Within conventional Christianity traditions and rituals play an enormous role in the functionality of the church. The church is built upon perfecting the routines of weekly services, programs, and gatherings to satisfy the conventional spiritual experience. The institutionalization of the church has birthed an unhealthy and unbiblical perspective on how the body of Christ is to worship the Creator God. This phenomenon has given believers a narrow understanding of worship and a high sensitivity toward performance rather than a relational pursuit. Consequently, “worship always suffers when man is exalted and God is belittled.”1 Worship becomes a performance rather than an inner conviction to praise. Yet “Jesus made it clear that worship is not to be the performance of a ritual or a formula but is a matter of spirit. The point is this: no matter what our form of approach may be, the Lord is looking for those who will come to Him in spirit and in truth, with hearts that seek diligently after Him.”2 The church has neglected the ideology of what God desires, “true worshipers [who] will worship the Father in spirit and in truth,”3 and has adopted a counterfeit procedure to engage in the Living God.
Yet at the core of worship the underlining principle that rings true is the positioning of the heart. The expression of “worship is vain and futile when it does not come from the heart.”4 To this end it is imperative to “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life.”5 It is the biblical understanding that Christ has come “that they may have life and have it abundantly.”6 So, if the genuineness of worship, and ultimately life, is from the flow of the heart then what must be at the foundation of the individual? To have the authenticity of life generate a pleasing aroma to God, what is essential to the making of the person or community? God is not interested in tradition, rituals, or gimmicks; rather a sensational thirst to be in His presence and to praise His Name. It is blasphemous to think that we can provoke God through mere posture or procedure for “praise does not flatter God in order to incur His favor. God is never conditioned by our praise.”7 What generates praise in the human heart? What is God calling His church to in praising His Name?
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24 ESV
During the time of the prophet Amos King Jeroboam II was reigning in the kingdom of Israel.8 Meanwhile “Egypt was weakened by internal division, and Assyria was preoccupied with Urartu to the north. This made it possible for Israel and Judah to become powerful nations.”9 Yet during the nation of Israel’s ascension to economical prosperity the wickedness of the people progressively grew in the eyes of the Lord. Israel was guilty of trampling “on the poor”10 as well as “[afflicting] the righteous who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate.”11 Despite the corruption and wickedness practiced Israel continued their traditions and rituals in worshipping and honoring Yahweh, the God of Israel. God the Father reprimanded their hollow praise and command them to “take away from Me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.”12 His heart was engulfed with anger and saturated with fury. The Israelite’s praise was not filled with thankfulness or gratitude rather mere dedication to empty practice and convention.
A Right Understanding Matters:
“12 But you made the Nazirites drink wine, and commanded the prophets, saying, ‘You shall not prophesy.’” Amos 2:12 ESV
“7 For the Lord God does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets. 8 The lion has roared who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?” Amos 3:7 – 8 ESV
Though Israel’s disposition toward God was commendable and deserving in regards to their ritualistic lens, their stale approach in exalting the Living God stemmed from their inability to understand and know Him intimately. During the rise of Israel’s fortunes their dependence shifted from the sovereignty of God onto the prosperity of their wealth. Their corruption blinded the nation of God from “[internalizing] the nation’s traditions that taught them to maintain the poor with an open hand of generosity, for God had freed them from slavery in Egypt. Israel forgot the traditions about God’s care for them when they were weak in Egypt, how He graciously led them in the wilderness and defeated the Amorites.”13 Their misstep was cemented on their unwillingness to hear from God and to be sustained by God’s Word. The nation of Israel was in extensive turmoil in that many were commanding “the prophets, saying, ‘You shall not prophesy.’”14 Their turn to wickedness was intrinsically woven by their unwillingness to heed the words of God. The lack of reverence for the Word to give direction for the people of God was confirmed by the prophet Hosea who’s ministry ran simultaneously with Amos. Through the prophet Hosea God declared that His “people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the Law of your God, I also will forget your children.”15
A right understanding will give birth to an acceptable appreciation for who God is. Out of the flow of thankfulness the drive for a functional lifestyle that is congruent with the character and person of God will systematically appear. Within the life source of the Gospel “true worship comes only from spirits made alive and sensitive by the quickening of the Spirit of God.”16 Yet the illumination of the eyes, which regenerates the heart to life, is awakened through the infusion of faith in Christ Jesus. In conjunction to this truth “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.”17 The issue with Israel was not in their form of worship rather their heartbeat toward worship. The heart was misguided due to a lack of knowledge which could not produce an authentic and genuine response to the goodness of God as Savior. The lack of prophets faithfully proclaiming the truths of God emptied Israel of any capacity to stir in themselves an affection to genuinely worship God. Though their rituals and traditions remained their hearts were stripped of any propensity to legitimately engage in a relational connection to the Creator God.
