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What Is Worship?

Public Domain (with exceptions)1

O come, let us worship and bow down:
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
— Psalm 95:6 kjv

What is worship? It has been defined as “the adoring response of the heart and mind to the influence of the Spirit of God.” Whatever else may or may not accompany it, worship must be “in spirit and in truth.” With or without form or ceremony, it must have this quality. Form is more for the assembly than the individual. The response of the soul, this expectant turning of the heart to Him, may be in silence, sermon, song, or prayer. The ear may hear the sermon, but the heart must hear God. The eye may see the externalism of service, but the inward spirit by faith must see God. The worship is the spiritual intoning there is in the service. It is not the hearing of the sermon, but the undercurrent in the soul flowing Godward which carries sermon, song, and prayer on its bosom, as does the river the vessel. In worship the main thing is the cooperation, or response of the human spirit to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Without this, the hearing of the sermon is not worship. Without this, listening to the choir is not praise. Without this, repeating the Lord’s Prayer is not praying.  Without this, a deposit in the contribution box is not sacrifice.

We like the following suggestions from the St. Louis Advocate:

Worship is the act of going into the presence of God to praise and adore His excellency and glory; to be impressed with the exalted majesty, the infinite holiness, the omnipotence and eternity of God, and the revelation of Himself in the person and work of Christ. So, in a measure, lose sight of self, and time, and earth, that the heart may be able “to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple” [Psalm 27:4]. To worship is to fill the soul with the being and perfections of God till praise, adoration, and prayer burst from or sit silent on the lips. Worship belongs to God’s house. Worship is the acceptable attitude in which to appear in God’s house.

Worship is not only an act of piety, but it is a school in which all the principles of a vigorous piety are learned. The being deeply impressed with the idea of God — His infinite holiness, mercy, justice, and power — and the prostration of the soul before Him in adoring love, are not only essential to bring the soul into communion with God through Christ, but also essential to culture the virtues which constitute Christian character.

It ought to be noticed in this connection that this want of the real idea of worship has a bearing more than at first might be supposed on the gathering of the people. It means whether we gather hearers or worshippers. God’s idea seems to be to gather worshippers. The popular idea is to gather hearers. The first secures spirituality, the latter a company with itching ears [2 Timothy 4:3-4]. How shall we have it? Shall we return to the old-time service and secure worshippers? The sensationalism of the day is largely due to the presence of some other idea than that of worship. In fact the true worshipper does not want the sensationalism; he will not have it if he can avoid it. In proportion to the measure of the spirit of worship we have in our gatherings, the more we will have the recognized presence of God and count less on the presence of some great speaker. Worship brings the greatest speaker — God. Worship brings the greatest entertainer — God.

So shall we worship or “just go to meeting”? Consider the example of Elkanah, the father of the prophet Samuel: “And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice” (1 Samuel 1:3). The Scriptural idea of going to the house of God is to worship and offer sacrifice. We seem to have gotten very far away from this first order of original service. How far off is this going not to worship, but to hear!

In some places the whole people seem to have lost out of all their thinking the idea of going to church to worship. Void of any reverent spirit or manner or posture of body, there is nothing sacred in day, nor place, nor manner, nor conduct. So the whole service is dead and without spiritual force. We have seen times when it was it a hard matter to get a congregation quiet enough to begin the meeting. Again, there is such a spirit of visiting and levity, and such utter absence of any worshipful respect, as to render it all but impossible to gain any intelligent and serious attention.

It is true the speaker might go to telling stories, or pounding somebody, or discussing some irreligious popular question, and have a hearing; but then this is neither preaching the gospel nor worship. The pulpit is not ordained of God for entertainment nor amusement. It is the point of leadership for a body of worshippers. Elkanah and family did not go up to hear; they went to worship. The question was not, “Have you heard the wonderful Dr. Stardust, or the renowned evangelist Dr. Stirall?” but “Have you been at the temple worship?” When the congregation comes to measure the church service by their ears instead of their hearts, and the preacher becomes a “drawing” entertainer and amuser, then the church has turned into a religious lecture association and the preacher has abandoned the pulpit for the platform, and caters to the public taste instead of occupying the high calling of being a mouthpiece for God. Is it not time we become worshippers again, and make all our churches places of worship?

Jesus was a great preacher, but He taught men to worship. Notwithstanding all the wonderful things He told the woman of Samaria, He taught her that the idea was worship, and not form, or ceremony, or place, or law, or sacrifice, or sermon, or psalm [John 4:19-26]. The wise men of the East came to “worship and offer gifts,” according to old-time usage [Matthew 2:1-12, esp. vv. 2 and 11]. The Greeks came up to Jerusalem to worship [John 12:20]. The eunuch came up also to worship [Acts 8:27]. Even the devil knew that the main thing was worship, so he tried to get Jesus to fall down and worship him [e.g., Matthew 4:8-10].

Losing this idea, we have come to a time when the masses of the people go to hear instead of going to worship. So it is to “hear the sermon,” and “listen to the choir,” and “see the decorations” and the fashionable people and the fashions. Too much, God is an unrecognized party. His “house of prayer” [Luke 19:46] is a place of entertainment and display. There are plenty of “itching ears,” but few burning hearts. There are eyes to see new bonnets and to note who comes to church, but very few to look for “the King in His beauty” [Isaiah 33:17]. There is eagerness to have fancy stirred, emotion awakened, the imagination pleased, and the intellect rallied and charged for some battle of the reason, but weariness when the heart is reached with the matter of sin and salvation. As it is, “God is not in the thinking” of many of the people in any practical sense, nor is He to them more than a kind of dreamy, faraway abstraction.

Unless there is a change, we will soon be repeating the epitome of history found in Romans 1:28 — “Even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind.”



  1. The text itself is public domain. It was transcribed by Jim Kerwin, biographer of Isaiah Reid, and co-edited and emended with Denise Kerwin. Annotations and emendations are copyright © YEAR by Jim Kerwin along with his other contributions to the online, print, and e-book versions of Isaiah Reid’s works.
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