Our view of worship

Most of us probably walk away from worship each week evaluating how things went.  Were the songs to my liking?  Did the pastor preach well?  Was the service too long?  Did the band play well?  Was it too loud?  Were the prayers too long?  Did I connect with anything?  Did I agree or disagree with anything?  (Maybe you don’t ask those questions, but as a worship leader for over 25 years now, I’m accustomed to most of this on a weekly basis.)

But as much time as we spend evaluating our worship services, God is even more actively evaluating the worshipers.  Jesus said the Father was actually seeking out those who would worship Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23).  He’s looking for us to respond to Him, not to our worship environment!  After all, He is the recipient of true worship.  Therefore, a question we need to ask ourselves is this:

“Are the things we are concerned about regarding worship the same things He is concerned about regarding worship?”  

Have you ever considered whether the worship you offer on a Sunday morning is acceptable to God?  If so, what makes it acceptable?  What would make it unacceptable?  Is it possible for God to reject our worship?!  If we show up and sing songs, pray prayers, give an offering, and listen to a sermon, isn’t God happy with that?  Isn’t that what good Christians do?

We could look at the current state of our worship and say everything is fine.  God loves us just the way we are and He’s not too concerned with our worship styles as long as we are comfortable and we mean well.  But we could also look at worship and say everything needs to change.  Our approach is all wrong. 

I believe the answer is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.  Certainly, I believe God is enamored with His children, full of grace and compassion toward us.  And at the same time, I think we know we are not experiencing the fullness of what our worship experiences could look like, so perhaps they need some work.

God’s view of worship

First, let’s recognize that God addresses His people throughout scripture in regards to worship.  The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was set up to give the people right access to God and also to point toward Christ who would once and for all make a way for us to have peace with God (Romans 5:1).  God wants us to be with Him, but there are certain conditions that need to be met.  We will explore some of this here. 

God is consistently corrective toward how His people engage Him, and also consistently compassionate. Psalm 103:8 says “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  He brings correction and at the same time offers the promises of His grace and love. Isaiah 1:18 says “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” With His rebuke comes His grace.

Second, let’s look at what’s really important to God when it comes to worship. Worship is giving due worth to God, proclaiming His glory, and at the same time humbly offering our own hearts to Him.  When we come to Him with hearts that are full of pride and lives that are being lived in unrighteousness and sin, He doesn’t take to that very well.  Here is one rebuke He gives to Israel in Amos 5.

21 “I hate, I despise your feast days,
And I do not savor your sacred assemblies.
22 Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,
I will not accept them,
Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings.
23 Take away from Me the noise of your songs,
For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.
24 But let justice run down like water,
And righteousness like a mighty stream.

Amos 5:21-24

So according to Amos 5, God doesn’t just tolerate anything we do in worship because we do the action (i.e., pray a prayer, sing a song, etc.).  In verses 21-24, God says “I do not savor…,” “I will not accept…,” and “I will not hear….”  This should give us great pause.  We have to consider how we are approaching God. 

It is clear from this short passage and from the rest of Israel’s recorded history that God is far more concerned with righteousness than He is with empty religious rituals and sin-filled offerings of worship.  David realized this when he said in Psalm 51:17 “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” As I’ve said many times to my teams as a worship leader, humility is an absolute requirement for true worship.  God will always oppose pride (James 4:6).

God is far more interested in the integrity of our hearts than he is in our church attendance!  We cannot dismiss this as being Israel’s problem alone.  We need to look honestly at our worship today.  This may be difficult, but it is necessary.  We’ll come back to Amos 5.

Demo Day

My wife and I used to watch HGTV ALL. THE. TIME.  And we loved watching anything about flipping or renovation.  We especially loved watching Chip and Joanna on Fixer Upper. Some of the most entertaining moments on that show was watching Chip go wild on demo day!  What a nut!  Regardless of what show it was or who was doing the renovations or flipping a house, the process of fixing a place up always started with one thing: demolition.  You’ve got to break stuff before you can put new things in place and get it looking all nice again.

We need a spiritual demo day.

