The last time I saw my grandfather alive he made fun of me for being a pastor. You’ve probably heard the jokes or even made them yourself. “What does a pastor do all week anyway? You only work like one hour.” I wanted to tell my grandpa we have two worship services on Sunday morning, and they go for three hours by themselves....
The Book of Amos depicts an interesting problem. The problem is not that God’s people don’t worship. The problem is that they still consider themselves the people of God when their worship is hollow. Their worship has become nothing more than an irritating sound to God:
“Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.” (Amos 5:23)
In response to this, you might ask: When does worship become noise? In other words, when do our attempts to ascribe glory, honor, and praise to God start to become an annoying or even blasphemous sound?
Let’s consider these places in the Bible to see what defines noisy, empty worship:
A. Worship without God
And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’” (Exodus 32:7-8).
When the Bible speaks of worship, it means so much more than sharing a kind word for a job well done. It means actively bending your knee in submission, praise, and sacrifice to something or someone worthy of your utmost devotion. That’s why what we see happening in Exodus 32 is so offensive to God.
No matter how marvelous they may be to behold, human-made idols like a golden calf are not worthy of worship in comparison to God. The same can be said of worshipping art and artists, discoveries and discoverers, or visions and visionaries.
God alone is worthy of our worship because God alone made us as his image-bearers designed to reflect his glory—not our glory.
So when we worship without him, it is the ultimate let down because we are devoting ourselves to less than the best that we were created for.
When you take a moment to consider all the Bible reveals about God, who else can redeem a nation of slaves from a nation of tyrants? Who else can create something out of nothing? Who else can bring the dead to life?
The magnitude of God’s power to transform not just your life but the entire course of the world’s history should be reason enough to worship with him rather than without him.
B. Worship without Love
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1)
In the United States, we often talk about “love” in terms of passions and affections that bring us pleasure. We fall in love with people, books, jobs, and hobbies, so long as we find them delightful. And then when our passions fade, we lose interest, break-up, and move-on searching for something new to love.
When God’s Word speaks of “love,” it adds a dimension that most Americans miss but probably crave. Biblical love certainly stirs the affections of our heart, but true love also carries with it the sense of unbreakable devotion.
Has someone ever told you “I love you” when he or she didn’t really mean it? It hurts when you discover the truth.
When God says “I love you” to his people, he means that nothing can separate us from his love, not even tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword (Romans 8:34-35).
God is never going to stop delighting in the love and devotion he shows his people. This is why worshipping God without love in our hearts is no different than telling God “I love you” without really meaning it. Worship without love is hollow.
C. Worship without Heart
“This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13).
The difference between love and heart is that love is the way we show and experience our devotion while the heart is our source of devotion. A wicked heart produces wicked love. A redeemed heart produces redemptive love.
So, if your heart is reaching for other things besides God, your worship may appear genuine, but it will feel incredibly empty inside. You may praise God with your lips, but it doesn’t honor him unless you’ve given him your heart.
D. Worship under False Pretense
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him. (Matthew 2:7-8)
We often hear about King Herod around Christmas time when the wise men from the east approach him to find Jesus. If you don’t know who King Herod is, he’s one of the worst villains in the Bible.
Herod is so paranoid that Jesus may be the Messiah king who will usurp his reign, that he orders the execution of all male children under the age of two in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). He is truly horrible, and even as an infant, Jesus had a serious enemy.
When King Herod says, “Bring me word, that I too may come and worship him” (Matthew 2:8) it’s not hard to see why his desire to worship is hollow. He outright lies to the wise men about his motivations to worship Christ.
Ironically, Herod is more concerned about protecting his power, reputation, and status in the eyes of those around him that he misses his opportunity to truly worship the Son of God who could save his soul.
The Power for Worship
The object of your worship is ultimately the true power for your worship. And the way we discover this power for worship is through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
When no one else could, the Son of God made a way for multitudes and generations of worshippers from every tongue, tribe, and nation to draw near to God. Jesus says:
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23)
The way to God the Father is through God the Son. So, if you’ve ever felt like your devotion to God has been drained by hollow worship, then listen to the words of the Lord in Amos: “Seek me and live” (Amos 5:4).
Turn from sin and turn to him who is the forgiver of sins, the giver of new life, and the giver of the Holy Spirit. Bend your knee to Jesus and confess him as the true Lord and Savior that he really is.
Make Jesus the object of your worship and you will never run out of power to worship our good God.