A Warning Against Careless Worship

I was reminded of the story of Cain and Abel today.

3In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4and Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. (Genesis 4:3-5)

the-offerings-of-cain-and-abel-1429.jpg!BlogAbel offered his sacrifice of meat. Cain offered his sacrifice of grain. God found one of them pleasing and the other not. Why?

The text suggests that Abel’s offering was accepted because of the sacrifice that accompanied it. The firstlings were the oldest, most developed, most favored of the flock. They were most costly. Cain’s offering appears to have been nothing special, just a portion of the crops he cultivated.

The text doesn’t suggest that the style of offering was what God found offense with. This story is a precursor to the sacrificial practices of Israel’s worship (perhaps a model for both grain and animal offerings). God was not pleased with the heart behind the offering that Cain brought. Abel offered his offering out of a place of grateful thanksgiving for what God had done. Cain offered his offering out of a place of manipulation of power.

Cain believed in power and wanted to manipulate God to be on his side and offer him favor. Cain’s true motives come to the surface after he murders his brother. We see the kind of power Cain is driven by.

The warning is to not offer careless worship (careless=not giving sufficient attention or thought to avoiding harm). How does this story relate to modern worship in the church today? What reason do you come to worship? What is the motive behind your offering? Cain wanted something out of his worship. The error of his offering was that he wanted God to do something for him. How does our worship seek to get something out of God? How does our worship manipulate God? How does our worship fail to give something (everything?) back?

How does our worship become the pure offering that Abel offered? By being full of care in what we offer to God. The church should take care, too, in setting the table for worship that unleashes the good and humble offering of all gathered. Perhaps asking what I want out of worship is more akin to Cain than Abel.

(artwork is Jan van Eyck, The Offering of Cain and Abel, 1429)

Philosophy of Worship, part 1

Philosophy of WorshipWhen I was in seminary, I took a course called “Philosophy of Worship.” The course project was to compose a document that described my personal philosophy of what worship is and what it’s for. It’s one thing to write such a thing for class – it’s a totally different thing to make decisions, pick music, plan services, teach volunteers, and serve a church while following that philosophy. However, I think I stick to what I believe about worship in the majority of my actions.

I wanted to share some of my core convictions about worship in order to stimulate thought and discussion. These convictions in no way sum up my philosophy of worship, but are just learnings and thoughts I’ve collected along the way. And I in no way have it all figured out…

1. Worship is for God – not for us.

Worship is essentially an offering/sacrifice. And for something to be offered/sacrificed, it has to be given to someone else wholly [without holding any back]. So when I worship, everything becomes God’s – my heart, my life, my song, my thoughts, my will…etc. It is all for God, not for me.

The problem is when we get too wrapped up in what worship does for us. I don’t deny that we get stuff out of worship – encouragement, fellowship, peace, joy, Spirit-filled…etc. It’s even clear in the first Testament that God rewards the faithfulness of worshipers. Genesis 22…Abraham got something out of his worship…a ram to take the place of Isaac. Even a portion of some sacrificed animals was kept and prepared as a celebration for the family. But our tendency is to get more wound up over the blessings of worship than the One we worship. We get more overjoyed by grace, rather than the God that provides it.

So worship takes the spotlight off us. God is the central character in the drama of worship. And the sacrifice of worship is for God, not for us. Any blessings we receive from worshiping God are purely a bi-product of the goodness of God. We shouldn’t worship God to get something out of it. We should worship God because God is worthy to receive glory, honor, riches, wisdom, power, strength…etc.