Summary: Most Christians go to church on Sunday, and their professed reason for doing so is to worship God. In fact, they call their meeting places “houses of worship.” However, not every faith worships God the same way. Some worship services are solemn and quiet, while others are loud and boisterous. In nearly every church hymns are sung and prayers are offered, and virtually every church has someone who gives a sermon, lecture, or talk whereby they expound on the scriptures and instruct their members on the principles of salvation. But how does doing any or all of these things qualify as us worshipping God? This article examines the answer to this question.
The Lord has commanded us, “that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High; (D&C 59:9-10)
Most Christians go to church on Sunday, and their professed reason for doing so is to worship God. In fact, they call their meeting places “houses of worship.” However, not every faith worships God the same way. Some worship services are solemn and quiet, while others are loud and boisterous. Some sing traditional hymns accompanied by an organ while others sing more contemporary music accompanied by electric guitars and drums. In some churches people come to worship God dressed in formal clothing while other churches encourage their members to come dressed very casually.
In some churches the worship service includes the reading in unison of the scriptures or other liturgical tenants of their faith, while in many churches the members in the congregation sit quietly except for the singing of hymns. Most churches have choirs, and as part of nearly every church service there is someone who gives a sermon, lecture, or talk whereby they expound on the scriptures and instruct their members on the principles of salvation.
Although known by different names, another part of nearly all Christian worship services is the taking of the symbols of Christ’s body and blood. For many Christians, this is the most sacred part of their worship because it’s a reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made to atone for our sins. And in addition to all of this, prayers are offered at various times throughout the service.
Besides the worship service itself, nearly all churches also have a program called Sunday School, where both young people and adults attend a lesson where they are further taught about the gospel of Jesus Christ and can also join in a discussion about what the scriptures teach.
This is what a typical Sunday worship service looks like, but is this what it means to worship God?
It is said that the singing of hymns is a form of worship where we acknowledge God’s goodness, love, and salvation in song, but although many worshippers may know the words to these hymns by heart, it’s safe to say that not many people actually think about the words they’re singing. And if that’s the case then how is that worshipping God? Is God pleased when we mindlessly sing words of praise to him?
Most church choirs sing very beautiful hymns, with soul-stirring arrangements that leave their listeners praising the choir’s talents, but does someone else singing hymns for us count as our worship of God?
And the same is true of prayers. All Christian faiths teach that we should pray to God, and in our prayers we give thanks to him for all that he has done for us. And, indeed, giving gratitude to someone is a form of worship, but when someone else gives a prayer, is that the same as us worshipping God? It can be said that the person offering the prayer does so for everyone in the congregation, and at the end of the prayer most Christians say amen, which signifies that they agree with what’s just been said.
But how many people actually listen to the prayer, and how many people say “Amen,” more out of habit rather than because they genuinely agree with what the speaker said? And if that’s the case, then is it acceptable for us to vicariously worship God by letting someone else do the singing and praying for us?
When Christ said that we should “pay thy devotions unto the Most High,” on his holy day in the house of prayer, what does that really mean and exactly how do we do that?
In order to answer that question we first need to define what it means to worship someone. The dictionary defines this as “to honor or show reverence such as a divine being.” The word “honor” means to show great respect, and the word “reverence” means “a feeling of great awe.” Therefore, to worship God means we honor him by showing him great respect in a way that shows our great awe and admiration for him.
We pray to God as “our Father in heaven” but he is more than just our Father, he is a king. But he’s not just an ordinary king but is the King of kings and his kingdom includes both our entire world as well as worlds unseen. Because of his very position, his every word is law and he has the power to control all things both on the earth and throughout the universe. He has the power over life and death, and has the power to bless or to curse. Surely, such a magnificently powerful being is not someone we want to trifle with, nor treat with casual indifference, but is someone who deserves our greatest respect, honor, and veneration.
It is common for Christians to talk about having a personal relationship with God, but that doesn’t mean we treat God with brotherly comradery as though we are equals. We can come to know and love God, and he can show us great love and compassion, but he is still our ruler and we are always his humble servants. We may pray to him for favors, but he is under no obligation to grant our requests. On the other hand, when God gives us commandments, he holds us responsible for obeying them.
Therefore, when we worship God, we do so in an attitude of great awe, and with great respect. When we come before God we do so to honor him, and we should do so with great reverence, and devotion.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment in the law was, he answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all of thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). To love God with all of our heart is an act of worship. Jesus said, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).“If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Therefore, when we obey God we are worshipping him. The apostle Paul taught that we are “to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9), therefore, when we serve God we are worshipping him.
