Worship services abound in the nation. We have more mega churches than ever before, it seems. We have worship services brought into our homes by television. Many churches are filled with loud music and raised hands. Some even resemble rock concerts with the music being so loud that you can hardly hear yourself sing. There are all sorts of musical instruments from guitars to drums to cymbals to orchestras. Worship services abound and music abounds in them. Many churches have become seeker friendly and have Saturday night worship services or very informal services on Sunday morning. We have experts in worship. We have books on worship. We have seminars and teaching on how to conduct worship. We have the latest state of the art audio and projection systems in our churches. We no longer need hymn books. It’s all on the screen or screens before us. We have well trained worship teams to lead us. Worship abounds in evangelical churches. Yet, in all of this are we pleasing God? Is He the center of our worship?
Jon D. Payne in his book In the Splendor of Holiness writes, “Indeed, the so-called seeker-sensitive churches, well-meaning as they may be, put more emphasis upon what man will get out of a service of worship (unbeliever or believer) than upon what God will get out of it. To be sure, we are supposed to be seeker-sensitive when designing and executing worship, but according to Scripture, God (not man) is the Seeker toward whom we are to be sensitive in worship.” (p. 25) Payne goes on to write, “In the New Covenant, as in the Old, Christians are called to worship God in the manner that He prescribes, and not according to the shifting desires and changing fads of the unbelieving culture. If we worship in God’s Spirit and according to His truth, the object of our worship will inevitably be God Himself. In other words, our worship will be God-centered. Therefore, to make anything other than God the center of our worship is, in a word, idolatry.” (p. 26) This is a very serious charge and something that we need to be concerned about in our modern day worship services.
When we come to worship, should not we be concerned the most at directing our worship toward God? After all, God is the one who is seeking our worship. In John 4:23-24, Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman and tells us some important things about worship in his discourse with her. Jesus told her, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” God is seeking worshipers who will worship him truly from their hearts. E. J. Young points out in his commentary on Isaiah that “….the people ‘worshiped’ God in the way that pleased them, but not in the way that was prescribed. This they did in that they regarded the outward form of worship as sufficient, irrespective of the attitude of the heart. The priests evidently encouraged this, exhibiting a concern only that the worshipper bring the requisite sacrifices, but not that he come to the Lord in humble and true devotion.” (The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 2, p. 320)
So many of our worship services today put emphasis on the music, the worship leaders, the acoustic and sound system but not coming to the Lord in humble and true devotion. There are churches that have little of these things but where people truly worship the Lord with a humble and devoted heart. God could care less if we have the latest sound system and the best worship teams if we do not come to worship Him from our hearts. God wants our hearts!
Isaiah 29:13 says, “The Lord says, ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” God wants our hearts. This is something we need to come to grips with in our churches. It would be better if we get rid of our great sound and projection systems, do away with our worship teams and worship bands if we could just have simple worship services where people come with humble and devoted hearts. We don’t have to have all these other things to worship God. Our greatest need is to have people who come to worship with their hearts turned toward God and who come to worship in spirit and truth. It would be better if our mega churches would disband, get rid of their giant sanctuaries with the latest state of the art equipment and have smaller services in different places with people who come with humble and devoted hearts to worship. That’s what God wants. He wants our hearts. He could care less about our big modern buildings that are built to make people comfortable. God is seeking true worshippers. When and if true revival comes, we may see much of what we see in worship today come to an end. God wants us to get back to the basics and rid of all this stuff we have accumulated in our churches. He does not want our stuff. (Our great buildings and elaborate equipment) He wants our hearts.
Our outward worship is not what God wants. Great worship services are not necessarily what God desires. We think we are pleasing God by holding worship services that are great in the eyes of men. Yet, God may not be pleased with our worship services at all. The Bible condemns worship services that are not what God wants. Listen to what God says in Amos 5:21-24 – “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” God is more interested in our heart devotion to Him and our obedience to His Word than He is in our offerings and songs. We may have all kinds of praise songs and gifted song leaders and a great variety of musical instruments and the latest in sound and projection systems. We may have all of that with lively worship services but unless our hearts are devoted to the Lord and we are walking in obedience to Him, all of this is useless. We just as well close down our worship services if God does not have our hearts and devotion.
Another passage that addresses this matter of outward worship is Isaiah 1:10-17 – “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom: listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah! ‘The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?’ says the Lord. ‘I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to meet with me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.’” You see, God is not interested in our great worship services as much as we are. He is more interested in the state of our hearts. He wants our heart devotion and obedience to His Word more than He wants our elaborate noisy worship services. He even grows weary of our prayers in worship if our hearts are not where they should be.
David puts the whole matter like this in Psalm 51:16-17 – “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” God wants our hearts. He could care less about our fancy worship services and costly sanctuaries and elaborate equipment. He wants our brokenness before Him. He wants our humble heart devotion. Edward J. Young writes, “Religion was on all hands, but the heart of the people sought not the Lord.” (The Book of Isaiah – Volume 2, p. 320) Today, we can say that our nation is filled with religion but the hearts of the people are far from the Lord. We are pretty good at devising elaborate worship services that attract people to our churches but are we pleasing God with them? Where are our hearts when we come to worship God? Matthew Henry writes, “But there are many whose religion is lip-labor only.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Isaiah, p. 161) We come with our mouths and our lips and our raised hands but where are our hearts?
