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God, as stated repeatedly in Exodus (14:4; 15:11; 16:7), will not share His glory with any other. Yet, much worship prefers the extraordinary sensationalism of man to the ordinary worship of God in His glory.

Worship is all about glory. However, we frequently associate glory with human fame, power, artistry, athleticism, or triumphal prowess. If worship is wrongheadedly hitched to any of those glory-stars, it becomes corrupt, malformed, cultic—even deathly.

One of the climactic episodes that yokes worship and glory is the golden calf incident (Ex. 32), notorious for showing disobedience. What may be less recognized is that the root of this rebellious worship was the simultaneous prioritizing of the people’s expectations with the wrongful apportionment of glory.

If they are not careful, people’s unholy expectations may determine worship and rob God’s glory. Today, we have created addictive expectations that can be satisfied only by sensational performances. Yet, God prefers to be worshiped simply, regularly, in awe, with glory for Himself alone—and according to Scripture.

Rather than commending sensationalistic worship, driven by the supercharged expectations of a culture that demands full-service pampering and unending entertainment, the Lord is disinclined to share His glory. Theatrics often diminish God’s glory.

To protect His awesome worship from such corruptions, God has devised several ordinary methods to enrich His people. Yet, our culture demands extraordinary signs—even employing cheap smoke and mirrors—and much prefers carnivals, skits, or screen visuals over the Word, the sacraments, and prayer. Nevertheless, these ordinary means of grace sustain the church in many ages. Surely, they are as dependable today as they were yesterday—and will be tomorrow.

Since God’s glory is unique, worship should not be governed by the expectations of people.

However, if juvenile expectations drive the train of worship, mature and ordinary means that reserve the glory to God alone (Isa. 42:8) may get lost in the shuffle of production. At some point, every worship leader must ask: Am I seeking to fulfill the expectations of the many, or am I seeking to meet the expectations of the One?

We might learn much about avoiding excessive popular expectations from Exodus 32. First, the Israelites expected worship to copy their neighbors’ glorifications. The golden calf was a replica of pagan deities, and these people clamored to worship like those surrounding cults. They also believed they needed something visual—and glittering.

Here, glory went to others—to an inanimate calf—to meet the expectations of the worshipers. Rather than worshiping as God instructed, they voluntarily bowed to a creation. See where satisfying the crowd’s expectations can lead?

Second, they wanted worship that was shimmeringly bright, visual, and opulent. They could not be satisfied with the ordinary. They wanted the sensational, the jaw-dropping, and their expectations—left uncorrected by Aaron—led to increasingly idolatrous practice.

Here, the glory went to the shining craftsmanship of worship. Sensual expectations of entertainment may certainly corrupt worship. It is much better to rest in the sufficient Word of God, with sincere prayer and regular use of the ordained sacraments.

Third, they craved worship that was led by the people—not by ordained leaders. In this episode, the people spurned “that fellow” up on the mountain and induced Aaron to alter worship to meet their expectations. They arrogantly assumed that the masses are the arbiters of worship, instead of worship being conformed to please the Creator of worship. In this case, glory was given to the vox populi. Yet, our Lord later called for worship to be in Spirit and in truth, for God is spirit.

Fourth, they wanted worship with amped-up, sensual music. When Moses and Joshua heard this music, they classified its genre as more like a military chant or a tribal chorus than anything that gave glory to God. Music style does convey a message, and the people’s expectations became the songbook of calf worship. Here, they gave glory to the musicians and performers.

Glory in worship can be given to objects, to aesthetic performance, to the wishes of the people, or to enthralling media. That is, after all, good pagan worship, and there are many ways to do that. These cow-worshipers wanted worship to be anything but ordinary. They craved ecstatic experiences; they yearned for sensation; they wanted to participate; they desired portions of God’s glory and assumed that to themselves.

And God was white-hot angry against it.

Should we not learn from His reaction? Since God’s glory is unique, worship should not be governed by the expectations of people. Extraordinary worship gimmicks can rob God of His glory.

Appropriating the Means of Grace

Living with a Sacrificial Heart

Keep Reading The Ordinary Means of Grace

From the June 2020 Issue
Jun 2020 Issue