When Worship goes Wrong

When I was in college I did a stint as a worship leader. I have great memories of that run with my friends. We planned set lists, we rehearsed, we prayed intently and we showed up for chapel services, church services, youth groups. I don’t think we set any trends, but we had fun doing it.

Worship as a genre, an art form and experience have come a long way in the last two decades. Much is the same. Some of it is different. Even so, there’s a significant amount of time, energy, thought and money, that go into the “worship moment” these days. If we’re not careful, we can get caught believing that moment comprises the essence, or the pinnacle, of our spirituality. It’s in the midst of our current worship conversation that Proverbs 21:3 clamors for our attention. It reads, “The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer him sacrifices.”

For the ancients, the worship act consisted of offering sacrifices. There was a ritual, a protocol, a place and people designated for offering sacrifices. It would have been a multi-sensory experience: the touch of the priest’s hand on the animal, the vivid sight of shed blood, the distinct crackle of the fire and the rich aroma of smoke. The sacrifice moved the participant; it’s a sacred moment.

But it’s not the high point for God. God doesn’t disregard the sacrifice or the worship, but the Creator prioritizes right living over epic worship. Always.

It’s unnerving to consider we might be more excited about our sacrifices than God is. He values ordinary obedience over the spiritual spectacle.

To be fair, the spectacle is more fun. It requires less of us. It scratches a psychological and sociological itch. I’ll admit it. I’m more pleased with sacrifices. I know how they work. I know when they start and end. I know what to expect.

But to do right? To do justice?
That’s burdensome. It’s hard; it entails risk and uncertainty and sweat. In many ways, it’s a deep form of sacrifice. To do right, to be just is about my heart—my relationship to God and my connection to other people.

I can do worship “right” and still be wrong.
I can do worship “just so” and still embody injustice.
And while some corners of church culture say that if we nail the worship moment “we’re good,” God says otherwise. If our moment with God doesn’t propel us to honor God, then either something is wrong with our sacrifice or something is wrong with us.

Craig Custance