The second part of Isaiah 29:13 says, “Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” We want to see now that the Word of God should guide and dominate our worship. Not only are we to worship from our hearts but to worship in accordance with God’s Word. Jon D. Payne writes, “Authentic Christian worship, when carried out according to what God (the ultimate governing authority) has instituted in His Word, is the context in which God is honored and His people flourish.” (In the Splendor of Holiness, p. 25) John Calvin writes, “On the second point, when God is worshipped by inventions of men, he condemns this ‘fear’ as superstitious, though men endeavor to cloak it under a plausible practice of religion, or devotion, or reverence. He assigns the reason, that it ‘hath been taught by men.’…But it is the will of the Lord, that our ‘fear,’ and the reverence with which we worship him, shall be regulated by the rule of his word; and he demands nothing so much as simple obedience, by which we shall conform ourselves and all our actions to the rule of the Word, and not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.” (Calvin’s Commentary on Isaiah – www.ccel.org) When we let music dominate our worship services and give the Word of God only an inferior role in the service, are we not conducting our worship to please men and not giving God’s Word its rightful place? Matthew Henry writes, “They do not make the Word of God the rule of their worship, nor his will his reason: Their fear towards me is taught by the precept of men. They worshipped the God of Israel, not according to his appointment, but their own inventions, the directions of their false prophets or their idolatrous kings, or the usages of the nations that were round about them.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Isaiah, p. 161)
The preaching of the Word of God should be foremost in our worship services. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book Preaching & Preachers writes, “The primary task of the Church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God.” (p. 19) Jon D. Payne writes, “…I have discovered time and again through the study of Scripture that it is through the primary means of Word-centered proclamation that God advances His redemptive purpose in the course of history. This is precisely why the preaching of God’s Word has historically held a central place in Protestant worship.” (Payne, p. 83) Today, many evangelical churches have done away with the pulpit entirely to make room for the worship team. The preacher either has no lectern at all or only a small one that takes up little room. The days of the large pulpits with the big pulpit bibles are just about gone in modern evangelical churches. What does this tell us about the importance of the preaching the Word today?
Payne goes on to write, “The Apostle Paul builds on this truth, namely, that God has ordained the act of preaching to be the primary means and method of advancing the Kingdom. In his first epistle to the Corinthian Church, Paul has in view the sharp contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. He states that ‘since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe’ (1 Cor. 1:21).” (Payne, p. 84) John Calvin comments on the role of preaching in the Christian Church, “Paul expressly states, that, according to the command of Christ, no real union or perfection is attained, but by the outward preaching….The church is the common mother of all the godly, which bears, nourishes, and brings up children to God, kings and peasants alike; and this is done by the ministry (of the word). Those who neglect or despise this order choose to be wiser than Christ. Woe to the pride of such men! It is, no doubt, a thing in itself possible that divine influence alone should make us perfect without human assistance. But the present inquiry is not what the power of God can accomplish, but what is the will of God and the appointment of Christ.” (Quoted by Payne, p. 86)
If the preaching of the Word of God is portrayed in scripture as of supreme importance, why then have modern evangelical churches relegated the preaching of the Word to an inferior position? Payne explains, “If the Word of God, then, is the primary means by which God saves and nourishes the elect and the faithful proclamation of His Word is His primary method of accomplishing His redemptive purposes, why has preaching taken a back seat in modern-day evangelical churches? In short, it is because God-centered, careful, exegetical, authoritative preaching is not appealing to the culture. In order for the church to get big, church growth experts surmise, biblical preaching must go (or be changed into a superficial, therapeutic, anecdote-filled message).” (Payne, p. 85)
True worship should then have the proclamation of the Word of God at its center and everything else should take their place behind it. When the preaching of the Word of God returns in power to our pulpits, we will know then that revival has returned to this nation. Iain Murray comments on the word “revival” when he says, “Our English word for that phenomenon (revival) is akin to the French, reveille, and provides an illustration. Reveille, the morning hour of wakening in the army, is announced by a bugle. When times of awakening occur in the church the preaching of the Word serves that same function, as was once said of John Knox: ‘The voice of this one man is able in one hour to put more life in us than five hundred trumpets continually blustering in our ears.’…Truth preached is the means of awakening.” (The Old Evangelicalism, p. 5-6) May the Lord restore to us the powerful preaching of His Word and may this powerful preaching usher in the long awaited revival that we so desperately need.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless indicated otherwise
Calvin, John. Commentary on Isaiah, www.ccel.org .
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible – Volume 4 – Isaiah to Malachi, Fleming H. Revell Company, United States of America.
Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn. Preaching and Preachers, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1971.
Murray, Iain. The Old Evangelicalism, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 2005.
Payne, Jon D. In the Splendor of Holiness, Tolle Lege Press, White Hall, WV, 2008.
Young, Edward J. The Book of Isaiah – Volume 2, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1969.