Worship Is a Verb
Dr. Jim Denison
One of the more famous Abraham Lincoln stories is told about the time when he was keeping store in Salem, Illinois, and had a beautiful gun prominently displayed so all his customers would see it. The little plaque under it said that it was made from the finest Swedish steel, its stock from the best black walnut wood, all crafted by a world-famous
gunsmith. It was beautiful, and its price was very reasonable.
On the next rack was an old long barrel Kentucky squirrel rifle made from ordinary gun steel. It stock was just an ordinary wooden stock. Its gunsmith was competent but by no means famous. But its price was much higher.
One day a farmer in the market for a new gun noticed the shiny new rifle on display. He asked Abe, “Why is that good gun so cheap and the other gun so high?” Honest Abe replied, “That gun won’t shoot. The other one will.” Then he picked up the squirrel rifle, sighted a squirrel-sized object a hundred yards away, and hit it dead center. The farmer bought the squirrel gun.
Some time later a rich farmer was decorating a room in his new country estate. He needed a gun for show over the fireplace mantle just under the heads of three big game trophies. The fancy gun was perfect for the purpose. It couldn’t shoot, but that was all right. It was just for show.
Worship is a lot like those two guns. Some is for real, the rest for show.
Sometimes our worship is a thing, an end in itself, a show, a religious event and observance and habit—worship as a noun. Sometimes worship is an action, a relationship—worship as a verb. The kind of worship which makes God your King, which empowers your life and your service.
Life is too challenging to face without this power. You don’t have to go it alone. Your Father in heaven wants to empower you when you’re weak, to comfort you when you’re lonely, to guide you when you’re confused, to forgive you when you fail.
The Christianity I learned to follow told me that life is supposed to be hard, faith a struggle, sin a constant battle.
But I was wrong. Paul sang hymns of praise at midnight in a Philippian jail, and encouraged the Philippian Christians to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). John met the risen and exalted Christ even on the prison Alcatraz called Patmos. Nero inspected the remains of martyrs fed to lions and crucified as human torches, and found smiles on their faces. God intends the Christian life to be filled with triumphant joy.
And so it will be for us, if worship is a verb. Only when our worship is a verb, is it acceptable to God. Only then is it received in the throne room of heaven. Only then does it transform our lives and give us significance and joy. Only when worship is a verb. Let’s learn how to make it so.
Worship as a noun (vs. 10-16)
The Judeans of Isaiah’s day provide the best picture in Scripture of worship as a thing, an end in itself, a noun. They show us that this kind of worship can be only show, and still involve every element we will employ today.
They presented gifts, a “multitude” or “vast number” (v. 11a), corresponding to our offertory and tithes and offerings.
They presented to the Lord their “burnt offerings” (v. 11b), rams or fattened animals consumed by the fire at the altar.
But God calls their gifts “meaningless offerings” and commands that they stop bringing them (v. 13a).
They presented themselves in public worship, the “trampling of my courts” (v. 12). The people were crowding into the Temple. We would say that church attendance was at an all time high. But God tells them to stop.
They presented public acts of worship:
They employed incense (v. 13), frankincense, sweet incense burned in worship.
They marked the New Moons (v. 14), special sacrifices they made each month.
They observed the Sabbaths, their weekly worship festivals.
They kept “convocations,” solemn meetings and special times of fasting.
They remembered the “appointed feasts”—Passover, Pentecost, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles.
Every element of Jewish worship is included in these two verses, nothing excluded. Zealous public worship. But what does God say of it? He calls them “evil assemblies” (v. 13), “a burden to me” (v. 14).
They presented prayers (15-16a):
The people “spread out your hands in prayer,” and offered “many prayers” (v. 15).
But God would not look upon their hands, for they were “full of blood” (v. 15b) from sin; he would not listen to their “many prayers.”
Their worship was sacrificial, popular, and zealous, including every element of Jewish tradition and “many prayers” as well. But God rejected it at every point. When our worship is intended to impress each other rather than our King, for public show rather than personal submission, the expression of proud people rather than broken hearts, he always will. If our hearts are wrong with God, our worship cannot be right.
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).
“Hear, O earth: I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law. What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me” (Jeremiah 6:19-20).
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
“I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring me choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:21-24).