God Doesn’t Want Worship
Last week, if you were here, we began to look at worship. We asked the question, “Why worship?” We talked about God’s deepest desire – to have fellowship with us. We also talked about what happens when we worship God. In our tradition, we usually focus so much on the gray matter that we forget that worship engages all of us. We talked about what happens when we worship God. John Piper put it best: “To see God and not to savor him is to insult him.”
I have to confess to being a little nervous this morning. We have a group of people here who’ve been meeting for months to provide leadership to our church in the whole area of worship. They’ve been meeting and planning and talking about how we can learn to worship God better. I’m nervous because they might not like what I’m about to say today.
Here’s what I want to say. God doesn’t want worship. There. I’ve said it.
That might sound shocking to you, but it’s true. I believe that we’ve wasted a lot of time talking about worship and thinking about worship and even spending time in worship. Meanwhile, God isn’t looking for worship.
Churches today are spending endless hours of debate about worship. Books have been written. Jesus even got into a theological discussion about worship once and bypassed the theological question entirely. Have you ever been in a theological argument that you thought was going nowhere? It reminds me of what one of my friends often says: “Never fight with a pig. Nobody wins, you both get dirty, and the pig enjoys it.” A lot of the debates and arguments that people have over worship are useless, because God doesn’t want worship. I can’t find one place in the Bible where God says he wants worship.
I know some of you are flipping through your Bibles right now trying to prove me wrong, and the board is thinking of calling an emergency meeting right after the service. So let me try to show you a number of passages in which God basically said, “I’m not interested in your worship.”
Anybody here used to watch the Flintstones? What’s scary to me is that the older I get, the more I act like Fred. One day, Fred bought Wilma a gift: a bowling ball with his name engraved on it. Any husband here ever given his wife a present that he wanted? Fred wasn’t giving Wilma a gift. He was giving himself a gift. That’s probably what happens a lot with worship. We think we’re worshiping God, but in reality we’re giving ourselves what we want while thinking that we’re giving it to God. God says, “I’m really not interested in your worship.”
Remember Cain and Abel – the children of Adam and Eve? Cain offered worship to God – a sacrifice – but the Bible says that God “did not accept Cain and his offering” (Genesis 4:5). A couple of times, in Isaiah and in Amos, God says flat out that he’s tired of worship. Listen to what God says in Isaiah 1:13-14 in the Message paraphrase:
Quit your worship charades.
I can’t stand your trivial religious games:
Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings-
meetings, meetings, meetings-I can’t stand one more!
Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!
You’ve worn me out!
I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion…
Jesus even said the same to some of the people in his day who spent most of their lives trying to worship God. He said of them, quoting Isaiah, “They worship me in vain” (Matthew 15:9). These aren’t the only verses I could refer to. There are many, many more. I believe that we’ve made a serious error. We’ve focused so much on worship that we’ve missed the point. God doesn’t want worship.
God doesn’t want worship. But here’s what he does want: God wants worshipers. God isn’t lacking people who are willing to praise him, to attend religious services, to pray, to do all the things that we think of as worship. God isn’t looking for more of that. But, according to Jesus, God is looking for something entirely different. God isn’t looking for more worship. Instead, he’s looking for more worshipers.
Jesus said in John 4:23, “But the time is coming and is already here when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him that way.” The Father is looking for worshipers, for those who know how to worship him in spirit and the truth.
What’s the difference between worship and a worshiper? There’s all the difference in the world. There are two ways of approaching worship. The first way focuses on worship, on the external actions. It says that if we go to church, keep our quiet time, pray, sing, give – all the actions of worship – that it will change our hearts. This is the outside-in approach. If we’re really honest, it’s the approach that we usually take. We believe that if we go to church, sing, give, keep our quiet time, that we will become better followers of Christ.
But then there’s another approach, the inside-out approach. In this case, worship isn’t an external action. Instead, it’s the overflow of hearts that are full of praise for him. The external actions are a by-product rather than the goal. God is looking for worshipers, who worship God not out of habit but out of the overflow of their hearts. He’s not looking for more external actions. He’s looking for more hearts that are full of praise for him.
I don’t want to mislead you. There are times that the external actions affect our hearts and lead us into more worship. I don’t think there’s anything that’s wrong with that. But even then, the heart is really the issue. At the end of the day, God isn’t interested in what’s taken place externally as we worship him. God’s really interested in our hearts. He’s interested in what took place that nobody else can see except for him.
