Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote (Is 28.13).
There is a fine line between worshiping God and worshiping worship. Worshiping God is to glory in the mystery of Christ who “was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory” (1 Tim 3.16). Such worship creates more longing to know and obey this Christ.
Worshiping worship is to glory in the feelings generated by the truth of Christ in whatever context he is proclaimed. Such worship creates more longing for the feelings we get when hearing of Christ, not Christ himself. We don’t so much want more of God, per se, but more of whatever feeling is created in the name of God. In this case we don’t “experience worship,” but worship the experience. The feelings we have are no different than those generated by our favorite band, team or event. And the reason we go back to church are not all that different, either.
We can be very easily deceived into thinking what we call “worship” is not worship of God at all. It’s actually the worship of ourselves. And like a drug, it takes more and bigger productions to feed the feelings we get from such “high.” No longer do we expect simple gatherings of Christ’s church, but demand to be “wowed” so that we can feel like we’ve worshiped God. Theatrics trump theology. We’re no longer moved by the simple drama of baptism and communion, but need far more, far louder, far bigger to satiate our experiential appetites.
It’s the nature of Adam to be more concerned about appearances than reality. But it’s the nature of Christ to examine the heart despite appearances.
How do we know if we’re worshiping worship rather than worshiping God? We might answer that on two levels: congregational and personal. At both levels we must ask if what the world sees in our public worship is consistent with what it doesn’t see?
At the congregational level:
Is our singing of Christ’s purity and glory reflected in our commitment to biblical church discipline? In other words, do we just like singing and hearing snappy songs about Christ’s glory so we feel happy or are we serious about defending it in sad situations?
Is our preaching and listening of Christ as our Good Shepherd from the pulpit reflected in faithful shepherding in living rooms? In other words, is our proclamation of the gospel simply about getting public results at the end of a service or is it to transform sinners into saints?
Do we care more about what the world thinks of our church rather than what God thinks of it? In other words, do we measure our health by worldly acclamation or by biblical standards?
Does our public worship rightly reflect the identity of God’s people? In other words, do we depict God’s people as pretty people who have it all together with quaint platitudes and smile all the time about it, or as warrior-saints who gather to fight the world, flesh and devil with God’s word and Christ’s strength?
Are the relationships “on stage” consistent with them “off stage”? In other words, are we like actors who come together to put on a good show but have little to do with spiritual investment otherwise? Or, is what we see “on stage” an overflow of what is true off it?
Are our long, elaborate prayers offered before the world reflected in a robust congregational prayer life? In other words, do we give the appearance of being committed pray-ers or are we serious about prayer as a congregation? Are the prayers offered on Sunday mornings substitutes for or supplements of a healthy congregational prayer life?
Is what we confess on Sunday mornings reflected in a vigorous congregational life of biblical theology, accountability, evangelism and prayer? In other words, do we merely want everyone to think we do church or do we really do church?
At the personal level:
Do I evaluate a church’s service in terms of how it made me feel (amped, bored, etc.) rather than if it what was said, prayed, preached and sung was true? Do I conclude that as long as I feel like I’ve worshiped then I must have?
Am I moved more by how a song was sung than what was sung? (I realize there are less-conducive styles that do not facilitate congregational singing, but that’s for another post.)
Do I define worship in terms of how I feel about God rather than how he feels about me?
Do I leave the church’s gathering saying, “What a great service!” or “What a great Savior!”?
Do I subject God to my feelings so that if I feel a certain way then God must conform to it? Or do I subject my feelings to God so that whatever I feel is tested in light of Scripture?
How much does the church’s worship influence my life beyond Sunday, or has the feeling waned by Monday? Does the truth displayed in last Sunday’s gathering linger in my family worship, private worship, business deals, eating habits, thought patterns, conversations, etc.?
Do I only consider that I’m worshiping when I feel happy and clappy toward God? Or is the crying out of a downcast soul as honoring, if not more, to God?
Do I leave the church’s worship making big promises to God about repentance, forgiveness, faith, etc. or do I actually repent, forgive and believe? Oh, how we like to exalt making big promises to change rather than actually changing. Feeling moved to change is far easier than actually doing it, but we think the feelings are enough to God. Don’t make some big spectacle before men about how you’re going to forgive and love your enemy. Just go and do it!
God is not unmoved toward heartless, hypocritical worship. He’s provoked by it (cf. Mal 1.10). What we feel about our worship and what God feels are not always the same. But what he feels about it is always right. Let’s make sure our lips and hearts are on the same page in God’s book.