A man and wife have been moving to a new town early in the year. But in the process of moving to a new town, the husband notices that his wife is mad at him. So, like many husbands before him, he begins to wonder why his wife is mad at him. Searching his mind, he realizes what day it is, the day after Valentine’s Day. So, now he has to start trying to make it up to his wife.
The husband goes to the flower shop to get the classic gift for his wife—a good start. He walks into the flower shop to see what they have and what he could get for his wife. He sees a dozen roses—perfect; roses are his wife’s favorite flower. As he reaches for the roses, he sees next to them a dozen daisies for half the price.
In his mind, he weighs the options: the roses cost more money but guarantee that his wife will like them; the daisies cost less money but run the risk of his wife not enjoying them, because she hasn’t expressly said she likes daises. Does the husband go with the daisies because they are more convenient to him? Could he justify it, “Well, it is the thought that counts”? Does he go with the roses, even though they are less convenient to him, because he knows that his wife will enjoy them? He thinks to himself, “I know my wife enjoys roses because she has said so, but I do not know whether she likes daisies.”
Take this scenario, of a man picking a present for his wife between a guaranteed good option and a possibly poor option, and replace the husband with yourself, the wife with God, and the flowers with worship.
There is a prevalent attitude of Christians of our world today that has not been present in past centuries. Christians have taken worship into their own hands and redefined it in their own terms. It is perhaps one of the most bold and prideful things a Christian can do, to tell God what he wants.
What is worship? Worship is a gift to God. It is the duty of Christians. It is the obligation of all creation. Worship is what God has asked of us. Worship has two facets: worship in a moment of meditation and praise to God and worship in the big-picture sense of our godly lives, dedicated to God.
Who gets to say what worship is? Do humans get to define worship? Do humans get to say what pleases God? Is it not God who gets to decide what worship is? God is the one who requests and commands worship to him. God is the one being worshiped.
[Mat 4:10 ESV] … “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
Why would we assume we can tell God what he is going to be pleased with? Why would we think, “I am going to worship in whatever what I like and God will pleased with it?” Why would we think, “I am going to live my life however I like and God will be pleased with it?” When God gave us a thousand pages explaining what he does like and what he does not like. Yet, Christians today seem to be thinking, “It is the thought that counts” or “God is only concerned with your heart.” Is God concerned with our heart? Absolutely. But the heart guides our actions. Our actions reveal our heart (John 14:15).
When we choose what we want over what God wants, is that a good heart? What does that communicate to God? When the husband buys his wife only the presents that are on sale or cheap, rather than what his wife wants, what does that say about his heart—what does that communicate to his wife?
A central, vital element of worship is humility, choosing what God wants over what we want. Without humility to God you cannot worship God. To worship God is to lift God up and place him in a position of importance in our lives. When you are more focused on pleasing yourself, having a good time at church, having a “spiritual experience,” feeling emotions, enjoying the music and band, focused on yourself—then you are not really worshiping God. You are worshiping yourself.
In worship, the question is, “Is God pleased? Is God pleased by this?” In order to worship God, you must be asking, “What does God want?”
As we read God’s Word we find that God explains to mankind what kind of worship he desires; what, how, where, when, why. And when God explains what he wants and we still give him what we want, it says that there is something wrong with our hearts, that we refuse to obey or comply.
We read in God’s Word how Cain and Abel both brought sacrifices to God. And yet, God rejected Cain’s sacrifice. We read of Nadab and Abihu who, instead of using the designated fire God said to use in sacrificing, they used their own fire and so God sent a fire to consume them. We read in Isaiah, God says,
[Isa 1:11 ESV] “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.”
Here are three types of worship that God rejects:
- Ignorant Worship
In Acts 17, Paul is in Athens and he witnesses the numerous idols and the idol-worshiping of the town,
[Act 17:22-23 ESV] 22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
The people in Athens worshiped idol after idol, each with an altar and their respective regulations of worship. And there was one altar addressed “to the unknown god.” Paul preaches a sermon to explain to them who this unknown god is, the God of Jesus.
If worship that pleases is defined by God, then you need to know what those definitions are. If you are seeking to please God, you have to understand what pleases God, right? What does God want? What does God request of us?
The Samaritan woman asked Jesus where the right place to worship God is and Jesus said to the Samaritan woman,
[Jhn 4:21-24 ESV] 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Jesus says to the Samaritans woman, “You worship what you do not know.” She lacks understanding in who God is and thus, how to worship him. Jesus explains that worship to God must be done in proper understanding of who God is and what he desires, “in truth.” Jesus teaches her that God is Spirit, not physical, immaterial, and therefore, worship to God must be in our spirits. If God were physical, then our worship to God would be physical.
And we learn in this, that our worship must harmonize with the character of God. We must understand who God is in order to worship him properly.
[1Co 14:15 NIV] 15 … I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.
