Last week we took a look into the definition of “praise” versus the definition of “worship”. Both have distinct meanings and it is difficult to fully give God the honor and respect He deserves through praise and worship until we do both. This week we focus on the product of “praise and worship”. How serious is it when we gather to sing songs and lift up our hands? Is it that big of a deal if you have a couple of days you just go through the motions because you’re “not feeling it”? Let’s look deeper into making praise and worship count to it’s fullest.
Sometimes we all get a little tired. We get tired physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. There is nothing wrong or sinful about getting tired. Even Christ got tired. Where we get into trouble is when we start becoming complacent with casually paying respects to God. Let’s look at an example of this from the scriptures.
In the book of Malachi, we find the people of Israel who had grown lazy with their recognition of God following their time in the wilderness when God brought them out of Egypt. They were technically following the laws that Moses had put forth for them, but they were striking compromises to make their worship more convenient. In those days, there was a feast day know as the ‘Day of Atonement’ when the chief priests would assemble to offer a sacrifice to God and pray for the sins of the entire nation of Israel. God had given Moses very specific instructions on how this day should take place beginning with preparations of the heart all the way through to details of how the sacrifices were to be given. God gave these instructions because in their details they ensured that the people of Israel would focus on God and not on their own holiness or desires. Over the years, the people of Israel had grown tired of following these rules. Instead of offering their very best animals for their sacrifice, they were offering animals that were diseased or disfigured. Essentially, they were offering to God what was convenient for them instead of fixing their eyes solely on their worship to their God.
Malachi was a prophet who confronted the chief priests by showing them that God is not happy with simply ‘acting like a following of God’. God wants us to worship with our hearts which means giving our very best.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says to the priests: “A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. If I am your father and master, where are the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for my name! (Malachi 1:6)a
The message Malachi sends here is very clear. Those of us who have jobs or would consider ourselves a sort of ‘servant’ to others show respect to our ‘masters’ or bosses because they hold a position over us. As children of parents, grandparents, and guardians we respect our parental figures because their position deserves respect. Malachi challenges the people of Israel by asking them, ‘Have I not done so much more for you than these earthly relations you have? If you show them respect simply due to who they are, where is the respect that I, your God, deserve?’
The thing to remember is that the people of Israel had not completely neglected God. They were worshiping God, but not offering their very, very best and that unwillingness to give their best spoke volumes about their level of respect and devotion to the Lord.
What the Flesh Thinks Is Reasonable
Let’s keep in mind that the people of Israel weren’t blowing off their religious responsibilities. It would be like one of us showing up to church every Sunday and every Wednesday but simply not really being “into it”. The people of Israel were showing up to temple, but their hearts weren’t into it. Let’s relate this to our lives. One phrase I hear more than almost any other with regards to casual believers in the church is “at least they’re here”. To the human flesh this is a very reasonable statement. “At least they are here at church instead of out there in the streets!” This sounds reasonable, but it is scriptural?
The people of Israel had a similar response. Continuing with verse 6 we read…
“But you ask, ‘How have we ever shown contempt for your name?’ You have shown contempt by offering defiled sacrifices on my altar.
“Then you ask, ‘How have we defiled the sacrifices?’ You defile them by saying the altar of the Lord deserves no respect. When you give blind animals as sacrifices, isn’t that wrong? And isn’t it wrong to offer animals that are crippled and diseased? Try giving gifts like that to your governor, and see how pleased he is!” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. (Malachi 1:6b-8)
In this hypothetical conversation between Malachi and the people of Israel, we see that the people of Israel are almost challenging the notion that they are somehow sinning. In a lot of ways, they are essentially saying, “Hey, at least we’re here! How is that a sin?” Malachi gives them a very clear answer: because you do not offer the type of worship to God that His name, His sacrifice, and His love deserves.
To emphasize the point, Malachi makes a great analogy speaking about the respect we have for others in our lives. In your own lives, ask yourself how your teachers, your parents, or your bosses would react to less-than-amazing performance at school, at home, or in the workplace. If your teacher has a grading rubric for a test, you don’t get full credit for only answering half of the questions correctly. Even if the test was a really, really hard test and you at least ‘gave it a good try’, that doesn’t mean that you suddenly get the questions correct. The standard is what it is. The standard of God is nothing short of perfection. The phrase used over and over in the Old Testament is that God is a ‘jealous’ God (Deuteronomy 4:24). This doesn’t mean he wants our stuff or our things, but it does mean that he wants our hearts and our affection. Taking it one step forward, these ‘jealousy’ phrases are usually worded in such a way to convey that God deserves our hearts and affections. When we fail to worship with our hearts instead of just our mouths and bodies, that worship is an affront to who God is. It is disrespect to God. In fact, it is not better “that at least you’re there”.
Later in Malachi, it is written that the prophet tells the people of Israel that it would be better if they shut the doors to the temple and completely extinguish the fires at the alter rather than give one more cheapened sacrifice to God (Malachi 1:10). In our own lives, we must understand that God isn’t begging us for whatever we are willing to God. Our God is an awesome, powerful God capable of giving sight to the blind and life to the dead. This God does not need our pity or whatever left-over devotion we have to offer. His station as our God, our creator, and our redeemer demands our very, very best.
A Privilege to Worship
Often in our lives we envision that God is someone who craves our approval. It’s almost like we imagine that God is an insecure adolescent who is willing to do anything to get us to like Him. That completely misses the point. Grace was offered out of mercy, not desperation. Creation is given to us out of love, not as some bargaining chip in hopes that we would follow Him.
In the latter parts of Malachi 1, the prophet continues to hammer home to the Israelites where they have gone wrong in their cheapened worship.
But my name is honored by people of other nations from morning till night. All around the world they offer[e] sweet incense and pure offerings in honor of my name. For my name is great among the nations,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
“Cursed is the cheat who promises to give a fine ram from his flock but then sacrifices a defective one to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “and my name is feared among the nations! (Malachi 1:11,14)
When we read these verses, we are convicted that God does not crave our attention like a beggar craves table scraps or spare change. Our God is a mighty God regardless of whether we humble ourselves or not. If we stopped worshiping God this very moment and rejected the gift of grace, God’s majesty would not be reduced one single bit. It is, in fact, our privilege to have the mere opportunity to kneel at the feet of our God in humble worship and the praise His name.
When we walk into our churches or into our other places of worship, it is worth us all taking a serious look at our own hearts to both convict and to encourage. We should convict ourselves to not cheapen the sacrifices of the heart that we lay at the alter of God. We should also be encouraged that we serve an amazingly mighty God and that we have the privilege, at any moment, to enter into individual worship with our God. How great and wonderful is the Lord that he allows us to worship him day and night!