Do we ever think of worship like that? Do we ever think of going to church as an opportunity for us to simply sit and hear the voice of our Beloved? And His Words are so much stronger and sweeter than a simple recording of three syllables—but often we are too busy speaking to listen. The default for a servant should be silence, not speaking. Remember the words of Samuel: “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:9).
Who Sets the Talking Points?
One final question we should ask to evaluate our worship services is this: Who sets the talking points? Or put another way, who determines what our worship looks like—us or God? Contrary to popular opinion, we are not permitted do whatever we want in worship. We must do what God wants, and He cares very much about how He is worshiped. He has high standards. Since religion and worship are very personal, people balk at this notion. But Scripture presents the activity of worship as something much more serious and far less flippant or subjective. In fact, worship is a matter of life or death, as several examples in Scripture indicate (see below). This is why the Preacher says that we are to “walk prudently” or “guard [our] steps” as we come into the presence of God (Eccl. 5:1). He is warning the people of God, “Be careful how you worship.” Worship is a serious business—God cares how we worship, and if we do not worship Him appropriately, we place ourselves in danger.
Now, maybe that doesn’t sound quite right or sit well with you. You may be thinking, “Surely God doesn’t care how we worship; He simply cares that we worship.” For many of us, our default setting is to think that as long as our heart is in it, God is happy with our worship. But there is arrogance in that way of thinking. It places us above God. It suggests something like this: “I am so great and important that God should be thrilled at the prospect of getting any of my attention. What a privilege for Him that I would worship Him. Surely He’s so attention starved that He’ll take whatever I give Him.”
Stories like that of Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1–3) should dissuade us of the notion that God doesn’t care how we worship, or that He leaves the decisions up to us. In The Necessity of Reforming the Church, John Calvin wrote:
There is a two-fold reason why the Lord, in condemning and prohibiting all fictitious worship, requires us to give obedience only to his own voice. First, it tends greatly to establish his authority that we do not follow our own pleasure, but depend entirely on his sovereignty; and secondly, such is our folly, that when we are left at liberty, all we are able to do is go astray. And then once we have turned aside from the right path, there is no end to our wanderings, until we get buried under a multitude of superstitions. Justly, therefore, does the Lord, in order to assert his full right of dominion, strictly enjoin what he wishes us to do, and at once reject all human devices which are at variance with his command. Justly, too, does he, in express terms, define our limits, that we may not, by fabricating perverse modes of worship, provoke his anger against us.
What can we do to move our worship services in a God-centered direction—a worship that exalts Him and humbles us? Terry Johnson says: “The single most important step is to fill them with biblical content. Bible-filled services, services in which the songs, prayers, readings, and sermons are full of Scripture, will inevitably be filled with God as well.” This is to simply affirm that God calls the shots in worship. He sets the talking points. He is the Lord; we are the servants.
This Sunday, will you worship? The psalmist has taught us that to worship is simultaneously to “bow down” and “kneel before the Lord” (Ps. 95:6). It’s to take a humbling posture before the high and holy God. But the God we lay low before is the God of whom we say, “You save a humble people” (Ps. 18:27).
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on September 28, 2022.