Bringing Down the Mountain of False Worship
Like a mirage, shimmering on the distant horizon, false worship beckons the worship leader toward a tragic end. The image we see may be green and inviting at its base, tall and snow-capped at its summit, and laced with friendly trails from bottom to top, but it is an illusion. There is nothing substantial there, no truth, no transformation, and certainly no transport for the spirit to the realms of eternal glory. There is shadow without substance, form without content, and image without life.
Who provides this false worship? Ironically enough, often this worship is done by people with true hearts. They are not perpetuating a fraud. They are not hypocrites. They sincerely reach out to the Lord with songs of praise as they worship and pray from the heart. How can such people produce what can only be called idolatry? King David helps us understand.
Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Ps 24:3-6 NIV
In other words, “Who really worships? Who among all who worship comes before God with praise and stands before Him, justified?” The King’s answer is 4-fold:
- He who has clean hands,
- He who has a pure heart,
- The one with no idols in his/heart, and,
- The one who speaks the truth.
True Worshipers and True Worship must possess all four attributes:
- Worshipers should be forgiven people while worship deals in God’s love and forgiveness.
- Worshipers must not have mixed motives but are focused only on God’s glory while worship must reflect and communicate God’s glory.
- God should hold the exclusive place in the heart of the worshiper with no room for idols while worship should express gratitude only to God, praise for God alone, love for God exclusively, and covenantal pledges of commitment reserved for God alone.
- Worshipers must speak the truth about who they are and who God is while the content of worship should be the good news of the character, power, and love of God.
For our worship to be True Worship, we must score a perfect 4-for-4. The lack of any of these four factors: a pure heart, clean hands, idol-free worship, and truthfulness will spoil our worship.
King David’s False Worship
How did King David know this? Perhaps he learned it from a tragic moment in his rule. His first attempt to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem ended in the death of an innocent young man because David did not consult the scriptures on how the Ark was to be moved. His heart was right; there was no trace of idolatry in his mind, but because he did not learn the truth, his hands were unclean. His act of worship proved to be false and deadly. Three months later he tried again to bring up the Ark. This time he appointed priests to carry the Ark on poles on their shoulders, just as Moses had commanded. And this time David’s worship proved true.
Conclusion drawn: to present True Worship to the Lord requires clean hands, a pure heart, and idol-free methodology and loads and loads of truth.
Six ways to Bring Down the Mountain of False Worship
- Wash your hands. Using King David’s language, “clean hands” means two things to me. The first is asking Jesus to forgive your sins. Worshipers need to live in an attitude of repentance. If our goal is to please the Lord with our actions and words of worship, we should never harbor guilt over actions and words that have hurt Him. The second is living up to all the truth we know about God and how He should be worshiped. As we are led by the Spirit (that means adhering to the Spirit’s three principles: exalt the Lord Jesus, edify the church and move in a fitting and orderly way) the worship you offer to the Lord must be as compliant to the commands of scripture as you can make it. The content of the worship should be about the Lord, not about us or even how we feel about the Lord. The patterns of the worship service should be those revealed in Scripture with a beginning, and middle and an ending, not some slice-of-life non-event.
- Cleanse your heart. The heart is the essential factor in True Worship. Hear the words of Jesus, quoting Isaiah: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Mark 7:6-7 NIV) God sees the heart as clearly as we see the face. He hears the cry of the heart as clearly as we hear the voices of those around us. The problem is we cannot cleanse our hearts; only Jesus can do that. And He will do that exactly that when we lift them up to Him.
- Banish idols. Modern idols are not made of wood or stone. They are usually constructs of the mind or the will. Music can become an idol to the musician. Worship itself, or more correctly said, the feelings associated with worship, can become an idol to the worship leader or worship singer or player. The acclaim of others, the power over others, and the intoxication of self are common idols among artists. The Lord knows when other gods seek the throne of the heart. When we crowd Him out of our hearts, He will not accept our words of worship.
- Tell the Truth. Worshipers must speak the truth: the words of the mouth must match the thoughts of the heart. The liturgy we use must speak the truth about who God is and what He intends. The overall style of a worship presentation should accurately reflect the true nature of the One who is worshiped. For instance, God is light. What does it say when we plunge the congregation into darkness? Also consider this: God is both near to us, immanent, is the theological term meaning He is close to us as in “God with us,” and He is transcendent, meaning He is totally “other” to us as in “Immortal, invisible….” When a worship service presents only one of these aspects of who God is, it is presenting only part of the truth.
- Flow with the Spirit. In the famous encounter with the Samaritan Woman, Jesus told us the Father was looking for True Worshipers who would worship “in spirit and in truth.” To worship in Spirit means to worship from our spirits (the deepest part of us) as the Spirit of God leads us. As powerful as the music is, that is not what we follow. We follow the flow of the Holy Spirit. God uses the flow of music to express in human terms the flow of the Spirit. To achieve this, the worship leader must know the ways of the Spirit and the ways of music.
- Flow in the Truth. There are two truths here: the first is our truth, our total sincerity and the other is the Truth of God, the Bible. Neither of these truths are static—they are on the move. As we live our lives, we are subject to changing moods and circumstances. Each time we worship (in the words of Paul, “present our bodies to Him”) we must allow God to fine tune our personal truth by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:1,2) The truth we brought to the Lord yesterday or last Sunday must be renewed today and next Sunday. The second meaning is the Truth of God. Jesus repeatedly told us to “hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” God is speaking. He is not adding to the pages of the Bible, but He is giving us wisdom for the task at hand. As Spirit-filled believers, we can live in the flow of Truth from the heart of God.
What is that on the horizon?
There, shimmering on the horizon is the glory of God. It is not a mirage; it is a spiritual reality. It is substance without shadow, form full of life-changing truth, and it is the image of the Father, clearly seen in the face of Jesus. Now that the mountain of false worship has been removed, we can see our destiny and we can taste its sweetness even now: truth that transforms and transports our spirits to the realms of eternal glory.