October 19, 2017

The Importance of Worship

Dennis L. Peterson

Today’s world is characterized by hustle and bustle. Everyone, it seems, is in a hurry to get somewhere or do something. This is the age of the “instant.” Microwave ovens, personal computers, e-mail, the Internet, and other “get-it-quick” time-savers have only increased our desire for instant gratification. And when delays keep us from receiving what we want instantly, we often find ourselves frantic, with our nerves frayed and our tempers short.

Unfortunately all of this “instantness” has created a problem. That is, it’s affecting us spiritually. Many people expect spiritual growth to be instantaneous too. We want to grow in the Lord, but we are often too impatient to let Him achieve that growth in His time.

Perhaps nowhere is this sad state more obvious than in our practice of worshiping God. Modern Christianity, like the lost world, has come to equate worship with works. We “worship” God by serving Him; so we reason that the more we work (i.e., the busier we are in “the work of the Lord”), the more spiritual we must be.

Years ago, famed teacher and author A. W. Tozer referred to this problem as “the lost art of worship” (A Treasury of A.W. Tozer, Christian Publications, 1980). He briefly explained himself by writing, “God wants worshipers before workers; indeed, the only acceptable workers are those who have learned the lost art of worship.”

Is worship really an art? At first, this statement might appear to be a misconception, but a careful analysis of Tozer’s thesis reveals that he was right on target. The idea deserves our consideration and could revolutionize our Christian lives—if we are willing to take the time without expecting instant results!

If Worship Is Not Work, What Is It?

Webster’s Ninth New World Dictionary defines worship as “extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem.” A Dictionary of the Bible & Christian Doctrine (Beacon Hill, 1986) hones this basic definition a bit, offering insights into the means of worship: “People worship God through adoration, prayers, thanksgiving and preaching. People also worship God by singing hymns. . . . Public worship prepares people to serve God in the world.”

If acceptable service is preceded by worship, then service without worshipful preparation is unacceptable. Rather, it is a mere spinning of wheels. Even worse, as Puritan author Thomas Watson frequently noted in his works, it is sin!

There is that in the best actions of a righteous man that is damnable, if God should weigh him in the balance of justice. . . . The regenerate have a will to obey God’s law perfectly, but they want strength; their obedience is weak and sickly (A Body of Practical Divinity, 1692).

Worship that precedes service, on the other hand, establishes the proper motives, direction, and attitude toward our service and sets the parameters to assess the results. It permits our service to become a means of properly worshiping God.

The Bible provides the best source for discovering what the art of worship involves. Early on, its pages command us to worship “no other god” than the true God (Exod. 20:3, 4; 34:14). It also tells us that worship includes some degree of fear as we recognize both God’s holiness, which is the core of true worship (2 Kings 17:36), and the utter unworthiness of who we are and what we do.

Tozer wrote, “The One who made us to worship Him has decreed how we should worship Him. He accepts only the worship which He Himself has decreed.” Applying this principle to modern living, what ingredients should we expect in true worship?

The Ingredient of Prayer

The first ingredient is communion with God. Prayer is not something that we can mix in a glass in the morning and drink quickly for “instant fellowship.” It requires time and thoughtfulness. It requires our being still, listening for God to speak to our hearts before we rush to Him with all of our needs and requests.

But we are so busy! We have to rush off to work, or we’ll never get everything done! How can we afford to take time to pray?

Charles Haddon Spurgeon warned, “He who rushes from his bed to his business and waiteth not to worship, is as foolish as though he had not put on his clothes . . . and as unwise as though he dashed into battle without arms or armor.” When reformer Martin Luther was overwhelmed by daily tasks, he declared, “I have so much to do today, I must spend five hours in prayer.”

How much of our worship is devoted to prayer? Even the average church’s “prayer meeting” includes only a token gesture toward prayer. When public prayer is offered, are we really praying with the person at the podium? How much private praying do we really do? Are we content to pray only before each meal or whenever we get into a bind? When we do pray, do we rush through, thoughtlessly rattling off hackneyed clichés, without waiting for God to speak to us?

