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 a person so desperate for the increase of Christ that the person finds him- or herself 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, he is 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.”1
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). As my friend Louie Giglio comments, “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 too—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—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 hearts 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.”2
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 was 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 Him sooner or later. C. S. Lewis, talking about the second coming of Christ, put 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.3
One day we will all find ourselves facedown in the worship of Jesus. Every willing and unwilling knee will be bowed in humility. Every artificial power and authority will be 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.