Read His Words Before Ours!
In the days before COVID, there were 350,000 congregations in the United States and less than 24% of members attended worship service on a weekly basis.
I wonder, has our worship become ritualistic?
What does worship mean to us, and is it acceptable to God?
The word worship comes from an Old English word, “weorpscip,” which means “to give worth to.” In a biblical context, the Hebrew word for worship is shachah, which means to depress, to fall down, or to lay prostrate before a deity; these are the physical manifestations of holding God in reverence, honor, and esteem. A right understanding of how God is infinitely greater and forever worthy of our humble adoration is the place to begin true worship.
When God imparted the Ten Commandments to Moses, He rightly began by mandating He alone would be the focus of Israel’s worship. (Exodus 20:1-3) The Israelites began to worship, in part, through offering sacrifices; the sacrifices were looking ahead to when the Messiah would come as the ultimate sacrifice.
Today, we worship by honoring God and presenting our lives
as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Him.
As early as the second generation of humankind, God emphasized the importance of acceptable worship. Cain and Abel brought offerings before the Lord, but Cain’s offering was rejected, while Abel’s was received. (Genesis 4:3-7) How we worship matters!
During the time of the prophet Isaiah, God made clear the worship the Israelites offered to Him was not acceptable. He knew they were in a spiritual stupor, with hearts blind and deaf to God’s leading. (Isaiah 29:9-16) With elaborate public demonstrations of worship, they appeared to be receiving the word of God, but the true content of what they received had no impact on them.
Their lives were unchanged, and their worship was meaningless. (Isaiah 58:3-10)
In Hosea 6:6, God explains,
“For I desire faithful love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Yet, even in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees (religious leaders) displayed the same affinity for empty rituals. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus states, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin and yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These things should have been done without neglecting the others.”
Over time, rituals have been built into modern Christian faith; even in denominations without explicit rituals, many churches follow a format categorized as “ritualistic.” To be clear, the problem doesn’t usually lie in rituals or traditions themselves; the problem lies in our hearts, when we check a “religious duty” box, but our spirits remain far from God and our day-to-day lives reflect nothing of Him. Our fallen natures crave the explicit simplicity of performance over the messy, slow change inherent in responding to God’s transforming work in our spirits.
Yet worship in spirit, and in truth, is the acceptable worship God desires.
John 4:23-24 reveals, “But an hour is coming, and now is here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and truth.”
Are we focusing on the message and truth of Jesus Christ?
Are we engaging, with both our hearts and our heads, in preparation for worship?
Do we have strong affections for God, rooted in truth?
Consider Isaiah’s response to encountering the Living God in Isaiah 6:5:
“Then I said, ‘Woe is me for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Armies.’”
Having seen God in holiness, Isaiah confessed his own sin and was cleansed.
Repentance is a necessary part of acceptable worship.
Peter had a similar reaction in Luke 5:8 when he encountered Christ, falling to his knees and crying, “Go away from me, because I am a sinful man, Lord!” Our sins are ugly when compared to God’s beauty and righteousness.
Acceptable worship includes confession and mourning of sin,
and bold declaration of our desperate need for God’s grace and mercy.
Sisters, let’s evaluate our hearts with honesty and vulnerability.
Like the Israelites of Isaiah’s time, of Hosea’s time, of Jesus’ time, have we become locked into the well-trod and self-deceiving way of empty talk and performance?
Are we hearing and responding to the word of God?
James 1:22 exhorts us, “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
In what ways is God challenging us to offer acceptable worship to Him?
Is He calling us to confession and repentance?
Is He asking us to come away from distractions and turn our hearts to Him, so we can hear His voice?
Is He waiting for us to respond to His leading, partnering with His transforming Spirit to make change in the small, daily spaces of our lives?
For here, in the Spirit-empowered daily rejection of sin’s pull and embrace of the way of Jesus, acceptable worship is discovered.
Be encouraged, sisters, for though the work is hard, the worshiper who strives to live a life that truly glorifies and honors God will uncover an inexhaustible resource of power and purpose God reserves for His true worshipers.
“For those who honor Me I will honor.” (1 Samuel 2:30)
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!