If we read of the failures of the Nation of Israel in the Old Testament without identifying our own, similar failures, we miss an opportunity for growth. The temptation of superficial worship is universal. Israel struggled with it, churches struggle with it, and I struggle with it. Through Isaiah, God said this to the nation of Israel:
“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. “When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:11–17, NASB)
The temptation is to feel that if we worship on Sunday (and maybe attend small group), give some money and do our (almost) daily devotions, we have done well. But the problem is that we can do all of this without having our hearts changed and without drawing close to the God we claim to worship. The forms have changed but the tendency toward having hard hearts has not.
Racial tensions have been running high in my country. I assume that the events that have been happening in Ferguson, Missouri are known throughout the world. Based on tidbits of information and our own predispositions, it is tempting to point the finger of blame on a person or group for these events.
But I wonder if things would be different if we, as the church, took seriously the commands at the end of the passage cited above. Have we turned a blind eye to injustice? Have we allowed the ruthless to prevail? Have we done all that we can for widows and orphans?
It has been said that in America, the most racially segregated time is Sunday morning worship. Too often the racial make-up of the local church does not reflect that of the surrounding community. Some of the separation is based on style preferences, but style preference is a lame excuse for the lack of fellowship between believers and congregations.
God said to Israel and is saying to us that it doesn’t matter a whit about the style or intensity of the external forms of worship. It doesn’t matter if we can point to the beautiful church buildings, exuberant worship or motivational preaching. God is not impressed and neither should we be.
God wants our hearts to reflect his heart. What would our world look like if they did? We would probably do less finger pointing and more work to bring healing and reconciliation.