The Heart of True Worship
Mark 7:6-7 is one of the most terrifying and sobering texts in all of Scripture. In it Jesus exposes both the soul-shrinking wretchedness of “religion” and the horror of hypocrisy. Continue reading . . .
Mark 7:6-7 is one of the most terrifying and sobering texts in all of Scripture. In it Jesus exposes both the soul-shrinking wretchedness of “religion” and the horror of hypocrisy. Look at it with me:
“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6b-7).
Religion distorts the meaning of worship, leading people to believe that merely conforming to an external standard or observing a ritual can compensate for the absence of an internal spiritual passion.
This passage is frightening because it tells us that it is possible to think we are honoring God by using the appropriate words, singing orthodox and doctrinally deep songs, and praying articulate and passionate prayers, all the while our heart is miles away. Think about it for a moment: you can give every external appearance of drawing near to God in worship when in fact your heart is distant and disengaged and all that you do actually dishonors him!
You can faithfully attend services every time the church door is open, diligently engage in a small group, touch all the spiritual bases, so to speak, and dishonor God in doing so!
Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29 and in doing so indicts and dismisses what to all external appearances seems to be orthodox and God-honoring “worship”. What’s wrong with the kind of “worship” that Jesus describes here? The answer is simple: the heart isn’t engaged! Worship, at its core, is an affair of the heart, which is to say it is a matter of the inner depths of our being: mind, affections, will, heart, emotions, feelings, desires, passions.
Today there is a lot of suspicion and embarrassment when it comes to the outward or external expression of our feelings and affections. So what role do they play in genuine, God-honoring worship, and how do we avoid merely being “religious” when we worship the Lord?
Worship begins with deep and inspiring and exalted thoughts about who God is. Worship begins in the mind. It starts with biblically accurate truths about God. Anything that passes itself off as worship that is not based on the biblical revelation of what God is truly like is nothing less than idolatry.
But worship that truly honors God must never stop with big ideas that fill our minds about who God is. These ideas must in turn inflame our affections and awaken and stir our feelings and ignite our passions and intensify our feelings of love and joy and awestruck wonder and brokenness for sin and longing for God and gratitude for what he’s done and hope in what he has promised. Truth is designed to take our breath away.
These truths that fill our minds and then inflame our affections often are then expressed physically and externally in a variety of ways: kneeling, bowing, lying prostrate on the ground, raising of our hands, weeping, dancing, and trembling. Or perhaps it is expressed in our observance of the Lord’s Supper or in water baptism or in public prayers or in the giving of our money or in reading of Scripture.
But if we mechanically and mindlessly go through these motions without the engagement of our hearts, we insult God and dishonor him. Do you realize that God’s name is taken in vain more often in church than outside? I’m not talking about screaming out “G d” in anger. Taking God’s name in vain does not simply mean using profanity in our speech. It also occurs when we pretend to be engaged in worship of God but are insincere, indifferent, flippant, or mechanical, hoping others will think we are spiritual when in fact nothing could be farther from the truth.
Singing without sincerity, praying without thinking, lifeless and mechanical discharge of worship as a duty rather than a delight, enduring rather than enjoying the celebration of God are all instances of taking God’s name in vain; they are examples of treating him as common and mundane. Would that God might guard us from falling into the trap of faithfully and meticulously observing all the external expectations entailed by “worship” while failing to engage him in our hearts and treasure him in our affections.