God created us for worship. The Bible teaches we are made in His image (Genesis 1:26). This means we are designed to know Him and to make Him known. Such is the essence of worship. Through praise-oriented thoughts, words, and actions, we direct our souls towards our Creator. We experience real life when we worship in this way, because it is the reason we are alive. Sadly, many never tap into the joy that is available. Some choose to worship the false gods of this world, so they never find real contentment. Others take a stab at worship, but they fall short. The reason? They settle for cheap imitations of the real thing. Let’s look at three forms of counterfeit worship.
A Cultural Celebration
Some have a form of praise which is little more than a celebration of culture. Tradition and custom is the main focus. Such people would be uncomfortable worshipping with the early church, or with modern believers from third world countries. Their entire religious paradigm revolves around religious tapestry from a certain era. If the music, schedule of service, clothing attire, and decorative atmosphere is not in alignment with their preconceived expectations, they seem unable to focus on God. They might even get a bit grumpy...or inflammatory. Their attitude reveals a sad reality — their worship isn’t grounded in Christ. It is more concerned with a romanticized fascination with a certain culture. Consider Paul’s example. Prior to conversion, his entire religious paradigm was built upon the practices of his Hebrew heritage. After he came to Christ, he saw them as being “a loss because of Christ:” (Philippians 3:3-11).
An Emotional Experience
Others think true worship has to involve tears, shouting, goosebumps, or some other tangible evidence of God’s presence. I’ve sometimes been told that worship ought to involve such manifestations, or it may not be legitimate. I once responded to a guy, telling him that I got goose bumps the first time I went to a NASCAR race, but that didn’t mean the event was spiritual! Sometimes worship might involve heightened emotions, other times it won’t. What’s important is that we worship in the Spirit, and according to the truth of God (John 4:24). We must avoid the folly of the ancient pagans who worshipped Baal. They believed ecstatic emotions were proof of their piety (1 Kings 18:26). Their shenanigans were actually evidence of their shallow faith. People with strong faith don’t need outward demonstrations for validation (Hebrews 11:1).
A Doctrinal Duty
A third group is plagued by an overly theoretical approach. They make religion all about knowledge. They fail to see that knowing God isn’t an academic endeavor. It involves the heart and soul. It is true that we must know truth in order to worship our Lord in a worthy manner, and it is true that we should grow in our understanding of God (2 Peter 1:5). However, we must avoid stale religion which treats Christ as if He is a subject to be studied. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were guilty of this. They had a dogged determination concerning doctrine, but they were deficient in true devotion (Matthew 23:23).