The Difference Between Prayer and Worship

Lent 3 Thursday

John 4:20-24

[The woman said:] “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you say the place where one should worship is in Jerusalem. Jesus said to her: “Woman, believe me, the time will come where you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor at Jerusalem. You do not know what you worship; but we know what we worship; for salvation is from the Jews. But there will be a time, and it is already now, that the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. For the Father wants to have those who worship him in this way. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in Spirit and in truth.”


The second form of worship is honest and spiritual. It is free regarding all outward matters, so that one does not require special places or special gestures; for everyone may, wherever he is, worship spiritually, whether he is in the field, whether he is sick in bed, imprisoned in a dungeon, not only at church, chapel, before the altar, or on the knees. But I think there are very many people who do not know what the word “worship” means, and who do not know the difference between praying and worshiping. This is why we must first explain this difference in order to be able to instruct regarding true worship all the more easily. Worshiping is not a work of the mouth like praying, petitioning, and imploring. For “praying” means really to recount the words of the prayer, like, e.g., the psalms or the Lord’s Prayer. But “petitioning” means to present my need and cause in and with such prayer and words, naming and indicating the same, as, e.g., the Lord’s Prayer includes seven petitions, etc. “Imploring” means when I, beyond petitioning, exhort God in prayer by invoking something that he considers great, e.g., his mercy, name, honor, truth, or through Christ, etc. Additionally, there is intercession for others, as well as praise and thanksgiving. All these are works of the mouth. But none of these is “worshiping,” for worshiping is not the work of the mouth only, but is a work of the entire body, namely, lowering the head, bowing the body, falling on the knees, falling prostrate, etc. This is done as a sign and acknowledgement of the authority and power, just as one silently bows before secular princes and lords, and as the popes, bishops, abbots, and the people let themselves be honored with bowing and kneeling, etc. Such outward honoring is what Scripture calls worshiping. … This is why one reads in Scripture that outward honoring is shown indistinctly to both God and kings, as outward bowing and kneeling is shown to God and men to this day. Now, from this outward worshiping you may gather what Christ means by true spiritual worshiping, namely, an honoring or bowing of the heart by which you show yourself from the bottom of your heart and confess yourself to be his submissive creature. From this you see that such worship is nothing but faith or at least faith’s highest work in relation to God. For no one is able to perform in his heart toward God such wholehearted bowing, bending, honoring, confessing, or however you want to call it, unless he firmly considers God to be his Lord and Father from whom he has, or will have, all good things; by whom he, without any merit, is redeemed and preserved from all sin and evil. In summary, where there is no such wholehearted trust and confidence of the true living faith, of which I have spoken often, there such worship cannot take place. For without faith, God is not recognized wholeheartedly, by faith’s confidence. This is also why it is impossible that God should be confessed, honored, and worshiped without such faith. For although someone might call him God and Father with the mouth and honor him outwardly, the heart is nonetheless false and the whole thing turns into lies and hypocrisy. But where the heart’s worship is present, there the outward bowing, bending, kneeling, and honoring with the body will follow nicely.


St. Louis ed., 19:1324-1326.

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