Lip Service

Our service of worship is not to be lip service.

“This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” (Mark 7:6, NKJV) 

Having been called to worship through prayer and the reading of God’s Word, the congregation stood to respond in praise to God. The words to “Holy, Holy, Holy” were projected on the wall at the front of the sanctuary. The assembly stood and raised its voice to sing. 

      Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!

      Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.

      Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty!

      God in three Persons, blessed Trinity! 

I was among the congregation. As I sang the lyrics at the front, directly in my line of sight stood a woman. In her hand she held the church bulletin, reading the copious announcements printed therein. She mouthed the words on the wall but it was the words on the page that occupied her attention. 

Jesus spoke about superficial, artificial worship when He said: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me’” (Mark 7:6). 

Before we pick up stones, we might ask ourselves how many times we have sung a song or prayed a prayer where our lips formed the words but our minds were elsewhere, our hearts far from God. 

Jesus castigated ritualistic worship for its hypocrisy. If we are true believers who have bowed the knee in repentance and faith to rest upon Christ alone for our salvation, we tend not to think ourselves as hypocrites. 

But the word hypocrite can simply mean to be insincere. Our worship can be a pretense of going through the motions. Our body is checked off by the usher as present, while our mind has checked out of the present. 

Two things can help us in cultivating the heart-felt worship our God wants of us. 

First, we want to recognize worship is not an end in itself but a means to an end. The end is the praise of the glory of our God as Creator and Redeemer. In worship we meet with the living God, at His beckon, through His Son, to proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. 

Second, we want to prepare ourselves. Like we might ready the lawnmower for cutting the grass, we want to ready our hearts for the task at hand. We can do that through prayer. Psalms like 95 or 100 or 103 or 145 can give us words. Aware of my own proneness to wander, to leave the God I love, a prayer of preparation that I have found helpful is by the Puritan, Matthew Henry. Here’s a portion: 

Show your saving grace through the prayers, the singing of psalms and hymns, the reading of Scripture, the confession of our faith, the testimony of the blessed, the preaching of your word, and the celebration of the sacraments. Help us overcome our many weaknesses and the sins that so easily distract us in our service of worship. Let your word come with life and power to our souls. Make it like the good seed sown in good soil. Let it take root and yield fruit to your glory. Let our prayers and praises be spiritual sacrifices acceptable in your sight through Christ Jesus. (A Way to Pray, Banner of Truth, 2010, p. 343) 

Our service of worship cannot be lip service. May the Spirit of the living God tune your heart to sing His praise! 

Digging Deeper

  1. What are your struggles in worshiping from the heart? Tell them to God.
  2. What two ways does this article suggest for engaging ourselves in meaningful worship? What steps will you take to help you draw near to God? 

Searcher of hearts, You know full well how disengaged, distracted, and even disinterested I can be in my times of public and private worship. I thank You for Your patience with me and love in Christ that will not let me go. Help me to bless Your holy name with all that is within me. In the name of Your Son, my Savior, I pray. Amen. 

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Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and nine grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.

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