Some people really hate contemporary music in worship. Others are bored by the organ and the singing of hymns. Everyone, I suppose has her or his own idea as to what style of music makes for good worship. We tend to judge worship services on the style of music we prefer and other things as well (e.g. liturgy or free-wheeling). We all have our preferences. But God could care less whether we sing our songs accompanied by a pipe organ or to an electric guitar and drums. God is not interested in our worship style. God hates our worship when it is hypocritical, when we use worship to pass ourselves off as a people we are not. God despises our assemblies when we use our songs and prayers and preaching as a way to cover up our disobedience and pretend our worship in and of itself demonstrates our devotion to God.
The people of God in Isaiah's day had failed to understand the essential connection between the worship--(giving worth to)-- of God, and demonstrating God's worthiness in their obedience. The sacrifices brought to the Temple, which were commanded by the law of Moses, were insufficient apart from a life lived sacrificially to the Lord. Dennis Bratcher writes,
The threat of Assyrian conquest loomed ominously over Judah during the entire career of Isaiah. But it was to the religious attitudes and moral condition of the people in the face of this continuing crisis that Isaiah addressed some of his most impassioned messages. Isaiah constantly found himself at odds with popular theological-political views fostered by an elaborate cultic system, a distorted sense of election, and an unqualified monarchial theology that all combined to promulgate the idea of unconditional promise and blessing. It was the task of Isaiah and his contemporaries, especially Micah, to reinterpret the national-popular theology in the face of changing historical circumstances. As the account of his summons into prophetic service indicates, he was commissioned to interpret to the people the imminent intervention by God into the affairs of the people (6:11-13).An important element missing from much worship today is confession and repentance. To confess our sins and our failings in public goes against the grain of a culture that affirms "I'm OK, you're OK." We rightly emphasize the importance of self-esteem, but in many circles we shower our children with praises on steroids. Everything they do is always wonderful. We give trophies to every child that plays baseball. We can no longer recognize winners and losers. We shelter our children from the disappointment of defeat, of not quite measuring up; and in so doing we fail to prepare them for a life that doesn't always go as planned, and we make it more difficult for them to recognize true accomplishment. As one young man said, "If everything I do is wonderful, how will I really know when something I do is actually wonderful?"
Indeed, there is a healthy view of oneself that we need to foster and encourage in our children-- that they are special because God loves them. But at the same time we must also instill the knowledge that they need God because they are not self-sufficient individuals. That we are loved by God is good news because we are not always easy to love. We need to stick that in our "self-esteem pipe and smoke it."
When worship is all sweetness and light, when it fails to account for our sin, when we believe confession is not necessary because God accepts us as we are and will forgive us in the end anyway, it is then a short step to hypocritical worship, to worshiping one way while living another. The sacrifice of praise divorced from a sacrificial life does not smell sweet to God, but instead it is a stench, reeking of rotting refuse. The words of God through the prophet are direct and to the point:
Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken (1:10-20).Worship is just only when we seek justice. Worship is heavenly only when earthly obedience is present. Worship is a delightful experience only when God delights in our lives of obedience.
And when we fall short of what God desires, there's always confession and repentance, and such confession and repentance must be a corporate endeavor. When worship fails to offer these important elements, we lose sight of who we are and what God desires of us.
And that stinks.