[1Jo 5:20 ESV] 20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Worship of God requires understanding who God is.
- Vain Worship
In Matthew 15, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees and scribes, saying,
[Mat 15:7-11 ESV] 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
The Pharisees worshiped God in vain, to no avail, ineffectively, fruitlessly. How? Their worship was in vain because 1) their heart was far from God and 2) they replaced God’s instructions with their own. Those two ways are actually one, because when people replace God’s instructions with their own it shows how their heart is far from God. When we become more concerned with our own instructions and thoughts on worship than on God’s instructions and thoughts on worship, then our hearts are far from God. And our worship becomes ineffectual, ineffective, fruitless, in vain.
When our worship is, “What do I want,” it becomes will-worship or self-made religion, as Paul speaks on in Colossians. Paul talks to Christians that are being influenced by paganism, man-made Gentile religions. He says to the Christians,
[Col 2:18-23 ESV] 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations– 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Paul talks about asceticism, which is a practice seen in many religions, the practice of abstaining from things that some would consider necessary, like fasting for long periods, like living a life of poverty, like living celibately. People, even today, have created these lists of tasks they have to do to please their gods. Mankind creates gods and then creates worship to those gods.
Paul may have made up this word in Col. 2:23. KJV, ASV, will worship; NKJV, self-imposed religion; NIV, self-imposed worship; ESV, NASB, self-made religion. It is a compound of word of the word for “to will, to want, to desire” and the word for “religion.” It is a religion prescribed by yourself, a religion and religious practices mankind creates and hold to itself.
Consider Athens, the goddess of the mind and worship to Athena seeking the things of the mind, education, poetry, philosophy, and oratory or Aphrodite, the goddess of the body/love (sensual love) and worship to Aphrodite was athleticism and prostitution. What is Jehovah God, the God of? What kind of worship does he desire? That is why we have God’s Word.
Another word for doing something other than what God requests of us is disobedience.
So, this thought that is common to Christians today, “God is only concerned with our heart.” It is partially true, but we need to understand that our actions and obedience is a matter of the heart. The end of Romans says,
[Rom 16:26 ESV] [God’s Word] has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—
Faith obeys. A heart close to God will believe, teach, and obey the commandments from God. To worship God by our own standards is to have a heart far from God, the opposite of faith, and to worship God in vain.
- Worship of the Wicked
We find in God’s Word that it is more than just what you do on Sunday mornings that determines whether God is pleased by your worship or not. Cain is an excellent example of God rejecting worship based upon the life of the worshiper. Cain and Abel both brought sacrifices to God,
[Gen 4:3-7 ESV] 3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. 6 The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
God did not regard Cain’s offering; he was not pleased with it. In fact, God even says to Cain, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” That makes me think that the reason why God rejected Cain’s sacrifice was because he was not doing well; in other words, he was not living righteously. Because of Cain’s life, Cain’s worship to God was rejected.
[1Jo 3:12 ESV] 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.
[Heb 11:4 ESV] 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. …
Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God showing that he is righteous. But God rejected Cain’s sacrifice which shows that Cain was not righteous, even before he killed his own brother.
The mentality of “get drunk on Saturday and ask for forgiveness and worship on Sunday,” is horribly misguided. Do we think God does not watch you during the week, Monday to Saturday? The quality of your worship to God is effected (if not determined) by the quality of your life. If you want God to be pleased by your worship you have to live a life pleasing to God. This is shown by plenty of scripture including,
[Psa 50:16-20 ESV] 16 But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips? 17 For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you. 18 If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers. 19 “You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. 20 You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.
[Isa 1:15-17 ESV] 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
God is not pleased with the worship from those who live wicked lives. An hour on Sunday will not make God forget the rest of your week. God says through Isaiah, that their worship is ignored by God because of their evil lives. And their worship will be acknowledged by God if they do as he says and “remove the evil of [their] deeds.” Otherwise, God is not please as long as they live wicked lives.
Christians today seem to have forgotten or be unaware that God can be displeased by your worship, that God can reject your worship. It is not that we do whatever we want and God will be pleased with whatever we give him. God has gone to great lengths to explain what he wants from us. If we ignore what he said he wants and give him what we want to give him, then we communicate a lack of faith, disobedience, and a heart far from God.
Back to the analogy: the husband is picking a present for his wife between a guaranteed good option and a possibly poor option. You are the husband, the wife is God, and the gift is worship. When it comes to worship ask, What does God want?
- A good husband would have taken the time to get to know what his wife would want…Worship pleasing to God requires us learning about God and what he wants.
- A good husband would give his wife the gift she would want, not the gift he would want to give…Worship pleasing to God requires us choosing God’s desire over our own.
- A good husband would do more than just get his wife a gift—he would treat her well 24/7…Worship pleasing to God requires us living a life pleasing to God.
When you worship God, where is your focus? In your worship remember, worship that pleases God is defined by God.