I’m going to be spending the next few devotionals looking at authentic worship. This is an area God has really pressed on my heart because when worship isn’t authentic, it isn’t worship. It’s really that simple. So when I come before God to worship Him, I want to make sure I’m doing just that: worshipping God. I don’t want to put on a false show. I don’t want that time to be anything but one that brings glory, honor, and praise to Almighty God. And that means I must ensure that I’m doing it the way God wants it. Anything less is unacceptable.
And that brings me to the word authentic. We talked about an emotional reaction cloaked as worship last week. And then I come across this in the Scriptures:
Hear the word of the LORD,
You rulers of Sodom;
Give ear to the instruction of our God,
You people of Gomorrah.
“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?”
Says the LORD.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle;
And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.
“When you come to appear before Me,
Who requires of you this trampling of My courts?
“Bring your worthless offerings no longer,
Incense is an abomination to Me
New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies–
I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.
“I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts,
They have become a burden to Me;
I am weary of bearing them.
“So when you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Yes, even though you multiply prayers,
I will not listen
Your hands are covered with blood.
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Reprove the ruthless,
Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow.
– Isaiah 9:10-17, NASB
In other words, if we put the pretense of worship forward, but our hearts aren’t really in it, if are hearts aren’t prepared for worship and if they aren’t dedicated to God, it’s not worship. This is something that has stuck with me as I’ve watched and participated in worship services where those who are leading attempt to get a certain response out of the congregation. This is true in Sunday morning worship services, youth rallies, and stadiums full of men at a conference. Here’s the thing that keeps hitting me between the eyes: if the reaction is contrived, if people are responding because of the leader at that particular point of the worship service, if they are reacting because that’s what is expected of them, is it real worship? No, it can’t be. The heart’s not in it. The reaction is coming because it’s expected, not because the heart wants to express it. And that’s the same point God is making here in Isaiah.
Now don’t get me wrong. There is a time and place for corporate worship where everyone responds together. But my point is if people are responding because they are expected to and not because they desire to, it’s not worship. And if we’re leading that worship time and we keep trying to solicit a response, then we’re the cause of this false worship. Stop and think about that for a moment. The conclusion isn’t a pretty one. Sure, we may go away feeling pretty good that we spurred on the people, but if it’s not authentic, it doesn’t count. It’s got to be from the heart. And while I understand some people may be timid and may be helped by a prompting, we have to be careful not to carry it too far.
So how do we ensure authentic worship is occurring? If we’re the ones being prompted, we need to look into our hearts and find the desire to respond from in there, not because somebody is asking us to respond. Yes, we may draw attention to ourselves, but then if we’re asked we must be truthful. “I’m sorry, but while the worship leader was motivating, my heart wasn’t stirring according to that charge.” If we’re there and our intent is to truly worship the Lord, chances are we are not the only ones feeling that way. And if we’re the one trying to motivate and inspire the folks around us, we must be careful to encourage others to worship but not push them over to a false spirit of worship. We want the praises to be real. We want the emotion to be truly directed towards God. We want the moment not to be about a personal or group experience, but rather as a praise offering back to our Lord and our God. That’s how we attack this in an authentic way.