I like to think that I do a whole lot for my wife. I will wash the dishes (sometimes). I will take out the trash, mow the lawn, drive when she doesn’t want to and even kill the spiders that we find in the house. At home, there is still a shelf that needs to be put up in the office and a curtain that needs to be hung. My wife has been asking me to do these two things since we moved into the house almost seven months ago. I can do a lot for my wife, but if I want to bring her absolute joy (if I want her to be pleased with me), I will put up that shelf and hang that curtain without her asking (again). My wife loves me and I’m pretty sure she is pleased with me most of the time, but here I recognize that there is a difference between me doing something for my wife and me doing something that will bring my wife joy. I find that our relationship with God is much the same.
An offering for an ancient Israelite took the form of a sacrifice to God. Whether that offering was given as a voluntary act of worship or as a mandatory atonement for a sinful action, the formal acts of worship for the Israelites were sacrifices. As I read through the first four chapters of Leviticus, I am forced to ask the question: Is my worship actually pleasing to God? I believe that every true Christian desires to live a life in worship to God, but what exactly makes any act of worship pleasing to Him?
Then the Lord summoned Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting: “Speak to the Israelites and tell them: When any of you brings an offering to the Lord from the livestock, you may bring your offering from the herd or the flock.
If his gift is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to bring an unblemished male. He must bring it to the entrance to the tent of meeting so that he may be accepted by the Lord. He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. He is to slaughter the bull before the Lord; Aaron’s sons the priests are to present the blood and sprinkle it on all sides of the altar that is at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Then he must skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces. The sons of Aaron the priest will prepare a fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Aaron’s sons the priests are to arrange the pieces, the head, and the suet on top of the burning wood on the altar. The offerer must wash its entrails and shanks with water. Then the priest will burn all of it on the altar as a burnt offering, a fire offering of a pleasing aroma to the Lord.”
Nature of worship
The above portion of scripture is only part of the specifications for the burnt offering, but I find its similarities with the specifications for other types of offerings very striking and important as we seek to understand worship on a deeper level:
- The animal to be used was to belong to the individual bringing an offering. Every act of worship to God required a degree of personal sacrifice: in this case, livestock. For many of us today it might be money, time, resources, energy and even talent. We may be called to give up hobbies or possessions or personal time so that we might please God with our worship.
- The animal was to be unblemished. God desired not just some animal, but the best of the heard or flock. In the same way God doesn’t just want some of our time, some of our money, some of our resources, some of our energy or talent. He desires the best. It seems that only when we give our best will God be pleased with our worship.
- The animal was to be offered within the context of community. Though it is true that we can live for God and even worship God while we are away from church, there is something about our offering worship to God in a community of believers who are all worshipping God that specifically pleases God.
- The animal was offered in an orderly fashion. God has never been a God of chaos, and He is pleased as we act with one heart and mind especially as we offer worship to Him.
- There was a recognition of unworthiness.
- When the animal was offered, it brought a pleasing aroma to the Lord.
Over this earth’s long history, worship has taken many different forms: from the sacrificing of animals (which did serve a purpose) to the playing of the guitar to going to school or work. Every person’s life is lived in worship and one’s worship of God with his life is the highest and greatest calling of his life. What I discover about worship is that not all forms of worship are pleasing to God. Just because His name is attached to an action does not mean the action pleases Him. Discerning from the list above, worship is pleasing to God if:
- It requires personal sacrifice.
- It is the best of what we have.
- It is offered within the context of community.
- It is offered in an orderly fashion.
- There is a recognition of our own unworthiness.
Noticing these things forces me to ask a few questions of myself. The first of which is: Does my worshipping God cost me anything? If it doesn’t, is God pleased with my worship? The second is: Have I been giving God the best of what I have? Have I been content with not making church (meeting together with my local family of believers) a top priority? Is there any order to my worship? Finally, have I recognized my own unworthiness before God?
I do want to unpack this just a little more, but before I do I want to be clear about something. The Christian faith is not works-based or legalistic. God’s love never fails, even when I fail to please Him (Romans 8:38-39). Just like a good father will love his children even when they rebel, God always loves us and has mercy on us. However, He is not always pleased with us. Not every Christian worships God in a way that pleases Him, but God is ever faithful to His children. That being said, let’s dig deeper together.
Worship and sacrifice
Here is what I notice most about worship that actually pleases God: it is sacrificial in nature. Giving up something of ours (time, money, stuff etc…) is a sacrifice. That sacrifice is intensified when we are to give up the best of what we have, and even moreso as we give it in the context of community. Order requires our time, and we should sacrifice our prideful perception of self. Worship that is pleasing to God literally begins when self ends. If this is true about worship, then there is so much people do today in God’s name that actually displeases Him.
- The first thing that comes to mind is the murderous activities of the Islamic State. There is no humble self-image and many times there is no order.
- Congregational music in many churches tends to be more about people than about God.
- When we give money, we do not give our firstfruits and we do not give sacrificially.
- Some denominations practice worship in a very chaotic manner.
- Many Christians choose to spend every weekend on vacation rather than worshipping in the context of community.
- Many use Christian values to paint a very prideful self-image. We boast in our spirituality and we are proud of ourselves for standing our ground on spiritually ‘hot’ political issues.
There may be more, but I think this list suffices and means that most, if not all people are guilty of worshipping God in ways that do not please Him. Here, let me refer back to my opening illustration. I can do a whole lot of stuff for my wife, but I am a fool if I believe I can genuinely please here without making a sacrifice of some kind. How much more will she be pleased with me the more I sacrifice for her? Why would the same not be true in any relationship, especially our relationship with God?
Here I must clarify that we do not sacrifice for nothing. We gain the joyful blessing of God’s pleasure in us. That alone would be enough, but God also promises rewards in heaven (Matthew 6:4-21, 16:27, Luke 12:33-34, 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, Revelation 22:12) and has historically rewarded His people for the sacrifices they made for Him.
Considering all this, I just want to challenge everyone who reads to examine the worship in his or her own life. Does our worship please God, or is it empty. If it is empty, why? There are so many self-proclaimed Christians who are not satisfied in Christ: who claim to worship God, but actually worship God in such a way that God is not pleased. Despite the popular notion, God is not pleased with every style or act of worship. We cannot simply do whatever we want, attach the name of Christ and think we are good. Why would we be content with that anyway when God has so much more for us? My question for everyone reading this is: Don’t you want to live a life that pleases God? How can you better worship as you continue in your life?
 Leviticus 1:1-9 (HCSB)