3 Stories of Worship in the Bible

  • Written By 
  • Jonathan Swindal

Stories of Worship in the Bible

The Scriptures are filled with stories of people embodying radical, sacrificial worship. One can be found on nearly every page if a broad enough definition of worship is employed. But here are a few of the more well-known stories of worship in the Bible that can tell us something about what God desires and how we might learn to participate in it. 

1st of 3 Stories of Worship in the Bible:

Woman Anointing Jesus’ Feet / Alabaster Box (Luke 7:36-50) 

This story has undoubtedly been told, taught, preached, and written about since the day it occurred. Jesus predicts as much! We are most familiar with how this sinful lady anointed Jesus with outrageously expensive perfume by spreading it on his feet with her hair.

There was an extravagance to her worship that is worth beholding in awe.

It is also true that the writers intend this to be a kind of anointing of Jesus for impending death, of which she is likely to be completely unaware. That’s a thread that could be neatly pulled and highlighted. But one of the often unnoticed threads comes when we read it in conjunction with the story that precedes it: John the Baptist questioning whether Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

What often gets missed in this story

We have John the Baptist sitting in prison questioning the Messiahship of Jesus because, circumstantially, things had seemed to have spun out of control. John knew his message was to make way for Jesus – he grew up with Jesus and identified Jesus as Messiah early in his ministry. He even baptized Jesus! But in the moment of disappointment, he sincerely questions whether he misidentified Jesus from the beginning.

The above story gives this story more significance.

Then we have a lady, named only by the sinful life she had lived, barge into a dinner amongst the religious elite and identifies Jesus with a confidence most of us only dream of having. How does she do it? By “wasting” a bottle of perfume worth something like $50,000 on his feet!

How is it that John, of all people, doubts, while this sinful lady acts as a true prophet inaugurating the prelude to Jesus’ ministry climax?

Luke is telling us that sometimes those who have no business – in a practical sense – knowing Jesus see him most clearly. Luke’s gospel communicates over and over again how Jesus came to extend the hospitality of God to “the least of these” (while the Scribes and Pharisees continue to resist it), and this lady – from among the “least of these” – extends genuine hospitality back to God. She does this by anointing his Son, Jesus, for his crowning moment.

The question is this: do we have eyes to see Jesus when he turns out to be different than we imagined?

And when we have missed Him, do we have the humility to allow the “unqualified” to show us the way back to him? From the list of stories about worship in the Bible, this one is convicting. Convicting because it requires a humility to accept Jesus as he truly is above who we sometimes wish he was. It doesn’t always work that way, but when it does, I hope that we will. 

2nd of 3 Stories of Worship in the Bible:

Paul and Silas in Prison (Acts 16:16-34) 

Whenever a preacher is teaching on “praise,” you can expect to hear a reference to this passage. And rightfully so! It is one of the most potent stories of worship in the Bible. However, it may be too familiar for us to recognize how striking their actions actually are.

Paul and Silas are thrown in prison, and “about midnight,” they begin “praying and singing hymns to God” loudly enough for other prisoners to hear. On my better days, it’s unlikely that in that situation, my response would be identifiably Christian at all, let alone that of singing hymns! 

This story of worship in the Bible highlights two very different outcomes for Paul and Silas when they do what’s right.

First, they cast out demons from an oppressed girl and are imprisoned for it. Not exactly the outcome they were hoping for, but it is in accordance with much of what else happens in the book of Acts: faithful Christian action is resisted by persecution. Ouch. But then, while in prison, they, once again, do what’s right: they cry out to God in prayer and singing out of desperation. This time the outcome is that a violent earthquake shakes their chains off and the cell doors free.

This is their chance to escape! God has moved on their behalf, right!?

A few pages before, in Acts 12, a similar thing happened to Peter. He was in prison for preaching and performing miracles when “the chains fell off Peter’s wrists,” and an angel led him out. But Paul and Silas don’t do this because they realize it will inevitably jeopardize the jailer’s life. They decide to stay in prison and lead the jailer and his family to faith in Jesus.

First, Paul and Silas’s faithful action freed a young girl yet landed them in prison. Second, it got them free in prison but compelled them to stay. Finally, it changed the course of the jailer’s family’s future.

Paul and Silas knew what many of us do not: praise does not assure us of immediate beneficial outcomes.

We don’t worship because it keeps the worst things from happening to us. We worship because we love God and trust that, ultimately, he will bring about something good, even if it must come out of something terrible. This is one of my favorite stories of worship in the Bible because it reframes the purpose of praise.

3rd of 3 Stories of Worship in the Bible:

The Widow’s Mite (Mark 12:41-44)

The most prominent lesson from this story is that the purest and most authentic sense of worship is when we give all we have. When all our lives and resources are committed to God and his Kingdom. This is undoubtedly true.

Additionally, we also learn from this passage that Jesus is watching. God pays attention to not only what we give but what our gift means to us and how we give it.

Quantitatively this lady gave the least.

It would have been nearly impossible to give any less than she gave! But she gave in faith of the little she had. Her gift was likely unnoticed in the moment of her giving and in the accounting for the collective gifts at the end of the day. But Jesus noticed and felt it was special enough to draw his disciples around and teach them to notice true worship.

There’s something even more profound going on that our modern Bibles cause us to miss

In our Bibles, this is the end of Chapter Twelve, but the authors didn’t write with chapter breaks. What immediately follows is Jesus predicting the impending doom of the Temple itself. Scholars have argued about what Jesus was referring to, but it almost certainly is a prediction of the destruction of the physical Temple in AD 70.

Why is this important?

Because, practically speaking, the “temple treasury” to which the widow gave is a resource for the building about to be destroyed! It’s as if Jesus said, “She’s giving to a lost cause, and it’s still beautiful!”

Have you ever wondered *why* we worship? Or if our worship is “doing anything” at all?

I certainly have. Ultimately, this passage seems to indicate that it doesn’t matter! We worship God because He is worthy, and it’s all his anyway.

Sure, when we worship with giving, it does matter in a very real sense. But to the God without need, our worship reveals what’s happening inside us. Where are our hearts? What really matters to us? Do we worship because it makes us feel like we’re contributing? Of course, our giving does matter, but only because God has asked us to do it. When worship seems pointless, like it’s not “accomplishing” anything, remember: God doesn’t need our money or anything at all. But he’s given everything because he wants our hearts.

These stories reveal so much about worship.

These stories beautifully illustrate the essence of true worship – a selfless outpouring of love and adoration of the Lord. Additionally, it highlights that worship is about choosing Jesus for who He is more than who we wish He were. We hope these stories of worship in the Bible challenge you to go deeper in your love, surrender, and dependency on the Lord. This is what God desires from us and what makes our hearts come to life. 

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