During a recent discussion on worship, the comment was made that worship is primarily for God. This got me thinking about what kind of worship brings God delight. Immediately, some scenarios in scripture jump to mind that are examples of worship where God is either delighted or disgusted. They are the following:
1. Hannah wails silently
1 Samuel 1 9-18
Hannah is taunted year after year because she has no children. Inconsolable and lamenting she prays in the tabernacle, bargaining with the Lord. A priest, mistaking her silent prayers for a drunken display, accuses her of sinful wild behavior. The matter is soon cleared up and the Lord blesses Hannah with a son, Samuel.
2. David Dances before the Lord
2 Samuel 6
After a disastrous first attempt, King David returns to move the ark back to Jerusalem. Wearing a linen ephod, David dances and leaps with all his might before God. When his wife sees him dancing she scorns him for his ‘vulgar’ display.
3. Israel’s song in exile
Famously beginning, “Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” psalms 137 describes a broken-hearted people who mourn the destruction of their homes. Yet the psalmist turns at the end from weeping over the site of destruction to shaking an angry fist at those who destroyed their homes.
“O Babylon, you will be destroyed.
Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us. Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them on the rocks!”
Needless to say, this controversial vengeance-fueled ending is the source of plenty of debate.
4. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector
A Pharisee with great confidence in his own righteousness scorns a sinful tax collector. The tax collector, on the other hand, cries to God for mercy. In an ironic twist, Jesus concludes that those who humble themselves will be exalted while those who exalt themselves will be humbled.
5. YAHWEH Rejects Israel’s worship
YAHWEH has had enough of Israel’s lip service. The people fail to live out His everyday commands. They fail to even try. As a result, YAHWEH rejects the whole of Israel’s communal worship and warns them of the punishment that awaits.
As I thought on these scenarios two commonalities stand out.
1. God delights in worship that is….. humble
The first is: that God is delighted when the heart of the worshipper is completely honest. He is thrilled with worship that is raw, exposed, honest, personal and has integrity. He’s not put off by the full measure of grief, or anger, or joy. Rather, God delights in those who are willing to bear their souls and be vulnerable before Him. He blesses Hannah when she is inconsolable, He praises the tax collector who begs for mercy and He calls David a man after His own heart.
On the other hand, God detests worship that is pompous, showy, concerned with being presentable and detached from the everyday. In both Micah and Amos YAHWEH rejects Israel’s worship because it lacks integrity. Here, worship becomes synonymous with ritualistic practice. Even though praises are sung, sacrifices are made and rules are followed, YAHWEH accuses Israel of hollow, empty worship that misses the mark. As a result of the people’s failure to carry out God’s commands in their everyday lives, He declares his disgust and rejection of their communal worship.
The challenge we face is how to worship in a manner that delights God. How can we worship in a way that tears down emotional walls and religious facades rather than builds them up? How do we worship in a way that humbles us and exposes our vulnerabilities? Is my worship mere lip service or is it soul-bearing? Do the things I proclaim when I sing and attend a church assembly match the life led outside the walls of the church building? Also, how do we create safe places for people where there is the freedom to offer the fullest expressions of grief, anger, joy etc? These are just some of the questions worth meditating on.
2. Worship and Judgement go together
Secondly, each scenario presents both worship and judgment together. Whether it is Hannah being judged by a priest, David by his wife, Psalms 137 by the critical reader, the tax collector by the Pharisee or Israel by God, judgment is present within each story. In the case of those who delight God with their worship, the judgment comes from other people. On the other hand, those whose worship is people pleasing receive harsh judgment from God.
In other words, don’t be surprised if you are misunderstood, jeered at, disagreed with and criticised by others at the very same moments you are most open with God in worship. It is common that those seeking to worship in a way that brings delight to God will experience being looked down upon by others. Still, do not let your outward presentations to others be more important to you than your inward presentation to God. It is better to suffer judgment from others than judgment from God.
These stories have me uncomfortably shifting in my seat when I contemplate the implications. Humility in worship is not the natural human stance. Yet God asks of me to move from worshiping in a way that proclaims, “everything is all good” to “everything is all God’s”. None the less, worship is primarily for God and it is my greatest pleasure to make Him smile. May it be yours also.
– love leash