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When God Hates Worship

It is possible for church-goers to be doing the typical things they do – worship, fellowship, etc. – and for God to hate what they’re doing. That sounds like strong language, but those aren’t my words:

I hate, I despise your religious festivals;

    your assemblies are a stench to me.

Amos 5:21 (NIV)

In Amos 5:21-27, God is speaking to His chosen people. Clearly, God is not accepting their worship. After making the blanket statement above, God gets specific: he does not accept their offerings (v22), and he doesn’t want to listen to their worship music, saying, “Away with the noise of your songs!”(v23)

Why is God so opposed to the worship of these people? Perhaps the rest of the passage helps to explain. Verse 24 says, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” More important than outward expressions of worship are championing justice and living rightly according to God’s standard, found in His Word. This verse also reminds me of Micah 6:8, in which God indicates that going through the motions of sacrifices (religious ceremony) is not as important as acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly (living out our lives) with God.

Going back to Amos 5, in verses 25-27 God challenges the people to consider the authenticity of their hearts. Maybe they did bring sacrifices and offerings to God, but they also – or maybe, instead – worshiped idols. In our day, we have to be careful of making the same mistake. The challenge we have is that our idols are not as obvious as those of Amos’ day; ours are more subtle. I shared more about what I’ve learned about modern day idols in this blog post.

The important thing is to honestly assess our hearts and minds, and ask God through the Holy Spirit to show us where we may be worshiping other ‘gods’ in our life. And then we have to be willing to get rid of those idols. God does not change; if he hated such worship then, He hates it now. God will not accept our worship of Him if we are also worshiping other idols. I think this is what Jesus Christ was saying when He taught that one can only have one master; one cannot serve both God and other things (Matthew 6:24).

May we purify our hearts and motives for worship. May we be willing to discover and discard any idols in our lives. May our worship be not hateful, but pleasing, to God.


What, or whom, are you worshiping?

Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

Joshua 24:15

I have a plaque in my house with the above quote; I love it because it serves as a reminder to me and my family that we are a family that worships and serves the LORD, the triune God of the Bible. The context of this passage in the book of Joshua is that Joshua is confronting the leaders of Israel, God’s chosen people, because they had drifted from the true God and were worshiping and serving man-made gods from surrounding nations.

I believe that God has been showing me lately the parallel to what is going on today. The body of Christ, the church, is full of people who have drifted from the true God and are worshiping and serving other gods. You may think, “we don’t worship idols” because we don’t have little statues in our house. Unfortunately, some people do, because they’ve been tricked into believing that under the guise of ‘tolerance’ it doesn’t matter whether you believe in the God of the Bible or the God of Islam or Buddha or any other religion’s god.

However, most Christians are more likely to worship other, more subtle idols. Tony Evans, pastor and founder of The Urban Alternative, has said that an idol is any noun (person, place, thing, or idea) that you look to as your source. In fact, he has an entire series of messages explaining various idols we have created in America; you can find them here. Another pastor and teacher, founder of Thru The Bible ministry, J. Vernon McGee, has defined idols as anything you give your time to, or anything you give yourself to. We don’t worship the ancient Greek god Bacchus any more, but many have made alcohol a god. We don’t worship Aphrodite, but many have made sex a god. Then there are those who worship the “Almighty” dollar.

Why does this matter? Is it a big deal? The Bible tells us, yes, this is a big deal. He is a holy God and a jealous God (Joshua 24:19). When God gave the ten commandments, His first two were, “You shall have no other gods besides me” and “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:3-5) God has warned us that He punishes those who turn from Him to other gods; just read the rest of Exodus 20:5, or this from Joshua 24:20: “If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you.” In the Old Testament times there are plenty of examples of God’s active judgement on His people for their idolatry.

These days, however, it seems God uses more passive judgement. This is what is described in Romans 1:21-32. For example: when people worship created things rather than the Creator, he gives them over to shameful lusts, the sinful desires of their hearts, and the degrading of their bodies (v23-27); when we don’t think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, God gives us over to our depraved mind, which leads to all kinds of wickedness (v28-31). It should not be surprising, then, that after years and decades of our culture turning away from God, and even of some of our churches acquiescing to the culture and effectively embracing false gods, that our society is proof of what happens when God gives people over to their sinful nature.