(Quick aside: I’ll be honest, this is not the fun part.  I’m looking forward to “building a house of worship”, to talking about all that God has given for us to be with Him.  I want to get to the part where we talk about all the tools we have to use for this incredible thing called a relationship with God and this amazing experience that corporate worship is supposed to be.  But before we get there, we have to start with some demolition….)

We’re going to have to break some things and clean out some junk so that we can make room for the right tools and furniture and some fresh decor.  And heads up: most of this is going to happen in your own house first.

Jesus had a couple of demo days. In John 2 and Matthew 21, we have accounts of Jesus cleansing the temple, overturning the tables of the money changers and driving out the merchants who were taking advantage of the temple system and profiting from it.  Their hearts were after something other than what God set up to begin with. 

We may not be buying and selling livestock for sacrifices and have tables for the exchange of currency, but in Matthew 21, Jesus gives the clearest vision for the purpose of the house of God when He says “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ (Matthew‬ ‭21‬:‭13‬)‬‬” 

So here’s the question for us: is prayer truly the central focus of what we do in the church?  For most of us, the answer is likely no. (And I’m pointing these same fingers at myself.) Remember God is after being present with and in relationship with His people, and this is exactly what prayer is about.  (We’ll get into more on this later.)  That doesn’t mean that prayer is the ONLY thing we do, but it points to the primary goal of God’s house. Unfortunately, however, prayer is very likely less than 10% of what we do in the church, and I’m being generous.

Return to the Lord

I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us back to the purity of prayer and worship today. We have our priorities grossly out of order. Our clever ideas and man-made programs have usurped the Holy Spirit-infused direction we need for strategic advancement of the kingdom of God. I’m not saying programs are all bad. We need organizations and structures, but we are far too distracted doing things around Jesus and are neglecting the one necessary thing (see Luke 10:42).

In order to be with us, God has historically commanded the construction of “temples,” of houses of worship, of places that are prepared for His presence to dwell.  We are now the temples of the Holy Spirit and for us it is no different.  Our “house” or “temple” (our physical body) is to be a house of prayer.  And this extends to the gathering places we call “churches.”

But because we have neglected prayer – that is, meeting with God and receiving from Him, our houses are often full of thieves.  We are allowing the enemy to run our house instead of consecrating ourselves to prayer as God has called us to do.  We are full of bitterness and envy, anger and rage, lust and perversion.  We are full of apathy and distraction, offense, rejection, and fear.  We are in full pursuit of our comfort and happiness above everything else.  And by allowing those “tables” to remain set up for business, we are stealing from God what He has given to us.  

We are allowing the enemy to use our physical and emotional resources when they should be used for God alone.  We give away our love and affection, our time and money, our thoughts, plans, and dreams to keep our sin in business instead of seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). 

Friends, it is ruining our “houses” of worship (both personal and collective), which are largely vacant of His manifest presence, and many are asleep to it.  I’m telling you, there is more of God than what we are experiencing and it’s time to get hungry for Him.

Stop going through the motions

Back to Amos 5 for a moment: notice that the people are gathering, worshiping, sacrificing, and singing. But it’s not acceptable to God because there is no righteousness. Bringing ourselves into the house of God for worship without a heart that is pursuing righteousness is not going to return good results.  We can be going through the motions externally and be vacant spiritually.  Jesus looked at the religious leaders of his day who were doing this and told them they were like white-washed tombs, “which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27). 

Have we fallen into the same trap?

Perhaps, but here’s the good news: Jesus raises dead people.

Friends, now is the time to heed the call to pure prayer and pure worship. We can’t be more concerned with our comfort, our preferences, our schedules, and our agendas than we are with getting at the feet of Jesus. We must let Jesus turn over the tables of our hearts and make room for His presence again!

Righteousness, humility, a broken spirit and contrite heart, pure devotion to Jesus, and spiritual hunger for His presence and instruction will draw Him.  Stubbornness and self-will, pride, arrogance, and focus on our own agendas will repel Him. 

Allow the Spirit to provoke you to action today! If you want to dive deeper into this call to prayer and consecration for the Lord, I would highly recommend you read The Power of Consecration by Jeremiah Johnson. This book challenged me deeply and is on my “to-read-again-soon” list!

Holy Spirit, jolt us out of our complacency! May the cry of our hearts be “Lord, what must we do to get closer to you?!”  

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