From the Inside Out

There is no physical posture which can guarantee to us acceptable worship. Physical posture in Scripture is only significant when it is a reflection of the inward posture of the heart. . . . Now that inward posture produces in Scripture an outward posture, which is its reflection. The great error is to try to produce worship by affecting some kind of physical posture or physical gyration or something of the sort—false worship comes from that, you see. The prophets of Baal flayed themselves and danced up and down to work up an ecstasy that God might hear them. But that’s the wrong way around. You see, every physical posture is to be an expression of an inward spiritual posture of the heart. 

—Eric Alexander, sermon #5 on John 4 (https://www.ericalexander.co.uk/sermons/acceptableworship.php)

Transformed Hearts

The key difference between a Pharisee and a believer in Jesus is inner-heart motivation. Pharisees are being good but out of a fear-fueled need to control God. They don’t really trust him or love him. To them God is an exacting boss, not a loving father. Christians have seen something that has transformed their hearts toward God so they can finally love and rest in the Father.

—Tim Keller, The Prodigal God, 85-86

What He Wants

God did not command sacrifices in order to busy His worshipers with earthly sacrifices.  Rather He did so that He might lift their minds higher.  This can be clearly discerned from His own nature:  for, as it is spiritual, only spiritual worship delights Him. [John 4:23-24] . . . . The external rituals were to be a manifestation of faith and love (Deut. 6:5-6).  When used merely as a disguise for a cold and distant heart, they became an abomination. The outward signs were to be  manifestations of an inward reality. When they were not, God rejected the sign as having any real worth (1 Sam.15:22; Ps. 51:14-29; Isa. 1:11-18; Jer. 6:20; Mal. 1).

—Monte E. Wilson, “Church-O-Rama or Corporate Worship,” in The Compromised Church: The Present Evangelical Crisis (ed. John H. Armstrong), 72

Preparing for Worship

Dear Christian,

As we gather for corporate worship tomorrow, we would all do well to remember that it is not a biblical necessity to enjoy the music—though it is not an outright sin to do so either—to which the truths of God’s word are set to melody, harmony and rhythm. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16 ESV) If the music or musical style does not suit your personal and private tastes, make it your spiritual aim to rejoice in message of the lyric, for that is much more important than the music.If you cannot rejoice in the message of the lyric, either the lyric must change, or perhaps your heart.

—Jason French

Worship in Spirit

The true, the genuine worship is when man, through his spirit, attains to friendship and intimacy with God. True and genuine worship is not to come to a certain place; it is not to go through a certain ritual or liturgy; it is not even to bring certain gifts. True worship is when the spirit, the immortal and invisible part of man, speaks to and meets with God, who is immortal and invisible. [John 4:23-24]

—William Barclay, Gospel of John vol. 1, 154

Appetite for God

I want to stress what I think that we (or at least I) need more [than instruction about sacrifice]; the joy and delight in God which meet us in the Psalms, however loosely or closely, in this or that instance, they may be connected with the Temple. This is the living centre of Judaism. These poets knew far less reason than we for loving God.  They did not know that He offered them eternal joy; still less that He would die to win it for them. Yet they express a longing for Him, for His mere presence, which comes only to the best Christians or to Christians in their best moments. They long to live all their days in the Temple so that they may constantly see “the fair beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27,4). Their longing to go up to Jerusalem and “appear before the presence of God” is like a physical thirst (42). From Jerusalem His presence flashes out “in perfect beauty” (50,2). Lacking that encounter with Him, their souls are parched like a waterless countryside (63,2). They crave to be “satisfied with the pleasures” of His house (65,4). Only there can they be at ease, like a bird in the nest (84,3).  One day of those “pleasures” is better than a lifetime spent elsewhere (10).

I have rather—though the expression may seem harsh to some—call this the “appetite for God” than the “love of God”. . . . It has all the cheerful spontaneity of a natural, even a physical, desire.

—C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 50-51

God’s Priority: A Heart of Worship

For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves. Therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to consecrate it to the LORD. For a majority of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, “May the good LORD pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the LORD, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.

—2 Chronicles 30:17-20

Right Worship

God is jealous for His own honor and He rightly seeks His own honor. He says, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:5) and “My glory I will not give to another”  (Is. 48:11).  Something within us should tremble and rejoice at this fact. We should tremble with fear lest we rob God’s glory from Him. And we should rejoice that it is right that God seek His own honor and be jealous for His own honor, for He, infinitely more than anything He has made, is worthy of honor. The twenty-four elders in heaven feel this reverence and joy, for they fall down before God’s throne and cast their crowns before him singing, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created”  (Rev. 4:11). When we feel the absolute rightness of this deep within ourselves we then have the appropriate heart attitude for genuine worship.

—Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1005

Heart Worship 15

I think when you’re in church and a worship song is played (provided it’s not heretical), you have two choices:

1) Worship
2) Criticize, evaluate, and engage in pompous elitism.

I think what we need to do is just worship. When we got to church yesterday (we were very late) I didn’t feel like worshipping, for various reasons. And I may not have liked every song that was played.

But that’s my problem. None of the songs were heretical, and just because I wasn’t inspired to lift up Jesus, it doesn’t mean that the people around me were wrong to do so. In fact, they were right. I was wrong.

I think what’s needed in the worship wars, ultimately, is humility, thankfulness for what we have, and a renewal of the desire to worship God in spirit and truth. Worship, like grace, does not find an easy dwelling in an agitated, proud, critical heart.

—”Bill,” thinklings.org

Heart Worship 13

The all-encompassing criterion for acceptable sacrifice before God in the Old Testament was the posture and the attitude of the person making the sacrifice. Jesus affirmed this truth when He watched worshipers making their offerings in the temple (mark 12:41-44). He pronounced His benediction on the widow who offered her two mites, the smallest measure of currency. Jesus pointed out that her gift was more costly for her than the offerings of the men of great wealth, who dropped the equivalent of $10,000 in the offering plate. He said that because He was able to read her heart when she gave her sacrifice.

—R. C. Sproul, A Taste of Heaven: Worship in the Light of Eternity, 28

Heart Worship 12

You see, I love the use of music in church worship, and I have a special appreciation for the classic hymns of the historic church—I love the beautiful harmonies, the wonderful sound of the organ, the poetry of the lyrics. Unfortunately, the church I attend makes frequent use of two songbooks: one excellent hymnal that contains all of my beloved hymns of the faith, and another (a paperback!) that contains what I considered shallow, musically simplistic, “politically correct” (whatever that means), more modern (post-1960s) worship songs. It wasn’t that the songs in that dread paperback songbook were theologically incorrect or somehow inappropriate for a worship service; I just really didn’t like ‘em.

For a long time, I would cringe each time during the Sunday worship service that I had to haul out the Modern Praise Book; I’d roll my eyes at each repetitive chorus, and I’d ruthlessly document how much worse it was than my favorite hymns. I’d subject my wife to rambling diatribes about Modern Worship Music on the car ride home from church.

But at some point in the last year, I realized that I was spending more time snootily picking apart the songs than I was actually singing. And I realized that my overly critical attitude was completely distracting me from the act of worship. It’s hard to get much out of a Sunday sermon when you’re mentally agitated over the praise song used earlier in the service. That was a problem, and I knew deep inside that the problem was more with me than it was with the church’s choice of Sunday music.

Since that moment of realization, it’s been as if a weight were lifted off my shoulders—I still prefer good old-fashioned hymns, but I’m finding that it’s much more pleasant to just participate in worship than it is to sit back and continually critique it. My wife still has to put up with the occasional music-themed rant from me, but over the last few months I’ve even caught myself starting to appreciate some of the Modern Praise Songs I used to complain about. Who cares if the lyrics aren’t quite as clever or poetic as I would’ve preferred? I don’t think St. Peter is standing at the Pearly Gates handing out awards to the snarkiest church music critics.

All this to say: sometimes you just have to shut up and worship.

Andy Rau, “Shut Up and Worship: Confessions of a Church Music Snob”

Heart Worship 11

Music and liturgy can assist or express a worshiping heart, but they cannot make a non-worshiping heart into a worshiping one. The danger is that they can give a nonworshiping
heart the sense of having worshiped.

So the crucial factor in worship in the church is not the form of worship, but the state of the hearts of the saints. If our corporate worship isn’t the expression of our individual
worshiping lives, it is unacceptable.

—John MacArthur, The Ultimate Priority, 104

Heart Worship 10

We must beware of the naïve idea that our music can ‘please’ God as it would please a cultivated human hearer. That is like thinking, under the old Law, that He really needed the blood of bulls and goats. To which an answer came, mine are the cattle upon a thousand hills’, and ‘if I am hungry, I will not tell thee.’ If God (in that sense) wanted music, He would not tell us. For all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention.

—C. S. Lewis, “On Church Music” in Christian Reflections, 98-99

Heart Worship 7

The allegorical sense of her [Mary Magdalene’s; Luke 7:37-39] great action dawned on me the other day. The precious alabaster box which one must break over the Holy Feet is one’s heart. Easier said than done. And the contents become perfume only when it is broken. While they are safe inside they are more like sewage. All very alarming.

Yours, Jack

—C. S. Lewis, Letters To An American Lady, 29

Heart Worship 5

Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME; IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE. THEN I SAID, ‘BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD.'” After saying above, “SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them” (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, “BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. (Hebrews 10:5-9)

Hebrews 13:15 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (Hebrews 13:15)

You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5)