The Simplicity of Worship
(Don't touch those rocks!)

As believers in Jesus Christ our lives should be filled with worship. Instead, for many, worship is that elusive experience that they hope to find for a few minutes on Sunday morning. Worship is simply a grateful heart calling out to the One who saved us and sustains us, in a manner pleasing to Him - nothing more, nothing less.

Genesis 4:26 At that time men began to call on the name of the LORD. (NIV)

What's gone wrong today is that worship has a new definition: "Worship is a directed act of calling out to the One who saved us and sustains us, in a manner pleasing to us." The differences are not subtle.

Certainly the corporate manner of worship, pleasing to God, following the giving of the law, was more elaborate than earlier times (Hebrews 9:1). Yet, central to all of it was the sacrifice which looked forward to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. Focusing on this integral aspect, there is much we can learn from those before us (Romans 15:4).

Exodus 20:23-26 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold. 24 "'Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. 26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, lest your nakedness be exposed on it.' (NIV)

This passage above immediately follows the one giving us the Ten Commandments. While it may appear obvious that worship of the one true God cannot go together with worship of false gods, it is restated for a reason. The Bible and history show us that Israel had numerous times where they mingled worship of God with false gods. For example, at one high place, found in the ruins of Tel Arad (dating back to the time of Solomon), there is miniature temple complete with altar and a holy of holies. In this holy of holies they had two shaped standing stones, one to represent God (Yahweh), the other to represent a goddess or consort (Ashtoreth). Simply put it was people thinking that God is not enough, somehow He needs someone else or something more. The shaped stone representing God shows how easy it is for people to try and rework who God is, making Him into what we want Him to be, rather than worshipping Him as He truly is.

Today, the consort of God standing next to Him in many of our churches is the god called "man" (Psalms 82:6-7). As in ancient times, God again shares the focus with another as though He (and His word) is not enough and as if He needs someone else or something more. The implicit or explicit message of these modern "gods" is that God cannot do it without them. God has been relegated to a second class deity incapable of getting things done unless this additional god (man) cooperates with Him.

Revelation 19:10a At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! (NIV)

The mark of a true leader (preacher, teacher, witness) of God is that people will see God and not him (or her). At the front of our worship there should only be One standing, our Savior and Lord! (Hebrews 2:9) When we build up any image that stands beside our God, taking any of His glory, we have fallen again to the scourge of idolatry. But it's not just plain stones standing there, additionally our modern gods of silver and gold are the people who have their positions of authority or prominence in the church due to their silver and gold (or the silver and gold of others). Like the gods of old, these modern false gods are just as useless, unable to bring anyone closer to God. In fact, they nullify the worship they are at the center of.

Isaiah 42:8 "I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols. (NIV)

In the sacrificial system of worship found in the Old Testament, even there God wanted the focus to be on Him. What did He call for? A pile of dirt (or stones) as an altar and the sacrifice itself (which foreshadowed the coming perfect sacrifice of Jesus. Hebrews 10:1-10). In something that simple it's pretty hard to get distracted from the true focus. But then again, we're human. Of course, we think, we can improve upon this worship of God. Won't He be please if we carve those stones and build ornate altars upon which to offer this sacrifice? It's still worshipping Him, doing what He's told us to do, we assure ourselves. God knew that we would head that direction, as was proven throughout Israel's history. For this reason He spelled it out clearly...

Exodus 20:25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it.

Get your hands off My rocks! The rocks are serving God in the manner that He wanted them too, now if only the people would [See Inset Box to Right]. Why does the church think it needs the golden offering plates, the ornate buildings and spires, or the regal vestments to worship God? Because we're still trying to shape the stones, to improve upon worship! I can assure you that that secreted away fellowship, hiding from persecution, in barren quarters merely calling upon God through His word, prayer, and simple song, is a more fragrant offering than that which we have convinced ourselves that we have improved upon.

Strip away the dressed and defiled stones that we have shaped with our own hands and join with our brothers and sisters in the simplicity of worship that God desires, where He alone is the focus.

2 Timothy 2:22 Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (NIV)

In the final verse of our passage in Exodus, we see that God expressly forbid having stairs up to His altars, lest even accidentally the focus crudely become the one offering the sacrifice. Figuratively, maybe it's time the church starts considering the stairs we've built to get to our place of worship. Consider Sunday mornings. Do we need all the "show" that proceeds focusing on God through His word? Do we need all the stories and jokes used in our modern preaching, as if God's word couldn't stand for itself or be found interesting and relevant by His people? Truly we don't need the stairs we are guilty of building; they are merely more of the shaped rocks taking the focus off of God.

Psalms 97:7 All who worship images are put to shame, those who boast in idols - worship him, all you gods! (NIV)

John 4:23b ...true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (NIV)

Helping Out God

An example in Scriptures provides illustration of how we rashly think we can help out God, entering into wrong action for so-called "right" reasons.

1 Chronicles 13:5-12 So David assembled all the Israelites, from the Shihor River in Egypt to Lebo Hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath Jearim. 6 David and all the Israelites with him went to Baalah of Judah (Kiriath Jearim) to bring up from there the ark of God the LORD, who is enthroned between the cherubim - the ark that is called by the Name. 7 They moved the ark of God from Abinadab's house on a new cart, with Uzzah and Ahio guiding it. 8 David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, cymbals and trumpets. 9 When they came to the threshing floor of Kidon, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark , because the oxen stumbled. 10 The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God. 11 Then David was angry because the LORD's wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah. 12 David was afraid of God that day and asked, "How can I ever bring the ark of God to me?"

In what David thought was an act of worship and reverence; he sought to bring the ark to Jerusalem. With great pomp and celebration everyone followed his lead and joined in. The problem was not the ark. It was doing what it was supposed to be doing, as a physical representation of the presence of the name of God. Showing it due respect and worshiping God was not the problem, nor even the music and celebration, all that could be fitting. The problem was looking at how the pagans had done it, and choosing to copy them. God had told his people that only the priests were to carry the ark (Joshua 6:6), not even those who could carry other items of the temple where allowed to touch it, much less the average person (Numbers 4:15). Yet here, following the example of the godless Philistines (1 Samuel 6:3-8), they were moving it on cart. Regardless of good intent, God will not be honored by disobedience.

When, providentially, the oxen stumbled and the ark was in danger of falling to the ground, God provided perfect example of what is God honoring and what is not. Had the ark fallen to the ground, the ground would have merely been doing what it was supposed to have been doing, in no way defiling the ark regardless of what the people thought. Uzzah, believing that right intent would justify adding to or changing God's word, acted on his belief. Yet, here he was, defiling the ark and ultimately (justly) paying the penalty for worshipping in his own way.

Something (or anything) does not honor God merely because we want it to. For this reason it is imperative that we understand how God wants to be worshipped. The only standard for this has to be God's word, in context. What God prescribed prior to the law could not be assumed after the giving of the law (for example, with the law corporate worship was limited to only one place). So too now, with the fulfillment of the law in Jesus Christ, we are no longer bound to the standards of corporate worship once mandated by the law.

Lest we be in danger of spiritually putting our hand to something we are not permitted to touch, or shaping stones or building steps that we are not authorized to have (as the body of the article speaks about), we must search Scriptures to know what we must do. How can we profess to love God and do anything less? (John 14:15)

Written by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2005.
Duplication permitted as long as the source is cited.