Church services are filled with all sorts of danger but the greatest hazard of all is that they can be rejected by the very God they claim to have at their centre. Take the temple services in Isaiah’s time for example. From the book of Kings’ barely varying record of rampant idolatry, one could be forgiven for concluding that the coals on the temple altar went cold as the people abandoned the worship of Jehovah in favour of the wild orgies in the high places. This was hardly so, as Isaiah 1:13-14 would have us know.There was a scramble for sacrifices in Isaiah’s time. The temple ran red with the foaming blood of the faithful’s sacrifices. The religious holidays were closely observed as the populace spared no expense or effort in worshipping God. Yet, Jehovah was repulsed by it all. All these services though carried out at His behest, were meaningless if the less privileged were ignored or oppressed. God couldn’t hear the songs of praise above the din of wailing widows and oppressed orphans.
To those hiding in the safety of numbers, Isaiah 58 swung a spotlight… Fasting in a corner was just a hunger strike if the widow’s growling stomach wasn’t filled. God went on to chastise the people for lying, hungry on sackcloth ill-treating their employees and ignoring social injustice. At the chapter’s end, the Sabbath was tied to social justice by the declaration that Sabbath is a day to turn away from selfish interests.
Herein is revealed the cause of God’s revulsion: selfishness. The pious services and fasting were an attempt to camouflage selfish interest. Worship had been stripped of all its glory and demoted to a mere transaction. God’s mercy was to be given in exchange for slaughtered lambs and service attendance, leaving the people free to indulge their egocentric passions.
This is a wound that time hasn’t healed because even to this day, irresponsible worship is offered in lieu of selflessness. We’ve decided that we can live for ourselves during the week as long as we give God his weekly fix of our attention on Sabbath. All this because we’ve made God in our selfish image and thus divorced His mercy and His justice. When we are wrong, we seek to buy His mercy but when wronged, we seek to buy His justice for our enemies.
This is repulsively askew, God’s justice and mercy are attributes of His character and not objects we can purchase in a Divine supermarket. It’s absurd to think that our disgraceful apathy to humanity’s plight can be offset by a few hours of mumbled singing and begrudged attention to sermons. It bears no modicum of sense! Little wonder it is that our church services are replete with individualistic themes and offer little succour to the world-weary.
True worship is proactive responsible engagement with God to enable us to look at things from His perspective. Thus, our church services ought to fill us up with God’s love for his creation in order to enable us to join in his work of restoring the sin-vandalised image of God in humanity. Each of us is of inestimable value to God and if we are His followers, our apathy is not only inexcusable but exceedingly depraved. Any worship that doesn’t lead us to place the same value on people that God does is dangerous worship.
Please worship responsibly.