Most Sunday mornings I play the drums during my church’s worship time. Where the drums are placed I have a great view of our attendees. Several thoughts usually pop in my head as people enter in before the service starts. Stuff like, “ummm, is that apporiate for church?” “Why are they whispering?” “Why did someone just looked at me and laughed?” “Is my fly down?” “Is there some food on my beard?” You know normal youth pastor musings. However, I do wonder about the reasons we are gathered. What has driven us to set aside a certain time each Sunday to gather together for worship and Bible teaching? What attitudes do we bring as we gather together? Are we expecting a life-changing morning or just another service? What do we expect from God?
Those are some tough questions to answer. I believe that some of our answers may be disheartening for God. Many people, me included, have entered in a worship service with the attitude of “God, what are you going to do for me today?” This is a horrible way to begin a time of corporate worship. The fact that we are together as a body of believers ready to worship should signify that the service in not for the worshiper but for us to worship God. I believe this stems from seeing a ritual action as a replacement for an authentic relationship with Jesus.
Isaiah the prophet confronted the Israelites about a similar situation. They were religiously doing things they believed should have pleased God. They had the outer appearance of a devote follower of God however they lacked obedience. Isaiah 1:11-13a reads:
11 “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”
says the Lord.
“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to worship me,
who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
13 Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
the incense of your offerings disgusts me…”
The Israelites were parading around and bringing offerings to God without obedience in their life. They assumed that if they did all this pomp and circumstance that God would find favor. They even took it a step further by assuming that God owed them something in return. In verse 15-16, God says;
15 When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
16 Wash yourselves and be clean!
Get your sins out of my sight.
Give up your evil ways.
God is calling the Israelites to repentance from this false worship. He calls it evil and He will look away from the prayers of the people. In other words, God is communicating that it doesn’t matter if the Israelites are His chosen people, their ritual does not equal worship of Him. He will not receive it.
In Psalms 51:16-17 David writes;
16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
Brokenness and repentance equals God’s mercy and grace. When God sees a legitimate act of repentance from believers He lavishly bestows grace, forgiveness, love, mercy, and righteousness upon them. Isaiah points this out verse 18-19;
18 “Come now, let’s settle this,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
I will make them as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
I will make them as white as wool.
19 If you will only obey me,
you will have plenty to eat.
I write this because I see too much of this in our churches today. Attending, giving, singing, working, and many other things does not mean your relationship with Jesus is where it needs to be. We do these things and expect God to bless us. The attitude is that God should bless me because of all the things I’m doing for Him. You’re no different than the Israelites who were bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices. God doesn’t want your sacrifices; He wants your absolute obedience. We know that we have this attitude when we complain about things. “The music is too loud.” “That person is not dressed appropriately.” “I don’t like the worship music.” “Why do we do this or do that.” “Blah blah blah blah!” That’s what we sound like; A lot of blah blah blah.
If there is anything that I would like you to understand from this post, it’s this; Worship is not for you. Worship is about what we bring God. Do we give our sacrifice or do we give our life? God wants our life. He can actually do something with it. Our sacrifice is just “useless fire” compared to a relationship with Jesus. Where are you with your walk with God; a useless fire or a repentant, broken follower?
I encourage you to read Psalms 51 as a reflection of how our hearts should enter into the presence of God. Read, reread it, meditate on it and memorize it and you’ll see your attitude go from ritual to relational.