Our incense from Sheba
Jeremiah 6: Your religious rituals mean nothing to me.
They have church services and follow the time honored traditions handed down from generation to generation. It’s pretty impressive: robed priests, burning incense, sacrifices and prayers and songs. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with any of it. The problem isn’t in how they worship, it’s in how they live the rest of the time. God says they’ve just been “playing games” and “ignoring everything” he says. They respond by trying to jazz up their worship by bringing in some exotic incense from Sheba. Can’t you hear it: “the worship service seems a bit down lately, let’s get some of that really good incense from Sheba, that’ll give us just the spark we need.” However, it doesn’t work. God isn’t impressed and their worship services remain as empty as before. Listen, I’m all for fixing things up and I’m a firm believer in presenting a well ordered, prepared worship service. Adding our version of “incense from Sheba” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, that stuff only makes a difference if the worshipers are backing up their wonderfully choreographed and innovative church services with faithful day to day living. Otherwise, the new “incense” won’t please us or the God we worship.
Take Away: Being a worshipper of the Lord includes a lot more than just going to church.
Isaiah 29: They act like they’re worshipping me but don’t mean it.
Generally speaking, we know how to have church. While it’s true that there are various “flavors” of worship ranging from high church with rich liturgy to “low church” filled with individual expression, there’s beauty and impressive worship services across Christianity. The issue isn’t that some need to abandon their worship tradition and adopt that of someone else. Isaiah complains about how his contemporaries worship, but his complaint isn’t that they don’t know how to organize a worship event. They’re doing fine in that department. The problem is on the inside, not the outside. An impressive, well done worship service is meaningless unless the worshippers pour themselves into their worship. This is no excuse for shoddy planning, but it does force us to concentrate on what really matters. Isaiah says the solution is God doing a “shock and awe” operation on the worshippers. Is that what it takes for us to move beyond “worship wars” and get about the business of worshipping from the heart?
Take Away: The Lord still looks for people who worship in spirit and in truth.
Please stand for the reading of God’s Word
Nehemiah 8: He read it…from early dawn until noon…and all the people listened.
With the Temple rebuilt and the walls providing security to the city a special gathering is scheduled. Ezra the priest stands on a specially constructed platform to read the Word of God. For three hours he reads as the people stand in honor of the Sacred Word. As Ezra reads, something powerful is happening in the lives of his listeners. In some church traditions time is set aside every service for the reading of and hearing of the Word. This isn’t the same as listening to a sermon, even if it’s well preached and faithful to the meaning of the passage being considered. This is hearing the Word simply as the Word and letting God minister his grace through it. There is, I believe, a place for the reading and hearing of Scripture in every church. We might have to shorten the singing a bit (or just lengthen the service) to make more room for Scripture. Most of us church folks claim to be “people of the Word.” Perhaps we should practice what we preach and give the reading of and listening to God’s Word a more prominent place in our services.
Take Away: The Word of the Lord is powerful – life changing – and we need to spend a significant amount of time letting it be drawn deeply into our lives.