By: Rev: Tim Phillips, Pastor of Brighton ARP Church
When we gather for worship, who is our worship really for? Is it for God (as it should be), or is it more for us?
A few years ago, in church Sunday School class, I was teaching through Roger Ellsworth’s book Opening Up Zechariah. In one chapter, the author examines Zechariah 7, and asks the important question as to who our worship is really for.
“Zechariah 7 brings us face to face with a troubling question: how much of what we call worship is for God, and how much is for us? How much of it is contrived to entertain ourselves rather than give glory to God?”
The Jewish people who had been carried into captivity had begun observing certain feasts while in Babylon to commemorate and mourn the events associated with their exile (e.g., the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple). There were 4 solemn fasts that they observed for 70 years. Now that they had returned to Jerusalem, and now that the rebuilding project for the Temple was in place, should they continue the fasts? They assumed their fasting had been a good thing, but they were surprised to learn that the Lord was not pleased with them. God had not commanded these fasts or sanctioned them, and they were really not for Him in the first place.
“The Lord revealed his unhappiness by pointedly asking, ‘When you fasted and mourned … did you really fast for Me — for Me?’ (v. 5). With this question he was bringing these people to the unpleasant conclusion that these fasts, ostensibly created for him, were in fact created for themselves, so that they could feel good about how religious they were!”
Does this sound familiar? Is this a motivation for much religious worship in our own day? How much of our worship is fueled by our own desire to feel good religiously and to rely on what pleases us (whether it be novelty or tradition or nostalgia) in worship?
“While we agree that worship is for the Lord, we often corrupt it by doing things we enjoy instead of being content to do the things that God enjoys. What does God enjoy? He has made it clear. He wants us to read and preach his Word, seek his face in prayer, and exalt him in praise.”
The discussion questions at the end of the chapter include these two:
“Identify some things in modern worship services that seem to be more for us than for God? Why does it matter if our services contain these things?”
“What does the Lord desire of his people in their worship? What can church leaders do to try to promote God-pleasing worship?”
Those questions give us some important food for thought. We would do well not to dismiss them or to try to justify modern (or even traditional) innovations in worship. What matters is what God desires.
In the midst of changes in church services that have occurred in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these kinds of observations and questions become even more pertinent. We must not become content with compromises to worship, or the insistence of “the new normal.” Safety in our gatherings is, of course, an important consideration. But at the same time we must never forget the importance in considering the questions: What does God desire? And who is our worship really for?
[This article originally appeared on the Gairney Bridge blog on April 3, 2016 (gairneybridge.wordpress.com)]