The past few months I have been reading through the Old Testament minor prophets. In total transparency, I have never spent a fair amount of time giving these books the attention they deserve. The results of reading through them have been quite profound for me. Although I would love to elaborate on multiple themes I’ve found throughout the minor prophets, the book of Amos struck me in a very personal way as a worship leader.
Check out Amos 5:21-24:
“I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Geesh … God seems really harsh in this passage, doesn’t He?
To give some brief context, the Israelite people are “worshiping” God through religious feasts, religious gatherings, offerings of different sorts, singing songs, playing instruments … but the culture was guilty of gaining wealth at the exploitation of the poor, rampant sexual immorality, blatant idolatry, and their “worship” of God was an attempt to manipulate His favor. Yet the religious culture continued as if nothing was wrong.
The main theme of Amos is that worshiping God through song or church attendance or morality alone does not please Him. Scholar Matthew Henry comments on the passage this way: “With these services [the people of God] hoped to make God amends for the sins they had committed, and to obtain leave to go on in sin; and therefore they were so far from being acceptable to God that they were abominable.”
My family, my friends, we cannot please God through religiosity. Sunday morning singing in itself does not please God. Showing up to church in itself does not please God. The Israelite people couldn’t be “good enough” on their own, and neither can we.
If this is true, and we are as sinful as the Israelite people, then what kind of worship does God delight in? Where is our hope?
Praise God that our worship is even possible to be fully pleasing to Him, because of Jesus Christ bearing the wrath of God on the cross reserved for our sin. Praise God that because of Jesus’s perfect life and resurrection from the dead, we are able to be reconciled to God as sons and daughters. Worship is pleasing to God because Jesus makes it possible for God to delight in our worship! That is good news for us today. This is the gospel.
So if our worship is only pleasing to God through faith in Jesus, then what does that practically look like for us?
Check out John 4:24:
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
OK. Now we are on to something. The worship that God delights in is based in two things it seems: spirit and truth. What exactly does that mean?
Let’s start with truth. I believe that this is why the Word of God is imperative for our worship. It tells us who we are worshiping and why He deserves our worship. So … what does the Bible say about God?
Well it says He is good (Psalm 136:1); it says He is faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9); it says there is no one like Him (Isaiah 6:3); it says that He is perfect love (1 John 4:8); it says He is just (Romans 12:19); it says He is in control (Ephesians 1:11). We worship the God of the Bible–it’s imperative that we make sure we know who we are worshiping.
Additionally, I love the way Psalm 96:4 puts it: “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.” In other words, who God is informs how we praise Him. Here’s one major area that the Israelite people missed: If God is perfectly just, then our lives should reflect a love and passion for justice. We are to be imitators of God, that is part of what worship is! Worshiping God is not done exclusively in word, but in fact our whole lives are to be worship to God (Romans 12:1).
This leads us to “in spirit.” I believe that worshiping God in spirit means to worship Him with more than just our words, but with every part of our lives. For example, if we sing on Sunday morning “for the lost and for the broken, for the slave and for the orphan, may everyone realize Your love” (“Father” by Hillsong Worship), but we give two rips about the marginalized in our community, God is not pleased with that! In fact, according to Amos, He is disgusted by that “worship.”
This is so convicting for me as a worship leader. I am coming to realize that worship isn’t just Sunday morning singing, it is a lifestyle in submission to the will of God. I, as a worship leader, am to be a major advocate for social justice in our church! How sad would it be for me to lead people in singing but neglect to care for the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the forgotten. For me, I want my words, my hands, my heart, my entire life be worship to God. I want my life to reflect the grace to the whole world that has been shown to me through Jesus. This is the heart of worship. I pray that we would all be a people who worship in this way!