So what can we do? Acknowledge the idols we have been worshiping, and stop it. Anything in our lives that has a higher priority than God can be an idol. I have to be careful not to let sports be an idol in my life. That may sound silly, but I have to honestly assess how much time I spend checking scores, following my teams, reading articles, or watching highlights, games, etc, compared to how much time I spend reading the Bible, praying, engaged in worship, or otherwise spending time with God or serving His purposes. I think the biggest indicator of what or whom we worship is identifying our priorities. When God is our top priority, then we will worship Him not only on Sunday, but throughout our lives.

National Day of Prayer

One of the most important aspects of worship – whether corporate (in a group) or individual – is prayer. Today marks the 70th National Day of Prayer; in 1952 the first Thursday of May was designated to nationally observe a day of prayer. So for today, I thought I’d share a few resources to encourage you to join me in praying for our nation.

The Presidential Prayer Team is a non-profit organization “dedicated to a focused mission of encouraging, inspiring and praying for our president and national and military leaders.” Go to their site where you will find a downloadable prayer guide, as well as links to an Interactive Guided Prayer, a National Prayer Room, a National Prayer Video, and more.

In the book of Daniel, Daniel offers a prayer of confession and seeking God’s mercy on behalf of the nation of Israel. I think this prayer is very appropriate for our nation today. You can read it and pray this prayer here.

From the website, here is a wonderful post that includes prayers of various American presidents throughout our history, many of which are just as pertinent today as when they were offered back then.

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A prayer for our country, from the Book of Common Prayer

The James Dobson Family Institute will be live-streaming The National Day of Prayer National Broadcast here. Starting at 8pm EST, you can follow this broadcast and come together with Christians across the country in praying for our nation.

Almighty Father, whose blessed Son before his passion prayed
for his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one:
Grant that your Church, being bound together in love and
obedience to you, may be united in one body by the one Spirit,
that the world may believe in him whom you have sent, your
Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in
the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A prayer for the unity of the church, from the Book of Common Prayer

If you know of any other links, prayers, or resources and would be willing to share, leave a reply in the comment box below. Even after the National Day of Prayer, God’s people ought to be in regular prayer for our nation.

Encouragement from the Psalms

The psalms have been used throughout history to worship God, as prayers or songs. I’ve compiled a list of ones to encourage you in troubling times.

I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been discouraged by a lot of things going on in our country. There is so much discord and disagreement about what our society’s problems are, and what to do to fix them. I believe that if we looked to the God of the Bible for guidance and direction, many of these problems would be fixed. Unfortunately, our culture just seems to be moving further from God. What started as a shift from moral absolutes to relative truth – what’s true for you is fine, but what’s true for me can be different and just as valid – is now becoming increasingly antagonistic toward the truths of God’s Word.

The psalms have been used throughout history to worship God, as prayers or songs. For months now, I have noticed how several psalms seem to speak to my heart, giving me the words to pray during these trying times. Since the beginning of the year, I have been reading through the Bible using The Daily Bible, which lays out the entire Word of God in 365 daily readings, presented chronologically. When it comes to the psalms, they are presented within the historical context whenever the context is indicated. The rest are grouped together in broad categories. I am now reading through a group labeled “Psalms for the Troubled Soul.” Starting with these, I’ve compiled a list of the psalms that I believe make a great set of prayers that I can reference whenever I’m in need of encouragement in the midst of this troubling world. I pray that they can be a blessing to you in the same way. (a brief description of each psalm is taken, for the most part, from The Daily Bible)