For the rest of today, in the time that we have left, I want to look at two people who illustrate these approaches differently. One was an outside-in worshiper. The other was inside-out. God approved of one and rejected the other. I don’t want to look at the techniques or the products of worship. I want to look at what it is about somebody’s heart that enables them to be true worshipers of God.
The two people I want to look at are two kings of Israel, David and Saul. If you looked at these two kings side by side, most of us would conclude that David is the worse person. Saul once offered a sacrifice to God that he shouldn’t have, and he was a little cocky. David, on the other hand, committed adultery and murder. Of the two of them, Saul comes off as the better person to us. But God didn’t see it that way. God rejected Saul, but twice in the Bible, David is called a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). What was it that made God see them differently?
Saul offered God worship, but he didn’t seem to be a worshiper. He once offered a sacrifice by himself – an act of worship – but did so disobediently, because he did so out of fear and ignorance, without the presence of a prophet. Another time, he kept a bunch of animals that he plundered from an enemy nation instead of destroying them all, as God commanded. Saul said, “Then my troops brought in the best of the sheep and cattle and plunder to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal” (1 Samuel 15:21). He offered God worship, but God didn’t want his worship. God wanted his heart. Saul worshiped, but he wasn’t a worshiper. He had an outside-in approach to worship.
David worshiped, but more importantly, David was a worshiper. David obviously wasn’t accepted by God because of his morality. It’s not our own value or worth that we bring to God that makes him accept our worshiper. David was accepted because despite all of his faults, he had a heart that worshiped God. God said, “The LORD doesn’t make decisions the way you do! People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at a person’s thoughts and intentions” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Whenever you look at David, you find him worshiping. David worshiped God in almost every circumstance you can imagine. David ran from Saul and hid in a cave – and he worshiped (Psalm 58). He pretended to be insane to save his life from a foreign king, and he worshiped (Psalm 34). When he returned to God after committing adultery and murder, he worshiped (Psalm 51). He worshiped when he couldn’t sleep at night (Psalm 6) and when he felt like he was dying from misery (Psalm 31). If you read the headings of some of the psalms, you discover that David worshiped in all kinds of circumstances.
David was also brutally honest in his worship. He praised God for his glory, but he also worshiped when God’s glory wasn’t first on his mind. He worshiped when he had questions for God (Psalm 10). He cried out to God and said, “How long, oh Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1) Rather than condemning David for his honesty, God has preserved his prayers for us to read today.
David hungered for God. He wanted to worship God with all of his heart. He said:
The one thing I ask of the LORD-
the thing I seek most-
is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
delighting in the LORD’S perfections
and meditating in his Temple. (Psalm 27:4)
A single day in your courts
is better than a thousand anywhere else!
I would rather be a gatekeeper [guard] in the house of my God
than live the good life in the homes of the wicked. (Psalm 84:10)
David worshiped God passionately. He had a reputation to uphold, but he didn’t care about that. He praised God before the people. He danced before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14).
Sometimes those of us who are men think that worship is a female thing. We don’t think it’s manly to worship. I dare anyone to go up to David and tell him that he’s not a man. He killed lions and giants and was a brilliant warrior. He’s a man’s man. But he was also a worshiper.
You could go on. In fact, you could spend years studying David as a worshiper. But here’s the main point: David wasn’t accepted by God because he was more moral than anyone else, or because of his outward acts. David was accepted by God because his heart was that of a worshiper. God is looking for people – not perfect people, not moral people, not good people. God is looking for worshipers. He is looking for people who will worship him in spirit and in truth.
How do we become worshipers? It doesn’t come by trying harder. I’m just na‹ve enough to believe that God answers the prayer of those who want to become his worshipers. When we cry out to God and say, “I want to become a worshiper who worships you in spirit and in truth,” I believe that this is the type of prayer that God loves to answer. When we seek him, God says, we find him. The Spirit is all about God’s glory. He turns hearts that are hard and stony into hearts of flesh. He can turn those who worship into true worshipers when we ask him, when we seek him, when we turn our hearts toward him.
God doesn’t want worship. He wants worshipers. He wants you to be his worshiper. No matter who you are today, whether you’ve ever worshiped God before or not, God invites you to become his worshiper today.
Confession: we have often focused on the externals
Help us to not focus as much on worship. Help us instead to become worshipers.
Thank you for Jesus Christ, who came to this world and died for us so that we could become worshipers. Through his death we are forgiven. Through his resurrection we are given new life. Through him, we pray that we would become worshipers. Amen.