We are to seek God’s face (pray) continually (1 Chron. 16:11), always (Eph. 6:18), and without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). The results will be strength (1 Chron. 16:11), answers from God (Matt. 7:7), and help in resisting temptation (Matt. 26:41). Through prayer we will be prepared to enter into God’s presence in true, acceptable worship.

The Ingredient of Bible Reading

Closely associated with prayer in worship is Bible reading, examining God’s Word to discover what He wants us to know, do, and be. This, too, requires time. We cannot grow in the art of worship—or in any other spiritual area—without feeding on His Word regularly. One veteran missionary was so profoundly influenced by the realization of his need for God’s Word that he made his motto “No Bible—no breakfast!”

If prayer is our method of talking to God, our reading of the Bible is God’s way of speaking to us. Worship is a dialogue, not a monologue. We are to take time not only to communicate to God, but also to let Him speak to us.

God’s Word is the source of our faith (Rom. 10:17). It is the food for our souls, more important than even our daily bread (Deut. 8:3; Job 23:12). It is the weapon in our daily spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:17) and our encouragement in times of trial and disappointment (Jer. 15:16). Also, it is the heart of our worship of God.

The Ingredient of Singing

Another ingredient of worship is singing, the expression of our joy, praise, and adoration of God. The Psalms are replete with injunctions and examples of singing in worship. Psalm 100, for instance, tells us, “Come before his presence with singing” (v. 2). Likewise, Ephesians 5:19 instructs that we should be “speaking to [ourselves] in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in [our hearts] to the Lord.” For those of us who lack the ability to sing with quality, God tells us to “make a joyful noise” (Ps. 100:1)!

In too many “worship” services, however, the singing has become more a form of entertainment for the congregation than a method by which we worship God. Contemporary Christian music (CCM) has begun to creep into otherwise Fundamental churches, substituting emotion, sensuality, and “vain repetition” for spirituality. God has specified principles for the use of music in our worship of Him, and we must not violate them if we want Him to accept our worship.

The Ingredient of Giving

Giving is another integral part of worship. Old Testament law commanded the giving of tithes and offerings in the worship ceremonies. Both in the early church and today, giving to meet the needs of others—especially of fellow believers—and to spread the gospel message is considered part of worship. Certainly, all that we have belongs to God, but He desires that we voluntarily present offerings to Him in worship.

God freely gives to us salvation, daily life and provisions, plus abundant blessings. Every good gift comes from Him (James 1:17); the least we can do is give back a portion to Him. He provides for us not only to meet our own needs but also so that we, in turn, can give to help others (2 Cor. 1:4). Such giving is also the method that He has established for the furtherance of the gospel and the maintenance of the local church (1 Cor. 16:2).

But none of our giving will be acceptable worship if it represents less than our whole selves. We must, like the Macedonian believers (2 Cor. 8:1–5), first give ourselves to the Lord before our other gifts—whether money or talents—are acceptable in God’s worship.

The Ingredient of Service

Service is an important, although often misunderstood and misapplied, form of worship. Although some people have mistakenly used visible service activities (“works”) as indicators of one’s inner spirituality, that is no reason to ignore its importance as a means of worship. We are not saved by works but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:9). The measure of our spirituality is not what we do, but what we are in Christ. So if we truly are believers, we will express our thanks to God by voluntarily serving Him.

Believers and society at large will benefit from such service. The history of the United States is replete with examples of how working and witnessing Christians have brought God’s blessings upon not only the church but also upon our fellow man in the United States.

Results of True Worship

What are the results of true worship? We will know God’s will and obey it (Rom. 12:1, 2). We will love and have genuine fellowship with the brethren (1 John 4:21). We will serve God with our daily lives. We will be salt and light in the world, witnesses who are showing others the way to Christ (Matt. 5:13, 14). Also, our worship will be acceptable to God because our lives will be holier, our motives purer, and our worship “in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 29:2). True worship is indeed a lost art. But it is not impossible to cultivate that art if we sincerely want it and are willing to slow down and take the time necessary to practice it.


Dennis L. Peterson is a graduate of Bob Jones University working as a freelance editor and writer. He lives in Powell, Tennessee.

(Originally published in FrontLine • September/October 2003. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


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