Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.
Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me... Psalm 95:6-9
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1
There are some of you reading this post who cannot believe there are still churches struggling with the “worship wars” of music and style and diverse forms of gathered worship. You fought those battles years ago and have enjoyed a long time now of unity on that subject. There are others of you who, frankly, cannot even imagine what it feels like to have that conflict in your rear-view mirror, because you are right in the middle of it now, with little hope for a friendly resolution. Either way, whether those struggles are fresh for your church or long since forgotten, we all could use a gentle reminder about worship and what, exactly, are our objectives as we plan corporate worship.
The Psalmist from Psalm 95 does us a great favor, not only reminding us of the object of our worship, but also reminding us of what is NOT worship. The references to “Meribah” and “Massah” in Psalm 95 relate to an ugly moment in Israel’s history documented in Exodus 17. The people were complaining to Moses because they were uncomfortable…because they were not getting what they wanted. There was a sense of entitlement in them…exactly the opposite from the contrite hearts which true worship demands.
True worship, you see, is about sacrifice. This is true in the Old Testament and the New Testament alike. Paul’s words to the Romans clarify this: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Worship has always been about sacrificing what we want in order to acknowledge God. The hearts of the Hebrew people at Meribah (i.e., the insistence that they get what they want) is, according to the Psalmist, exactly the opposite of worship…it is anti-worship.
Isn’t that the irony, then, of the worship wars? At the very heart of that conflict is people clinging to what they want, to what they are comfortable with. Just like at Meribah. It is that very act of personal insistence about a style of worship which makes me an anti-worshipper. When I hold fast to what I want in the music or the preaching or the other forms of worship, when I make worship all about my leanings and my preferences, I become the very antithesis of true worship. It’s not about sacrifice at all. It’s about me.
I’ve been speaking into this “worship wars” issue for some years now, but for some reason, I had missed this painful bit of irony. Shame on me. And shame on us.