I once regularly interacted with a business owner who was of a different faith. I used my visits to his store as opportunities to share the gospel. In time, I discovered that he was devout in his religion. He described his morning prayer routine. It was different from mine in that he prayed to a multitude of gods, idols, and trinkets. I shared that Jesus is the true God (John 14:6), but he maintained a cold stance. I marveled that he could engage in such meaningless worship. Sadly, many professing Christians are victims of a similar spiritual stronghold. They regularly sing songs on Sunday, but they miss the meaning of worship. They settle for a cheap counterfeit of the real thing. They are like the Pharisees who paid “a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet…neglected the more important matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23). Jesus said such people worship God “in vain” (Matthew 15:9). How can we avoid meaningless worship? I believe we need to understand four distinctions.
Interior vs. Exterior
True worship is focused primarily on the interior. Jesus taught us to worship God “in spirit” (John 4:24). He meant that we are to focus on a spiritual connection with God (1 Corinthians 14:15). Because all of us are predisposed to pay attention to external things (1 Samuel 16:7), we often make outward matters of most importance. But if we make worship mostly about dress, decorations, technology, and techniques, we miss its main purpose — an inner-connection with God.
Substance vs. Style
When Paul ministered in Corinth, he avoided making his preaching a show of all the latest public speaking techniques which were fashionable in the Roman world (1 Corinthians 2:4). He focused on the truth of God’s Word. Tragically, many modern churches do the exact opposite. Attention is primarily given to using sounds, sights, and styles of contemporary culture. Some feel that they can’t even worship without such tapestries. Modern believers must remember that Jesus told us to worship “in truth” (John 4:24). Until it has a revival of worship which is focused on Scriptural realities, the church will stay in its lifeless state. Sideshow strategies may draw a big crowd, but they can’t produce the life of God.
Faith vs. Feelings
The Bible says we can do nothing to please God apart from faith (Hebrews 11:6). It also asserts that “everything that is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Because of these truths, it is critical to make faith a part of our worship. Unfortunately, many are more concerned with feelings. They seek an emotional experience or a sense heightened spiritual sensitivity. Worship may involve emotions, but they should never be the main focus. Our first priority is a faith interaction with the Lord. We may experience an overflow of feelings, or we may not. God’s pleasure is based on how we feel, it’s determined by our faith.
God vs. Man
In our consumer-driven society, we are apt to make our worship about ourselves. Some crave the limelight. They wish to be the one on stage, singing or preaching (1 Corinthians 14:26). Others like to be spectators who watch performers (Matthew 12:39). In all of this, God is forgotten. If we want to worship rightly, we must make God our focus (Isaiah 6:3).
Dr. Patrick Latham