Repenting of Heartless Worship

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. – Psalm 51

This past Sunday at Agape we considered the danger of external-only, heartless worship. We read the words of rebuke from God to His people in Psalm 50; people who were ‘doing’ all the right things, but doing them for all the wrong reasons. Their hearts had drifted from their LORD, even while they outwardly continued to bring him sacrifices. With no heart of worship present, their attitudes, thoughts and actions no longer reflected the God they claimed to serve. God rebuked His people and reminded them ‘The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me’. If our heart is filled with thankfulness to God, then it will lead us to live in a manner that glorifies Him. This is why Paul said in Romans 12 ‘I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him‘. Ultimately, our heart is the motivation of all we think, speak and do. Hearts that are submitted in thankfulness to Christ, will overflow and lead us to be submitted in action as well: living sacrifices, not mindless ones.

What does this teach us as a church, as a people who gather every week to celebrate and corporately worship our God together? I believe it teaches us to consider our motivations. Is the gathering of the church something that we attend each week as part of that ‘overflow’ of thankfulness? Do we approach that time as a gift, eager to meet with our fellow faith family and magnify the Lord in Thanksgiving together (Psalm 69:30)? Or is it something we do sleepily, out of tradition or a sense of duty? I imagine that all of us who take an honest and deep look at ourselves would at some point reach the conclusion that our worship has become routine; and our gathering with other believers has followed suit. When we reach that conclusion, the next step is repentance not condemnation. Paul teaches that there are two types of grief (or sorrow) we may find ourselves under: Godly or worldly. How do we tell the difference? By the action we are led into. If we are under worldly grief, then we will be tempted to give up; to quit trying. In this context, perhaps we will be tempted from gathering with the church; to just stay home or leave the community to find another one (assuming the issue is the church itself and not us). On the other hand, a Godly grief will lead us to repentance: a desire to keep going, but in a new direction; a direction that more appropriately resembles true, living worship.

That is why I think the verse above is so appropriate. David wrote those words at a moment in his life when he became aware of his own guilty heart. Even as he had continued in his normal sacrificial routine, his heart had drifted and his behavior had followed. When he came face to face with his condition, caught in his sin, Godly sorrow led Him to cry out for God’s restoration: a pure heart, steadfast and willing spirit, restoration and sustaining. When we test ourselves and become aware of our own drifting from a true heart of worship, may this to be our cry! Perhaps this will need to be our prayer every day; or every Sunday as we prepare to gather together. But this we know: If we pray this with a genuine desire for repentance, our great God and Savior will be faithful to answer and help. Let us therefore go to Him with expectation!

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