship facedown is the ultimate outward sign of inner reverence.
Every posture in worship says something of both the worshipper and the One being gloried in. The raising of hands tells of a soul stretched out high in praise and the worth of the One being exalted. Joyful dancing interprets a grateful heart and points in adoration to the source of that joy. When it comes to expressing our worship, what we do on the outside is a key reflection of what's taking place on the inside. Out of the overflow of our heart we speak and sing, we dance, and we bow. God reveals, and we respond. God shines, and we reflect. In the very same way, facedown worship is the overflow of a heart humbled and amazed by the glory of God.
Facedown worship always begins as a posture of the heart. It's people so desperate for the increase of Christ that they find themselves decreasing to the ground in an act of reverent submission. When a soul is so captivated by the Almighty, to bend low in true and total surrender seems the only appropriate response.
On several different occasions, the Bible allows us a glimpse into an open heaven. Each time is a window of revelation through which we discover more of what worship looks like before the heavenly throne. And there's a whole lot of facedown worship going on. In Revelation, John encounters the risen and exalted Jesus, whose eyes blaze like fire and whose face is shining like the sun in all its brilliance. Overwhelmed to the core, John shrinks to the ground in reverence and fear (see Revelation 1). A few chapters later, the elders too are falling down in holy devotion. And as we journey further into this heavenly flow of praise, we find even more facedown worshippers:
All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God (Revelation 7:11, emphasis added).
The book of Ezekiel gives us another glimpse into an open heaven, and we find more of the same. The prophet beholds the "appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord" (1:28). There can be only one response:
When I saw it, I fell facedown. (1:28, emphasis added).
The reflex of his soul was reverence and submission. Facing up to the glory of God, Ezekiel soon found himself falling facedown in awe and astonishment.
Daniel gives us another Old Testament glimpse of this heavenly scene. He sees a vision of the Lord Almighty, whose face shines like lightning and whose eyes blaze like flaming torches. Undone by this divine encounter, here's another worshipper who cannot stay on his feet:
I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless (Daniel 10:15, emphasis added).
So many clues as to what our congregational gatherings should look like are found in these encounters of the heavenly throne. When it comes to worship, the throne always sets the tone. Each time we gather together, we don't just journey to a church building-we journey to the very throne of God. To lose sight of this is to lose sight of the majestic in worship. Every kingdom has a king, and every king has a throne. And the kingdom of God is no exception. He is the King above all kings, and He has the throne above all thrones. There is no higher seat of authority, power and splendor in the whole of the universe. The elders bow low there, the angels encircle it, and the whole host of heaven arrange themselves around it (see 1 Kings 22:19). One day, a countless multitude, from every nation, tribe, people and tongue, will gather there (see Revelation 7:9). As Ron Owens tells us, "When we come to worship, we come to a throne ... [and] everything else arranges itself around that throne."
Journeying through the Bible, we find a whole host of facedown worshippers. Abram becomes one as the Lord God Almighty appears to him (see Genesis 17:3). Moses and Aaron fall facedown too, as they encounter His glory (see Numbers 20:6). King David also adopts the posture, in an act of humble repentance (see 1 Chronicles 21:16). And overwhelmed by the radiance of the transfigured Jesus, Peter, James and John are also found amongst the ranks of the facedown (see Matthew 17:6). Throughout Scripture, countless worshippers meet with God-and soon reposture themselves before His splendor.
And it's not only the willing who find themselves facedown in an encounter with the Living God. In the book of 1 Samuel, the Philistine nation captures the Ark of the Lord. Unaware of the power involved with this embodiment of God's presence, they carry it into their temple and place it beside the idol of Dagon. Early the next morning, they find the idol facedown on the ground before the Ark of the Lord (see 1 Samuel 5:1-5). My friend Louie Giglio comments that if you find your god bowed facedown on the floor before another God, then it's time to get a new one! Somehow, the Philistines didn't quite get the message, and they have the audacity to lift Dagon up, putting him neatly back in place. Big mistake. The next day they arrive at the temple, and there's Dagon, back on the ground, facedown before the Ark of the Lord. Only this time his head and hands have been broken off-and he's lying in pieces.
No power set against our Almighty God can stand in His presence. And those who dare to set themselves up against Him are setting themselves up for a fall. It is a facedown fall.
A few years ago, I saw a powerful example of facedown devotion at a gathering in Memphis, Tennessee. Hosted by the Passion movement of college students, this was a sacred assembly-a time set apart to worship, fast and seek the Lord. Thousands of students gathered on the field that day to consecrate themselves and pursue the glory of God in the nations of this world. Large events aren't automatically the most profound, but this one truly was. There were moments of heightened celebration, as we rejoiced in the Savior. There were times of "Selah," when we quieted our heart and let the stillness remind us He is God. And there were moments of facedown worship. Part way through the day, I saw a sight I shall never forget. It was pouring with rain and the ground was getting pretty saturated. Yet all around me were students, face to the ground in the dirt, offering up their lives to God. They were not concerned about the downpour or the mud-or even the fact they'd already been in that field for many hours. Here were a people consumed with the glory of God and everything they saw of Him propelled them to their knees in an extended act of lowly worship. The movement called Passion lived up to its name that day. It was passion accompanied by reverence, celebration accompanied by submission.
We see this fusion of joy and reverence many times throughout the Bible. The second psalm counsels us to "rejoice with trembling" (v. 11). To delight in the welcoming mercies of His great love yet all the while quaking in the depths of our hearts at the astonishing beauty of His holiness. In the same way, in Psalm 95 we begin by singing for joy to the Lord-yet before long find ourselves bowing down low in worship. As Charles Spurgeon comments on these verses, "Joyful noise is to be accompanied with the lowliest reverence."