John 4:24 ESV, “24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
A Call to Remember:
“10 Also it was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt and led you forty years in the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite. 11 And I raised up some of your sons for prophets, and some of your young men for Nazirites. Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?’ declared the Lord.” Amos 2:10 – 11 ESV
God’s grievance toward the nation of Israel was rooted in their ceremonial worship, but it can not be separated from the fact that the distress of God’s heart was indicative of the way the nation of Israel lived out their life of worship. The flow of their life did not communicate their gratitude toward God’s provision. Israel was blinded to the fact that “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.”18 Israel had abandoned a genuine understanding of God’s redemptive power through the Egyptian episode. Israel had lost in their perspective the magnitude of God’s faithfulness and in doing so had lost their heart to extend the grace that was given onto them. God’s fury burned in response to how the people of Israel “[oppressed] the poor [and crushed] the needy.”19 Though ceremonially the nation of Israel remained functional, their hearts had been drained from the nourishment of God’s Word.
Not all was lost through the goodness, kindness, and mercy of God. The Creator God offered a glimmer of hope and redemption. God’s cry to the nation of Israel was to “seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”20 It was imperative for the Israelite nation to pursue a love relationship with God in knowing and dwelling in His presence, and in so doing Israel would understand and have the flow of goodness succeed from God onto the nation and beyond.
How is the church allowing the sin crushing power of the cross and the life giving efficacy of the resurrection to stir in her affections a worship that is pleasing and acceptable to the Creator God as well as resonate a redeemed life to a broken world? How does the body of Christ press the urgency of the Gospel to the following generation that is in dire need of knowing, understanding, and embracing the full grace of God in Christ Jesus? How is the church modeling a heart of worship that is not built on tradition, ritual, or routine rather on affections that are stirred through the thankfulness, gratitude, and appreciation of the redeeming work of the cross? How is the community of Christ engaged in the inner workings of Jesus to where the cross of Christ impacts marriages, homes, parentless children, troubled teens, broken families, the sex trade, the homeless, the oppressed, and the forgotten? Does the worship of Yahweh extend to the nations in service or does the worship expressed by the churches confined in the four walls of the building? Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger commented well in saying:
God commands us today as His people to come together for worship. This is a part of His plan to care for, grow, and encourage us. We are not to gather in begrudging submission but in delightful obedience, knowing that when God’s people make much of Jesus together, something spiritually profound happens. Corporate worship is a sustaining force in the life of individual believers. It’s where our personal worship takes us — week after week, as often as we meet — and where our personal worship comes from as we leave to serve Him in other places.21
Within redemptive history the church must realize that the main character is God Himself. Yet it is imperative to understand that the church plays a role in bringing forth the good news of Christ. There is a responsibility as redeemed individuals to share, proclaim, and herald the Gospel. Ultimately, “organic multiplication simply happens as people are constantly and continually refreshed with the Gospel and reminded of their part in the greater story.”22 The giving of the Holy Spirit is “a rock solid promise that the resource of Heaven are ready and waiting for the people of God who desire to make much of Him in this world.”23 With that being said knowing and meditating on the Word, then, is crucial to the church’s going for the sake of Christ. Consequently, “not understanding the Word results in the Word being snatched away. Therefore, understanding with the mind is not optional. It’s crucial to conversion and fruit-bearing.”24 It is essential for the church to understand that God’s salvation is meant to bring ultimate worship, glory, and fame to His great Name. Redemptive history is God’s purpose “to bless His people so that all peoples would glorify Him for His salvation.”25 The flow of gratitude within worship matters.
1 Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger. Creature of the Word: The Jesus Centered Church (Nashville: B&H, 2012), 33.
2 Bob Sorge. Exploring Worship: A Practical Guide to Praise and Worship (Summit: Oasis House, 2005), 31.
3 John 4:23 ESV, “23 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.”
4 John Piper. Desiring God: Meditation of a Christian Hedonist (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2011), 85.
5 Proverb 4:23 ESV, “23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
6 John 10:10 ESV, “10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
7 Bob Sorge. Exploring Worship: A Practical Guide to Praise and Worship (Summit: Oasis House, 2005), 33.
8 Amos 1:1 ESV, “1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the day of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.”
9 Gary V. Smith. An introduction to the Hebrew Prophets: The Prophets as Preachers (Nashville: B&H, 1994), 48.
10 Amos 5:11 ESV, “11Therefore because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine.”
11 Amos 5:12 ESV, “12 For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins — you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate.”
12 Amos 5:23 ESV, “23 take away from Me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.”
13 Gary V. Smith. An introduction to the Hebrew Prophets: The Prophets as Preachers (Nashville: B&H, 1994), 57.
14 Amos 2:12 ESV, “But you made the Nazirites drink wine, and commanded the prophets, saying, ‘You shall not prophesy.’”
15 Hosea 4:6 ESV, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”
16 John Piper. Desiring God: Meditation of a Christian Hedonist (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2011), 82.
17 Romans 10:17 ESV, “17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.”
18 Romans 2:4 ESV, “4 Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”
19 Amos 4:1 ESV, “1 Here this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’”
20 Amos 5:14 – 15 ESV, “14 Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. 15 Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”
21 Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger. Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church (Nashville: B&H, 2012), 37.
22 Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger. Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church (Nashville: B&H, 2012), 37.
23 David Platt. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2010), 59.
24 John Piper. Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 65.
25 David Platt. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2010), 69.