Worship Happens When Feet and Hair Collide
This morning I received an email from a fellow worship leader asking if I would clearly spell out my personal definition and biblical understanding of worship. So, I thought that what I would do is post it here on the ole bloggy blog with the hopes that it might be a help to many of us striving to understand what genuine worship looks like. Conveniently enough for me, I actually addressed this issue in chapter twelve of my devotional book, The Discovery. So, here it is in its entirety. Granted, a bit long for a blog post, but bear with me.
“When Feet and Hair Collide”
One of my favorite accounts in the whole New Testament happens in John 12—when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with her hair—one of the most humbling acts of service a person could ever provide in that culture. What I love most about this passage is the insight it provides into worship.
Worship is my heartbeat. I love to see God’s people come together to lift high the name of Jesus without reservation. Whether I’m writing a new worship song or simply choosing songs for a worship set, my goal is that they be rich in biblical truth—deep enough to allow biblical scholars to worship freely, and yet simple enough that a new follower of Jesus can understand what’s being sung and experience that same sense of intimacy with Christ. There’s a balance there that I’m still learning. But it’s a balance that Mary found strikingly simple. Her act of worship was deep and profound as she honored Him with the oil fit for a king; yet, it was amazingly simple because all she knew to do was to bow before Him and scrub His dirty feet. That’s worship—profound and simple at the same time. Mary’s example gives us some great insight into genuine, biblical worship.
1. She worshiped willfully.
Notice all of the action verbs involved in Mary’s worship.
“Then Mary took a pound of fragrant oil—pure and expensive nard—anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped His feet with her hair” (John 12:3).
In just one verse, John emphasized her willful act of worship through careful detail. It was this type of specific and willful action that brought her close to the heart of the Savior.
Worship is not something that passively happens to you. Worship is something that happens in you.
Worship is something you are actively involved in. Worship is a conscious choice. Many Christ-followers miss the point. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard someone say this in response to a Sunday worship service: “The worship was awesome today. The band was really on their game.” Or, “Well, the worship wasn’t all that great today. Billy Bob missed a few chord changes.” I’ve said it too. But no matter how incredible or how terrible the music might have been, to make statements like these misses the point. Worship is not the songs we sing or the tune to which we sing them. Don’t hear me say that music is not important. I definitely believe that worship can happen through song. And certainly the music we make should be done with excellence and quality.
But worship is more than that. It involves the willful action and obedience of the entire being—not just the lips. There is no more beautiful a harmony to the ears of God than a mouth expressing His greatness and a life expressing the same through its actions. Did you catch that?
Worship is a conscious choice of bringing our confession and our actions into harmony.
We confess the holiness and awesomeness of God. And then we act on it. It’s all about Jesus and our active participation in telling Him just how great He is. Worship is not about our preferences and not about what may or may not have sounded good at church.
2. She worshiped unashamedly.
Verse three says that after Mary anointed Jesus’ feet,
“the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”
We shouldn’t miss the importance of this little phrase. To say that the house “was filled with the fragrance of the oil” means that anyone and everyone in the house or within smell-shot of the house would have smelled the sweet aroma. There was no mistaking what Mary had done. And she didn’t care who knew. She was unashamed to tell the whole neighborhood that Jesus was the object of her worship. And it was obvious to everyone.
My son is still too young to care about pooping in his pants. He loves it. He flaunts his stench around the house and out in public with no shame. If the President of the United States were visiting our home, he would run up to him unabashedly and unhindered complete with runny nose and stinky diaper.
I wish some of those innocent, unashamed, childlike characteristics would remain through adulthood. Not that we would all wear adult diapers, but that we would live unashamed lives, especially in our worship of Jesus—that we would flaunt our love for Christ with little concern for who finds out—that we would desire for the world to smell the aroma of our love for Christ.
Here’s how the apostle Paul described the aroma that we have as believers in Christ:
“For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15).
To a world that is lost and dying, we are the fragrance of Christ. We flaunt the scent of Christ to a lost world. Mary understood this. And she did it unashamedly.
3. She worshiped humbly.
For some reason whenever I think of dirty, grimy, nasty feet, my mind always pulls up a mental picture stashed away from watching The Lord of the Rings. Remember Frodo’s hairy feet? Why that comes to mind? I’m not sure. I don’t imagine that Jesus’ feet were quite that hairy, but they were no doubt just as dirty and nasty. Sandals were the only shoes of choice. Dirt was the only highway of choice. On the dusty paths of Israeli terrain, no feet could have gone far without being totally covered and consumed with dust, grime, mire and filth.
Now contrast the disgusting feet of a middle-eastern man with the elaborate, beautiful hair of a middle-eastern woman. In that culture the hair of a woman was her most prized possession. It was considered her beauty covering and her glory (1 Corinthians 11:15). Her hair was connected to her essence—what others thought of her and who she considered herself to be. And yet in spite of the cultural importance of her hair, Mary used her beauty covering in the same way she would have used a dirty washcloth. Picture the beautiful, immaculate, long flowing hair of Mary scrubbing the filth, mud and grime off of the feet of the Savior. To say this was a humbling act is an understatement. This was a humiliating act. This was a degrading act. This was an act of total self-abandonment. She threw caution to the wind. She humbled herself by giving up the one thing that gave her honor and dignity, and she sacrificed it for a few moments to worship at the feet of Jesus.
Genuine worship is about coming to the feet of Jesus in total humility. It’s about abandoning what we are driven to hold on to—what we think brings us dignity and honor. It’s about saying, “God, the world says I need to drive a Hummer and live in a massive house by the back nine and go to my beach house on the weekends, BUT You have called me to take food, medicine and the Gospel to the slum children in Johannesburg, South Africa, so that’s what I’ll do.” Or, “God, the world says _____, BUT You have told me to _____.” You fill in the blanks. I don’t know where the rubber meets the road for you. If we are honest, most of us are living safe in the four walls of our preppy middle-class school or work environment and no one knows that we secretly follow Christ. But what would happen if people knew?
What sacrifice would it mean? True worship means that we count all as loss for the sake of knowing Christ.
“More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
4. She worshiped unreservedly.
What about the perfume? Why was it significant? From Judas’ stupid remark in verse five, we discover that it is worth 300 denarii, which lands somewhere in the neighborhood of one year’s wages or about ten thousand dollars. Many scholars believe that Mary could have been saving this for her dowry—the costly gift that she would one day bring into her marriage. Instead, she poured it out at the feet of Jesus unreservedly. She kept nothing back. It was expensive. It was costly. It was important to her. Yet she gave it all. She anointed Jesus’ feet with the same oil that was to be reserved and held for the most important person in her life. And she worshiped Jesus, not as her husband, but as her Lord and Savior—not as a mere human being, but as the God of the universe. One commentator described worship this way:
“In praising a creature, we may easily exceed the truth; but in praising God we have only to go on confessing what He really is to us.”*
That’s what Mary did. And if she could have, she probably would have sat at His feet forever. She gave all that was important to her. And she gave it without reservation or hesitation.
Mary teaches us what genuine worship is all about.
It’s willful. It’s a conscious, active choice—a choice that supercedes feelings and opinions.
It’s bold. There’s no shame in true worship. It tells the world of our love for and devotion to Christ.
It’s wrought in humility. There is no place for ego in the worship of God. It’s abandoning our will in submission to God’s.
And it’s unreserved. It’s costly. It’s expensive.
Worship involves giving to God what matters most to us and what He desires most from us.
*Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1961), p. 1444.