My favorite example of this mix of celebration and awe is found in the book of Leviticus. The glory of the Lord appeared and fire came out from His presence. When the people of God saw this, they "shouted for joy and fell facedown" (Leviticus 9:24). An amazing picture. It is the wow and the woe of worship. A joyful shout lifted high to celebrate the goodness of God, followed by an Isaiah-like woe as they tremble at His greatness.
There's a whole lot of shouting for joy to be found in some of our worship gatherings, but how much face-to-the-ground devotion do we see? The Scriptures show us that the most profound and wholesome worship contains elements of both.
The beautiful news is this: When God draws near in worship, we don't have to head for the door-God loves to meet with His people. Yet sometimes it can be a pretty wise move to head for the floor-we must stay ever mindful of the glory of the One we are encountering.
Yes, when we truly face up to the glory of God, we'll find ourselves facedown in worship. And every heart will have to face up to it sooner or later. C. S. Lewis, talking about the second coming of Christ, puts it brilliantly:
Christians think that He is going to land in force. We do not know when, but we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. God will invade ... But what is the good of saying that you are on His side then? When you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else comes crashing in. Something so beautiful to some of us, and so terrible to others, that none of us will have any choice left ... it will strike irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down, when it has become impossible to stand up.
One day we will all find ourselves facedown in the worship of Jesus. Every willing and unwilling knee bowed in humility. Every artificial power and authority forced to the ground, just like the crumbled idol of Dagon. Rebellious tongues will not be merely silenced but will urgently confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. It will be impossible to stand up on that day.
Worship thrives on wonder. We can admire, appreciate and perhaps even adore someone without a sense of wonder. But we cannot worship without wonder. For worship to be worship, it must contain something of the otherness of God.
I've come to love that word-"otherness." It's such a great worship word. A sense that God is so pure, matchless and unique that no one else and nothing else even comes close. He is altogether glorious-unequalled in splendor and unrivalled in power. He is beyond the grasp of human reason-far above the reach of even the loftiest scientific mind. Inexhaustible, immeasurable and unfathomable-eternal, immortal and invisible. The highest mountain peaks and the deepest canyon depths are just tiny echoes of His proclaimed greatness. And the blazing stars above, the faintest emblems of the full measure of His glory.
Many music critics note that the skill of songwriter Bruce Springsteen lies in his ability to take the everyday, the ordinary, and make it sound extraordinary. Sometimes in the Church we find ourselves doing the total opposite-we take the extraordinary revelation of God and somehow manage to make Him sound completely ordinary! We fail to communicate the sense of God's otherness. As A. W. Tozer puts it, "Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms."
Time after time the book of Isaiah reminds us of the uniqueness of God: "I will not give my glory to another" (42:8). "I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God" (44:6). "To whom will you compare me or count me equal?" (46:5). "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me" (46:9). In light of Scriptures like these, I'm becoming more and more wary of worship songs that seem to make God merely sound like our equal. Once or twice people have shown me a worship song and said, "This is great. The lyrics are so down to Earth that you wouldn't even know you're singing to God-it could be a normal pop song or a love song." Now, I guess the point they're making is cultural relevance, and that's a good point to make, but there is a higher value in worship than cultural relevance. It is the glory of God.
God will not be diluted, dumbed down or patronized. He rebukes worshippers in Psalm 50:
You thought I was altogether like you (v. 21).
But He is not like one of us. He is utterly incomparable-beyond the furthest horizon of our imaginations. He is off the scale of our comprehension. We have merely known the shallows of the mighty deep.
A while back I bought my daughter a couple of little goldfish. I've never really been one for keeping pets, but I figured that these tiny creatures were probably quieter and tamer than most. So there they swam, up on the mantelpiece, apparently forgetting everything every one and a half times around the bowl. The very next day I found myself watching a documentary about creatures of the deep sea. Right down in the depths of the ocean, the camera was capturing the most fascinating images of wild fish and other strange sea creatures. I sat glued to the screen-so many varieties, so much untamed beauty. And there in the background were Maisey's tame little goldfish, doing yet another lap of the bowl.
Sometimes in the Church, I worry that we've settled for "goldfish bowl" worship. We convey a tame and domesticated God, and then find ourselves stuck in the endless pursuit of the ordinary. But the call is to venture out into the ocean, to encounter the extraordinary and to explore the mighty depths of God. And though our earthly gathered worship times may never fully sound the depths of His glory, beware of those that don't even attempt to do so.
Back to Psalm 50 and we discover that God doesn't even need our worship:
If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it (v. 12).
Do we detect a harsh tone in the voice of God here? Yes, we most certainly do. This is the voice of the all-sufficient King of the universe. He does not need to be sustained, supported or sponsored. He is not in urgent need of our offerings, like a TV charity fund-raiser, urgently appealing for as many contributions as possible. Charles Spurgeon writes:
Do men fancy that the Lord needs banners and music, and incense, and fine linen? If He did, the stars would emblazon His standard, the winds and the waves become His orchestra, ten thousand times ten thousand flowers would breathe forth perfume.
The apostle Paul echoes the same truth in his speech to the men of Athens:
He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else (Acts 17:25).
The plain truth is this: God has absolutely no need of our offerings. In fact, every single thing our open hands bring to Him-whether a good deed, a tithe or a simple act of compassion-came to us first from His hand. We cannot even offer a simple song of praise without using the breath God first gave to us.
Excerpted from FACEDOWN by MATT REDMAN Copyright © 2004 by Matt Redman. Excerpted by permission.
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