walk in the word
“Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before Him, all the earth!” Psalm 96:9
Recently, a man in our church said to me, “I come every week. I sit in the right seat, hold the right book in my hands, sing the right words to the right songs but I am just going through the motions. God is not showing up in my life.”
Ever feel like that?
Fact is, if it seems like God is keeping His distance and ignoring your attempts to draw near to Him, He might be. Ouch! Sorry—but sometimes the pain of surgery is the only way to find healing. Why would God ignore our worship? The prophet Isaiah helps us understand.
Reason #1: God ignores our worship when we’re selfish.
“Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers.” (Isaiah 58:3) That phrase find your desires means that you already have pretty much everything you want. When you come to church intent on worshipping God, you’re fed up, rested up, sexed up, leisured up—basically satisfied with everything your heart desires. Then you rush into church almost as an afterthought and say, “oh yeah God, I want You too. ”And He is like, Sorry it doesn’t work that way. You cannot have everything your heart desires and God!
If you doubt that, try this experiment. Right now you’re reading this piece about how to connect with the Lord. Now, go eat a big meal. In fact, eat it in front of the TV while you watch your favorite video. When you’re done stuffing yourself, lay down on the couch as the movie continues .When you are done, come back here and see how much energy you have to finish this. The answer will be little or none.
Deep down we know that we cannot have God and the constant satisfaction of every earthly whim. Sin is not the only thing that hinders your relationship with God. That’s why Isaiah focuses on fasting. Fasting, as prescribed in Scripture, elevates your hunger and passion for God.
Remember Jesus’ words: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled”(Matthew 5:6). You can only be filled when you have an empty place to hold what God longs to give you.
Reason #2: God ignores our worship when we’re strife-filled.
Christians can sometimes be directionally challenged. Some are consumed with the vertical and think they can ignore the horizontal. Notice Isaiah said, “Behold, you fast”(you seek God in a worshipful way) “for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist” (v.4). In other words, people fuss, fume, and fight all week and then come to worship. Instead of leaving church determined to get right with people and be an instrument of reconciliation in this world, they crab at the kids all the way home. In the middle of that, they try to fold in some genuine, personal connection with God. God is like, “You’re kidding, right? You want Me to connect with you when you’re like this?” God doesn’t meet with us when our lives are filled with strife.
God has taught me the hard way that you can’t have the vertical thing right with Him if you haven’t at least done your part to make the horizontal relationships right. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Jesus said in Matthew 5:23 that if you come to worship God and while you’re at the altar you remember a problem you have with somebody, you should leave your sacrifice and go make the relationship right. Just get up and walk out, get on the phone or write the letter or get in your car and get over to that house. Humble yourself before that person and say, “I’m so sorry for what’s happened. Please forgive me.” Unless we have made every effort we can to be right with others, God ignores our worship.
Reason #3: God ignores our worship when we’re surface-y.
We may look really sincere. We may make all the right moves, but God ignores our worship when we’re focused on externals. You can see it in verse 5, “Is it a fast like this which I choose?” “Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed?” In other words, God says, Is that what I’m into? “Spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?”
In Isaiah’s day, people who wanted to show that they were really serious with God wore this abrasive, rough sackcloth against their skin as a symbolic expression of their heartfelt brokenness. To make themselves even more uncomfortable, they would dump ashes on their head. They were acknowledging how completely disinterested God is in externals and how entirely focused He is with our heart—our thoughts, our attitudes, and our motivations.
As with most symbolic expressions of worship, over time people became guilty of offering God the symbol and not the reality. They came to worship decked out in burlap and soot but they failed to let the reality of their sinfulness penetrate their own heart. God was like, Don’t give Me the symbol, give Me the reality!
Let’s talk about contemporary equivalents. What if you raise your hands to God not out of a heightened sense of God’s presence but just because the music is emotive? What if you kneel to pray but on the inside you refuse to yield to what He has been convicting you about? What if you sit in church with your Bible open but your heart closed? Or rush off to Bible study with a proud and unreachable spirit? Worst of all, how do you think God feels if you casually take the communion bread and cup—imbibing the symbols of our most precious realities even as your mind wanders to trivia and fails to seriously scour the heart Christ died to cleanse?
When we come to worship thinking ‘what’s in this for me?’
When we come without doing the horizontal forgiveness.
When we look the part but our hearts are far from God—these are the times God puts His fingers in His ears.
But then there are the times when God shows up in our lives in wonderful, glorious ways. How long since God’s greatness gripped your heart and broke you down, but wow, built you up, too?
You say, “That’s what I want!” And I say, me too! Not wanting this to be a mystery, God laid out the details about when He will show up to powerfully ignite our worship with His awesome presence. Tune into the broadcast this week to hear all about those amazing details.
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