“Worship from the heart”

Fads come and go in the Church. Anyone who tries to keep up with trends in order to attract people will inevitably fail. The Church is not built on or sustained by trends, not even in “style” (as if form could be divorced from content). Christianity Today has an article on how evangelicals are turning to liturgical churches for various reasons. Mark Galli explains what attracts him to liturgy, even though it’s not “relevant.” (By the way, the best book I have ever read on the irrelevance of liturgy is D.G. Hart’s The Lost Soul of American Protestantism. Do yourself a favor and read it. It will, like all good books, shift your view of the landscape.)

What interests me is the comments, especially this one:

I really don’t understand all of this.Quite a strange article.God help us all.I personally believe all forms of worship are acceptable to God if it comes from the heart and is centered round Jesus Christ,that’s what Christianity is all about.Having said that if worship is traditional,contemporary or liturgy,we as Christians should never loose sight of how the Chuch began and what the foundation was;Christ’s Ressurection,his Oneness with God and how we as Christians can our lives under God’s grace in a Christ-like manner,loving our neighbours as we love ourselves and giving praise and thanks to our Saviour King Jesus Christ for making us right with God.

I’m sure “Abby” is a nice girl/woman. I am not writing this to bash her. She says, “I personally believe all forms of worship are acceptable to God if it comes from the heart and is centered round Jesus Christ.”

The problem is with worship that “comes from the heart.” Does Jesus want what comes from my heart? Jesus says,

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-23, ESV)

Only if you do not know yourself could you think that Jesus is speaking only of unbelievers. The problem is not that worship does not come from the heart and that makes it dry or boring or meaningless. The problem is that far too much worship comes from the heart. We are so bound up in ourselves that we even want our worship to revolve around our selves. I am not sure how worship could come from the heart and at the same time be “centered round Jesus Christ.” When I am in the midst of the Divine Service, I find that there is way too much of my heart already; I don’t need more, I need less. And, in fact, that is why I need the Divine Service after all. Because I need a new heart. I need a heart of flesh and not one of stone. I need a full body transplant, and we surely are not going to get it if we’re worried about whether we’re giving God our all or not. As much as we think we’re focused on God when we try to make sure we’re worshiping sincerely and from the heart, we are more focused on ourselves than if we just do what the liturgy does. Get out of your heart! Get out of your head! What do you think is actually worth saving in your heart or head?

The liturgy of the Divine Service is about changing the focus, and it is not something we can accomplish by trying harder or praying ex corde or getting rid of all formality and ritual. It is precisely the formality and the ritual that move us beyond ourselves.  If we have our way, the Divine Service will become our own private worship service. The consequences are enormous. If it’s my worship service, or even if it’s the worship service to which I am going to praise God, then there is no longer any Body of Christ, but only atomized individuals who are there to get what they can out of the service. It’s no longer about what God wants to give you in Jesus Christ, but about what affects you in such a way as to make it meaningful. Are we so arrogant as to think that what we put in or get out of the service can change what God wants to give us? Clearly, if you don’t think about what’s going on, the benefits of the service may be lost on you. But that’s the glory of the Christian liturgy! God is still there, giving out His gifts, and if you don’t realize it, that’s your loss. But your attention or lack of attention cannot inhibit God’s work in Jesus Christ. I would go so far as to say that if you have been given faith to trust Christ, even if you aren’t paying attention on a given Sunday, Christ still works in you by His Word and Sacrament. Only unbelief brings judgment. How easily we get caught up in worship works-righteousness by thinking God’s work in us depends on how clean our hearts are or how uncluttered our brains are.

These are only the beginnings of thoughts about what is going on in the Divine Service. All I’m really sure about is that God doesn’t want what’s in my heart a lot of Sundays, and He doesn’t need what’s in it the other Sundays. Thank God that He’s faithful when we’re not.


2 thoughts on ““Worship from the heart”

  1. Hi, Bill

    You are right to say that we need Jesus to create in us a clean heart, as David said: Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Ps 51:10) Of course, this is Old Testament, but it’s still good. God was able to do this for David by looking forward to the substitutionary death of His Son.

    In one sense, when we are in Christ, we become new creatures once and for all: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor 5:17)

    And yet in another, we need a continual renewal. We are not to walk in the flesh willingly and sin indiscriminatly, but as we are “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), we need to submit to continual cleansing. Still, despite the fact that we fall into sin, we are new creatures. old things have passed away and all things have become new. So God has already replaced our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.

    This was one thing Jesus meant by washing the disciples’ feet, rather than the hands and the heads as well. Jesus said to him (Peter), “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean . . . .” (John 13:10) Thus, we are cleansed by the redemptive work of Jesus, but we nevertheless do need a little “touch-up work” from time to time.

    I expect Abby meant spirit where she said heart. Most people use the two terms pretty much interchangably. I’d have to do a bit of study to see whether this is true in the scriptures–I kind of think maybe it isn’t, but I’m not sure without looking. You are correct to say that most of us are incapable of expressing true and unadulterated worship. God nevertheless blesses our pitiful attempts, so long as we desire to please Him. Whether that worship is expressed in the form of traditional liturgy or the speaking to each other inpsalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord (Eph 5:19), I believe it is pleasing to our Heavenly Daddy, our Abba Father, Who loves us even when we are unspeakably grubby.

    Whether the word heart is correct or not, God does want more than for us to worship Him on the right mountain, or with the right traditions. . . But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. (John 4:23) God is not pleased with worship that is all form and no spirit, whether one is participating in a liturgy or singing the latest worship choruses. We cannot do it perfectly, but His Spirit in us will help us if we truly seek Him, and we can get better as He has his perfect work in us.

    Grace and Peace,


  2. Who’s Bill?

    “Whether that worship is expressed in the form of traditional liturgy or the speaking to each other inpsalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord (Eph 5:19), I believe it is pleasing to our Heavenly Daddy, our Abba Father, Who loves us even when we are unspeakably grubby.”

    I agree, but it has to be explicit that we are pleasing to the Father only because we are in Christ Jesus.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s