  • Psalm 3 – prayer of desperation
  • Psalm 5 – prayer for protection of the righteous
  • Psalm 6 – prayer for deliverance from enemies
  • Psalm 7 – prayer for refuge from enemies
  • Psalm 10 – prayer for relief from oppression by the wicked
  • Psalm 11 – security of righteous from threats of the wicked
  • Psalm 13 – prayer for salvation from enemies
  • Psalm 17 – prayer for rescue from enemies
  • Psalm 18 – song of deliverance
  • Psalm 23 – The Lord as a protective Shepherd
  • Psalm 26 – prayer for redemption of the righteous
  • Psalm 28 – prayer for salvation of righteous and punishment of wicked
  • Psalm 31 – prayer for relief from pursuers and slanderers
  • Psalm 35 – prayer for vindication in the eyes of gloating enemies
  • Psalm 37 – the righteous have no reason to envy the wicked
  • Psalm 41 – prayer for weak and those betrayed by friends
  • Psalm 43 – prayer for insight in the face of opposition
  • Psalm 44 – confession of national sin and prayer for restoration
  • Psalm 46 – refuge and strength in the God who rules over nations
  • Psalm 54 – prayer for deliverance from attackers and slanderers
  • Psalm 55 – the anguish of having disloyal companions
  • Psalm 56 – prayer for confidence
  • Psalm 59 – prayer for God’s strength
  • Psalm 60 – prayer for restoration
  • Psalm 61 – prayer for God’s defense and shelter
  • Psalm 62 – God is our only strength, whose love excels all others’
  • Psalm 64 – plea against conspirators who scheme evil deeds
  • Psalm 69 – prayer for end of scorn
  • Psalm 70 – urgency of the need for God’s deliverance
  • Psalm 71 – prayer for God’s presence throughout life
  • Psalm 73 – questioning the prosperity of the wicked
  • Psalm 74 – prayer for God to restore His people
  • Psalm 77 – the comfort of God’s record of deliverance
  • Psalm 79 – when will God hear our cry and repay enemies?
  • Psalm 83 – prayer for justice for oppressing nations
  • Psalm 86 – prayer for mercy in the face of enemies
  • Psalm 91 – the personal protection of one who trusts in God
  • Psalm 102 – a nation’s prayer, like that of an afflicted person
  • Psalm 108 – prayer for victory over enemies
  • Psalm 109 – prayer that false accusers are repaid
  • Psalm 120 – prayer for deliverance from liars who press war
  • Psalm 121 – the Lord watches over His people
  • Psalm 123 – prayer for mercy
  • Psalm 140 – prayer for protection from violent people
  • Psalm 142 – prayer for refuge from enemies
  • Psalm 143 – prayer for preservation of life and protection against trouble
  • Psalm 144 – prayer for God’s power upon enemies

Ash Wednesday and a Life of Worship

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart, and not your garments.

Joel 2:12-13a

This is a common Scripture reading for Ash Wednesday, the day that begins the season of Lent. Lent is a time to honestly assess our sins, to humble ourselves, to reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and to re-focus on God. Many churches have additional worship opportunities during this season, in order to help people maintain this focus.

If we were honest with ourselves, and really understood how offensive our sin is to God, and realize that our sin was the reason Jesus had to suffer, it would bring us to tears, cause us to mourn, and maybe even cause us to fast – either by loss of appetite or by intentionally fasting to express our sorrow. Some people choose to fast from something (sugar, alcohol, tv, etc) during the 40 days of Lent.

God is not as much concerned with outward expressions of sorrow, like tearing one’s clothes (a common expression in Biblical times) or putting ashes on our forehead, like many do on Ash Wednesday. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but God’s primary concern is that we experience heartbreak over our sin, so that it leads us to repentance and a return to Him. So if you plan to fast from something during Lent, I hope it is something that helps you return, or draw nearer, to God. And perhaps you can add something in its place, like attending Lent worship services, or spending time in the Bible and prayer.

Over the last several months I’ve been lamenting the direction our country’s culture is heading, further and further away from God. I wrote a separate post about it (here), so I’ll just summarize it by saying that I believe the main problem is that the church – all Christians – in this country has failed to be salt and light in the culture.

Ash Wednesday is a great opportunity to start turning the tide, if God’s people, starting with me, will repent of our sins – of complacency, of neglecting our relationship with God, of neglecting worship, of neglecting His Word (or ignoring or changing parts of His Word to acquiesce to culture), of neglecting prayer, and of allowing disunity in the church (due to denominational or doctrinal differences, or worship styles, or other preferences).

Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Joel 2:13b
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