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When Worship is Dead

John Piper “Where feelings for God are dead, worship is dead.”
Desiring God, p. 68

Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, starts out with a surprising and sobering commentary on worship and on the relationship of God’s people with Himself. Chapter 1 says:

2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, 3 but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

God begins the chapter by reminding His people of His love for them. Their response was one that should be surprising, and reveals much about their feelings for God. Rather than acknowledging that he is God, the one who was the God of their fathers who delivered them from Pharaoh, and the one who redeemed them and sustained them, they had a “what have you done for me lately” attitude. This reveals their lack of thanksgiving, and ultimately their acknowledgement of God as who He is.

This leads to a lack of true worship, for as Piper says “where feelings for God are dead, worship is dead”. When we don’t acknowledge Him as King of kings and Lord of lords, our worship will not be passionate. It is only when we acknowledge who He is that we can truly give thanksgiving and worship that are due his name. Failure to recognize who He is leads to vain worship, where the priests (those who were supposed to be leading God’s people in worship) were offering God blind, lame and diseased animals. Malachi sarcastically asks if the governor would accept their offerings. The answer is obviously “no”!

The challenge for us as worship leaders is to make sure that we acknowledge all of who God is and what He has done for us. When we rightfully put God in his place, we see Him what He is worth. He is the Holy God, the Sovereign Lord, the giver of every good and perfect gift, and the author of salvation. True worship should then follow. Worship is from the Old English “woerthship” where we can ascribe “worth-ship” to God. When we see God for who He is, how dare we give less than our best! If we were to give less than our best, we say to Him “you are not really worth it”. If that is our attitude, our feelings for God are dead, and our worship will be too.

17 comments to When Worship is Dead

  • Jason Smith

    “All worship is a response to a revelation – It’s only as we breathe in more of the wonders of God that we can breathe out a fuller response to Him. Matt Redman (Facedown, pg. 95) I think that this quote ties in perfectly. Within the nation of Israel, the people stopped “breathing in the wonders of God,” Just as the Gospel drastically changes our view of ourselves, the Word of God in its entirety strengthens our view of God Himself. Taking the time to seek God and find Him, will open our eyes to millions of mind-blowing characteristics of God, and just as many simple yet beautiful ones.

  • Roger O'Neel

    Great quote and comments!

  • Erin Mathews

    How quickly we forget what God has done for us in the past! So often we forget that God has sustained, provided, and remained faithful to us in our past, because we get so worried about what is happening in our present and future. But once we remember that God has been so faithful to us, and continues to be faithful to us, we should be able to look forward to the future, and praise God in the present. I think we need to learn how to take the time and meditate on God’s attributes and character, and then we will be drawn to truly worship Him.

  • Laura Skaggs

    I think this is where the importance of having a personal relationship with God comes in. Spending time with Him outside of the corporate, public church setting helps us to keep Him in mind when we come together. Then we can worship Him together as the God He has revealed Himself to be. In those times when we don’t feel His blessing quite so strongly, we can still worship Him because we know He is faithful and we know many other aspects of His character.

  • Brooke Griffith

    When we are not communicating with the Lord and spending time mediating on his word, it is hard for us to recognize who the Lord is and praise him for all he has done. True worship flows from knowing who God is and being in awe of his character and goodness. If we are not digging deep and looking to the gospel, there is nothing that is compelling us to praise His name. The only way to see God for who he is is by making him our priority. When He is our focus, all else fades away and we are able to see the Lord for who he is, and be humbled by all he is done. Worship comes out of our hearts being fixed on Christ, in amazement, that He is a gracious and selfless God.

  • Rachel E Williams

    I think it can be easy for us to focus on the attributes of God that can be easy to plan a set for, or attributes that we like because they’re easy to talk and think about. Just because these attributes can be easier to focus on, does not mean that we should focus on those alone. There are things about God that we have a more difficult time facing. In order to fully worship God, however, we need to be aware of all of his attributes…the good and more difficult alike. This may mean that we have to get uncomfortable and be willing to be vulnerable with our congregations, but it is what is necessary in order to show our full worship and adoration to God.

