Finding the Book Again: Fire and Form, Spirit-Led Worship

‘Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD.’ When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes” (2 Kings 22:811 NIV).


The call for workers went out across the land from young King Josiah himself. The Temple was in need of repair.  Skilled carpenters and stone masons answered the call as did their young apprentices and their unskilled day laborers.  No one knows whether it was a master craftsman, a trainee, or just an ordinary guy, but somebody found the lost Books of the Law somewhere in the neglected and abused House of God.  Imagine the excitement as news of the discovery worked its way up the chain of command: First an excited worker vaguely sensing the importance of the dusty scrolls; then a skilled craftsman recognizing the quality of the workmanship of the manuscripts in the trembling hands of his helper; next a priest, then on to the high priest; then to the secretary of state; and finally to the king himself.

When the book was read in the presence of the king, he tore his robes. He realized that repair was needed on more important things than crumbling plaster, cracked walls, or leaking ceilings. The worship life of the people was in dire need of repair, reform, and restoration.

Josiah was twenty-six years old.  He had taken the throne when he was only eight, before he had learned the wicked ways of his fathers.  Perhaps his mother is given special mention in the Bible because she instilled in the boy a different spirit than the spirit of his age. It may be that at her hand the boy had seen glimpses of principles brighter than the darkness of the rule of raw power.  Maybe he had even known the sweetness of the presence of the Lord in his mother’s touch.  At the age of sixteen he began to seek the God of his father David. At age twenty he began his campaign to purify the nation of the heinous idolatry that gripped the people of God.[1]  When the Book of the Law was found and read to him, he commanded that it be read throughout the land, and reforms, based on demands of Scripture, marked his reign.  He conducted a worship reformation unparalleled in the history of Israel and Judah.

Personal Correlation and Reformation

I harbor no pretense of royalty. I’m no king, just a Minister of Music, but I do, however, identify with young Josiah.  I came to know Jesus when I was a child, in my mother’s Sunday School class.  I learned to sing songs like ‘Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.”  I remember a picture on the wall of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, carrying a poor injured lamb on his broad shoulders.  I sensed the very presence of the Good Shepherd in that little Sunday School room as my Mother’s sweet alto voice led us in song.  We were singing, ‘Oh, How I Love Jesus,” and I knew somehow that I was that little injured lamb and that Jesus had me in His strong arms.

As a doubting teen I tested but could not dismiss what I had seen and heard, and as an adult, these simple truths have been my mooring as the winds of fads and traditions have challenged my ministry.  I want to lead people to know the love of Jesus because the Bible is true and speaks to them. I want to help them love Jesus because He first loved them.  I want them to realize that no matter how severe their injury, His broad shoulders offer safety.

Also like Josiah, I am a reformer.  The worship conditions handed to the young king are far worse than any I have seen.  The account of his reforms in 2 Kings 23 paints the lurid picture of the worship handed down to him by his fathers.  The Temple of Jehovah was host to the worship of Baal and Asherah, male and female deities of the Canaanites.  Male prostitutes were housed in the Temple area, and skillful women wove garments to use in the worship of ‘Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts” (2 Kings 23:4 NIV).  The countryside and villages had also fallen into unimaginable paganism.  High places, shrines, and altars marred the land, but Josiah destroyed them and the unholy priests who manned them.

I doubt that things are that bad at your church; I know they aren’t at mine!  But a worship leader is a reformer wherever he or she is serving.  One of the principles of the Reformation is ‘Semper Reformanda,” ‘always reforming.”  We must be vigilant to see that the Book doesn’t get lost in the House of God.  We are the carpenters, stone masons, apprentices, and laborers who have answered the call to restore the House of God, the New Testament Temple, the Church, the ‘Habitation of God by His Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22 NIV).


Are we more skilled in our traditions than in the ways of the Book? Has the Book been lost in our house? As Reformers we must constantly seek the face of God, the will of God, and the plan of God, so that the worship we lead will be an encounter with God. God’s face, will, and plan are found in the Book. Should we settle for a version of Christian worship that doesn’t read like the Book?  Where are the miracles, signs, and wonders?  Where is the community of the Redeemed?  Where is the Kingdom of God come to earth?  Where is the form of godliness that throbs with the Power of God?  Where is the conviction of the Holy Spirit that grips the souls of sinners? Where is the River of Life that flows from the Throne of God for the healing of the nations?

Have we lost the Book in the House of God? Are we still a holy counter-culture loving the lost with selfless love while calling the nation to repentance and the church to holiness?  Can the Book be found on the pulpit or have other books shunted it aside?  Do we sing the Book, or do we sing sentimental, nostalgic artifacts or transient, trivial, narcissistic anthems to ourselves?

We are workmen who have been called by the King.  Let us put on our work clothes.  Let us find our work gloves and our tools. Let us search the Temple for the Book.  Like the King, let us tear our robes in sorrow and repentance as the words of the Book stream over us in a healing stream.  These lovely robes won’t save us.  They won’t win us a visitation from the King.  But the words of the Book will speak peace to us with a voice as tender as my mother’s voice: ‘Oh, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me.”


[1] This chronology is ‘confirmed by a comparison with the parallel history in 2 Chron 34 and 35. According to 2 Chron 34:3 ff., Josiah began to seek    the God of his father David in the eighth year of his reign, when he was still a youth, that is to say, not more than sixteen years old, and in the twelfth year of his reign began to purify Judah and Jerusalem from idolatry.” Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, New Updated Edition, Electronic Database (n.p.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996).


Dr. Steve Phifer received a Doctorate in Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. He has taught at Valley Forge University and Southeastern Assemblies of God University. For many years he was the Worship Pastor at Word of Life Church in Alexandria, VA.

More of Dr. Phifer’s materials can be found at

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