And the opposite is just as true. When we say we love God but we also love the things of the world and are not willing to give up everything we have for Christ, then we aren’t really loving God with all of our heart. Instead, we are giving him only part of our love, which means our heart also belongs to someone or something else. If that is the case then we might be saying with our lips, Lord, Lord, but if our hearts are far from him then we’re not really respecting him. When we’re only willing to obey some of the commandments he gives us, then we’re not really honoring him, and when we serve him reluctantly or slothfully, then it’s an indication that we’re not very much in awe of him.
The Lord has commanded us to “go to the house of prayer… upon my holy day… and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High.” That’s not a suggestion, or a recommendation, or some good advice. It’s a commandment! When we come to church each Sunday we do so for the express purpose of worshipping our Father in heaven and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Then how do we do that?
We should first realize that although the singing of hymns and the saying of prayers are part of our worship service, in and of themselves, they are not how we, personally, worship God. Those things are mainly for the purpose of inviting the Spirit, which them helps put us in the mood to worship God more effectively. It’s similar to lowering the lights and playing soft music to help us relax. Hymns and prayers help take our mind off of the things of the world and orients our thoughts on the things of God, which helps prepare us to more easily worship God.
As stated earlier, to worship God involves honoring him, and we do that in the way we conduct ourselves in our houses of prayer. When we come to church, we enjoy meeting other members of our faith and are anxious to talk with them, and there is nothing wrong with that at the proper time and place. But when we come into our chapels, and the prelude music is playing, that should be a time for us to begin turning our thought to Christ.
Since everyone is different, no one will prepare themselves exactly the same way as they enter the chapel. Perhaps one person will say a silent, personal prayer as they wait for the service to begin, while someone else may quietly sing the words of the hymn being played, while someone else may read the scriptures.
However, unfortunately, most people keep talking right up to the time when the person conducting the worship service announces that the meeting is beginning, and then people frantically move to their seats, oftentimes still talking in whispered tones. Then they sing the opening hymn with gusto but without really paying much attention to the words they’re saying, let alone to their meaning.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, each week their members have the privilege and sacred opportunity to partake of the emblems of Christ’s body and blood, which is known to them as the sacrament. More than any other time during the worship service, each person is able to take this occasion to personally commune with God, to remember what Christ suffered and endured for our sake, to offer up our personal gratitude, to repent of our sins, and to recommit ourselves to serving God and keeping his commandments.
After this ordinance has been completed the congregation then listens to two or three talks by members of their ward or stake. Since these people are not paid professional preachers, sometimes their remarks may not be as interesting to listen to as others. And sometimes, even when there is a good speaker, it’s not uncommon to find people in the congregation doing things other than listening to what is being said.
In our age of technology, nearly everyone has a cell phone that can perform a wide variety of functions, from having an extensive library of church books, including all of the scriptures, to email accounts, to texting, internet access, and even the ability to watch movies. For this reason, many people take the time during the talks in sacrament meetings to do things on their cell phones.
Some people excuse their behavior by saying that they’re looking at church material, such as reading a conference talk, or reading the scriptures, or researching some gospel topic, or preparing for their Sunday School lesson. But the person at the podium is sharing with us a message that they’ve prepared and when we spend time doing other things rather than listening to what the speaker is saying, that’s being rude and inconsiderate to them.
But it’s worse than that, because we come to church to worship God, and the person doing the speaking is trying to share a gospel message with us that they have hopefully prayed about. When we choose not to listen to them, we are disrespecting the order that God has established. God didn’t command us to come to our house of prayer on Sunday to spend time reading the scriptures, or checking our email or text messages during Sacrament meeting. Our responsibility to God is to listen to what the speaker is saying.
Often the person who gives the opening prayer will ask for God’s Spirit to be with the speaker and with those who hear them. When we choose not to listen to what the speaker is saying, we are dismissing what was said in the opening prayer. In effect, we are closing our mind and ears to the Spirit. If our intended purpose for coming to church is to worship God, how ironic it is that we choose to tune out the Spirit that was invited into our place of worship through our hymns and prayers.
Image going before a great earthly king and while he’s talking we’re occupied doing something else because we’re not interested in what he has to say. Instead of being in awe of the king, we’re being disrespectful to him. When God commands us to come worship him and we spend our time following after our own pursuits, we’re being disobedient to him.
And that same mindset of worshipping God should exist as we attend our Sunday School, priesthood, and Relief Society meetings. We’ve been counseled to not only read but study and ponder the assigned lessons ahead of time at home so when we come to church we are able to share with others the thoughts and insights that the Holy Ghost has shared with us. As we do that, we are helping to build up the kingdom of God and help perfect the saints. In doing this we are serving Christ, which is a form of worshipping him.
When we come to church with the attitude of being taught by the Holy Ghost, as we listen to the speakers and to those who are conducting our lessons, we can not only be instructed, edified, and spiritually strengthened by God’s Spirit but we’re also showing our reverence for him and our willingness to learn from him. When we come to church with that kind of desire in our heart, then we are truly worshipping God.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Covenants