Does God care about how His people worship Him? Some would argue that God does not care how we worship Him as long as we seek to worship Him out of a heart of love. If the heart is sincere, anything and everything else is acceptable.
However, is that really the case? If God put us on this earth in order to worship Him, would it not make sense that He would give us clues as to how to do that properly? God has in fact done that in His Word. From a negative standpoint, there are several examples of faulty worship, worship that was not acceptable to God, and therefore should not be mimicked by Christians today, including an example in Isaiah 1 of heartless worship.
God’s Description of Heartless Worship
In Isaiah 1, the prophet proclaims the Lord’s indictment upon the people of Judah. They were not worshipping Him properly and God expresses His hatred for their faulty worship.
It was Rebellious (v2-3)
In spite of all that God had done for His children, they rebelled against the Lord and forsook Him. God, the perfect Father, demonstrated perfect love for His children, yet in their foolishness they rejected Him.
It was Sinful (v4)
God points out in verse four that their worship was also sinful. Descriptions of sinfulness are heaped upon one another, each describing different aspects of the complete depravity of their hearts. In their sin, they had even turned their hearts away from God. All seven of the ideas in this verse communicate a heart that is ridden with sin, destruction, perversion, and guilt. And yet these were the very people attempting to offer worship to God. Their worship was corrupted by their sinful hearts and actions.
It was unhealthy (v5-9)
We find also in verses five through nine that their worship was unhealthy. Both individually and nationally, there were some serious problems. They were physically unhealthy as well as vulnerable to attack.
These people were going through the motions of worship. It was not as if they were worshipping God in wrong ways. They were offering the sacrifices; they were keeping the feast days; they were offering the prayers; and yet God points out their incredible sinfulness and lack of heart towards Him.
It is easy for us to go through the motions of worship and be utterly rejected by God in our worship, when our hearts are not right with God. We think that we can live according to our own desires and yet “keep the peace” with God through the ritual of corporate worship. Yet that is not true worship; it is faulty.
God’s Pronouncement Against Heartless Worship
Their offerings were not accepted (v11-13)
The people were ritualistically making multitudes of sacrifices to the Lord. Yet God says that He is full of their burnt offerings and takes no delight in the blood of all those animals. God took no delight in their empty exercises of offerings.
Their sacred days were not honored (v13-14)
The sacred days of the Jewish Calendar such as the new moons, Sabbaths, and feast days were ritualistically kept by the people, but God did not honor them, just as He did not accept their sacrifices. God had had enough of this heartless keeping of the days and was not obligated to honor them.
Their prayers were not heard (v15)
The verse pictures the people raising their bloody hands, indicating their own sinfulness, yet seeking to pray to a holy God. God’s response to them was that He would hide His eyes from them and not hear those prayers.
God is not impressed by our consistency or rigidity in our worship. God is not obligated to accept any form of worship given to Him.
God is the prescriber, accepter, and judge of worship. He has prescribed for us how he ought to be worshipped: in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), in the right way and with the right heart. When one or both of those is missing, there is a lack of reverent, acceptable worship that God demands and deserves.
Throughout history, God’s people have always struggled with just going through the motions of worship without really worshipping God. We make our offerings, remember certain days, and say our prayers. Yet when done without a right heart, it is all worthless and unacceptable to God.
When we are left on our own we will be unable to worship God properly and only make our condition worse before God. However, in His love and grace, God offers a solution to heartless worship.
God’s Solution for Heartless Worship
Receive God’s Cleansing (v16)
Coming to God properly requires a cleansing of our hearts. While cleansing is something that God does to our hearts, this verse also depicts the personal responsibility of each person to clean out their lives and uproot sin in their hearts before God. This is essentially a call to repentance.
Follow God’s Path (v17)
Repentance necessitates a desire to change direction, even in how we live. A heart change will lead to a change of life. We must forsake our sinful ways and cling to God’s ways.
Enjoy God’s Forgiveness (v18)
This familiar verse calls us to reason together with God. But this is no call to bargain with Him. It is a call to recognize that the most reasonable thing we can do is to submit to God’s call of grace by repentance and faith. Our own answers to the problem of heartless worship are not right; only God’s call to repent and believe in His cleansing and forgiveness gives true hope to the heartless worshipper.
Heed God’s Warnings (v19-20)
God concludes this section by offering both hope and a warning. Verse 19 gives the blessings offered for obedience to God’s requirements: eating of the good of the land (meaning great blessings to the people), health, and peace from God. Verse 20 gives the downside of rebellion: being devoured by the sword – in other words, judgment. The authority of the word of the Lord seals these statements from God. God’s blessing follows obedience; but persisting in sin brings God’s judgment.
God demands that your worship be done with the proper heart attitude towards Him. It is not enough to just go through the motions of church attendance, giving money in the offering, praying, doing various acts of service, singing the hymns, and sitting through another message. God is not impressed by simply what we do when our hearts are not rightly related to Him and engaged in what we are doing.
In Isaiah 1, God clearly states the problem that many Christians today have. Our hearts are not right with God because we are full of sin. Our relationship with God is not right, and so our worship of God is not right. We are spiritually unhealthy and rebellious; therefore our worship is not accepted by God.
In spite of these things, God’s call to His people is to repent and believe in His cleansing power, and He can make our worship acceptable to Him. There is hope for faulty worship found only in God and His Word.