The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I worked in the office at one of the refineries in Pasadena. Even though my job was mainly crunching numbers on a spreadsheet, I was required to take the plant safety classes before starting work. While showing us the videos, the instructor pointed out a common danger that caused most of the accidents in the plant. They didn’t happen because of a lack of knowledge or experience on the part of the employees. They came about through repetition and familiarity, when people didn’t give their full concentration to a task they had performed many times before.
One of the hymns we traditionally sing before the Lord’s Supper begins, "Oft we come together, oft we sing and pray." And because we do it so often, we don’t always give our undivided attention to what we’re doing. There is the danger of our minds going into autopilot and our bodies going through the motions for the simple reason that we have worshiped so many times before.
Our generation is not the first to suffer from this problem. Malachi addressed the issue to the Israelites after their return from captivity. Having spent 70 years in Babylon, you would think that they had learned their lesson and would be different. But they didn’t treat God as holy or regard worship as a privilege of His people.
Even though worship is an activity we engage in often, we still have a responsibility to make it true worship.
True worship involves more than assembling. "Oh, that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar" (Mal. 1:10)! God was not satisfied simply because the Israelites had shown up and offered some semblance of worship. He would rather them not do it all if they weren’t going to do it right.
It is important for us to be here. But our reason for being here must flow from a thankful heart . Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of His day when He said, "this people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me" (Matt. 15:8). Our Father is not seeking "church goers" who go through the motions. He wants those who worship Him in spirit, from their innermost being. If we can’t do that, He would rather we just shut the doors.
True worship must be done in accordance with truth. "When you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil" (Mal 1:8). Why would it be evil for them to present blind, and lame, and sick sacrifices? Because the Law demanded more. "If it has any defect, such as lameness or blindness, or any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the Lord your God" (Deut. 15:21). The Israelites just chose not to worship according to truth.
There is a standard to which our worship must be held accountable. I have seen some churches advertise, "We believe church ought to be fun and exciting" or "We must accept one another in the love of Jesus recognizing that there are different styles and expressions of worship." True worship demands a "thus says the Lord" in all that we do. It is His throne, we are assembled around. It is His approval we seek. It is His standard we must meet. When we abandon the truth, we no longer engage in true worship.
True worship demands that you bring your best. "Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly" (Mal. 1:8). The Israelites were giving things to God that were of no value or use to them. They had better, but they were saving those for things that were "important" to them. "I am a great King... and My name is feared among the nations" (Mal. 1:14). Such recognition deserved their best.
When we come to worship empty-handed, we shouldn’t be surprised when that’s what we leave with. We wouldn’t dare accept an invitation to someone’s house without asking, "What can I bring?" Yet, week after week we will come to the house of the Lord and expect to receive something for nothing. Doesn’t He deserve better? In fact, doesn’t He deserve our very best?
"Oft we come together, oft we sing and pray." But just because we do these things often doesn’t take away our duty to do them in spirit and truth. "For such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers" (John 4:23).