  • Melissa Martin

    A.W. Tozer begins his book The Knowledge of the Holy with this sentence: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” I think this quote summarizes the biggest issue in the Church today. He goes on to say, “So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it.” Why has worship died? Because we fail to connect the God of the Bible in all of His glory to who He is in our lives today. We haven’t studied or made an effort to know Him or think about His attributes, so we miss out on tasting His goodness and it affects how we act and what we worship. Truly, when we see God for all He is, when we have a right view of God, we will worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

  • Macy McClain

    “Thegrass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” – Isaiah 40:8
    I think it really goes back to the relationship of God that we should have outside of coprorate worship. Colossians tells us to let the word of Christ richly dwell in us, and this should compel us to worship God for who he really is. Something I learned last semester from my music and arts in worship class was what vain worship looked like. It’s worshiping God, but in the wrong way. We give lip service to God, but not with our hearts. Jeremiah tells us that we will find God, if we seek him with all of our heart. This is a great post, and something I need to figure out too. Also, one more thought: how can we lead people in worship if we haven’t gone through things that God allows in our lives?

  • Phillip Birt

    “Where feelings for God is dead, worship is dead.”

    This statement is absolutely true, and yet it is something that we can fall into so easily. Singing without truly thinking about what is coming from our mouths, or playing music for our own praise. When we “worship” without a love for God, we are truly just making more noise.
    I find that this is a problem that I face, especially during times in my life where I am stuggling with emotions or God seems to be distance. It can be difficult to worship God in hard times, and it can be easy to go through the motions.
    No matter where we are in life, we need to remember that God deserves worship, not just music or words. There are times I will simply sit in silence or prayer during worship so that I can talk with The Lord or listen to Him, instead of singing words that I don’t really mean at the time.
    As worship leaders, it’s even more important for us to have our hearts in the right place. If we cannot lead ourselves into true worship, if we do not possess true love and fear for God, how can we lead the congregation to do the same?

  • Jules Schieferstein

    “And that is the central issue of worship: What is God worth?” – Michael Card, A Sacred Sorrow.

    It can be far too easy to forget all of who God is, and that if we do not take all that He is, from His majesty and power, to His saving grace and lovingkindness for us, then our worship is indeed vain. Every time I try and contemplate the wholeness that is God, I become vastly overwhelmed, and it amazes me how often I take Him and what He has done for granted; not just for me, but simply His acts of creation, and His perfection.

    Thanks for this post Dr. O, it was convicting and a good reminder of where to keep my focus, so as to not to allow my worship to be in vain, but for my worship to be directed to the true and living God!

  • David Fuertes

    This week I’ve been reading a lot of different Christian blogs. I wanted to say THANK YOU for your commitment to sharing your thoughts for all of us to learn from. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m sure you’re making a positive difference in a lot of worship leaders. Thank you again!

  • Seth Brummer

    You said it’s important for us to acknowledge ALL of who God is, and I agree. I think one of the dangers we face in the church is to lean too far towards one attribute of God and consequently ignore another; and I also see this happening most often between God’s love and holiness.

    Though it’s hard to do, I know in my own life I have to keep a balanced idea of who God is, or else I won’t be able to truly worship Him–and yet at the same time, God is something I can’t fully understand or comprehend. What a marvel that He is so great, but seeks to make Himself known to us!

  • Michael Hoskinson

    I have heard it said before that our feelings don’t mean anything in regards to our relationship with God. It doesn’t matter how we feel at the moment in regards to our salvation, we are saved if we have acknowledged Him as Lord. However, we worship our worth God, we should have feelings for Him. When we worship, we need to remember what God did in the past, who He is, and what He has promised to do. When we forget what the person we are worshiping did and is, we will simply stop worshiping that person, or worship in vain. As worship leaders, we should have that knowledge of who God is and what He has done when we worship. We should be an example for the congregation to follow on how to worship God.

  • Brittney Mitchell

    Wow I read this article at a seemingly coincidental time (if you could say that). The past few weeks have been very interesting to me. The two weeks leading up to Easter I was dealing with fatigue and a constant state of emotional exhaustion. I found myself sitting in worship services not really thinking about what i was doing. Then after the celebrations of Easter and the rest I received I am now feeling refreshed and focused clearly on the blessings of the Lord.

    One big thing that I have observed in my life is that I not always feel drawn to worship of the Lord. Likewise, I do not always feel exhausted and passive. I think in some ways our worship (similarly to our walk with Christ) becomes a discipline. Regardless of our present circumstances he is still worthy of our praise.

    • Hayden W Bradley

      I agree with worship becomes a discipline and it needs to be one. So often we have the idea that we are worship leaders and therefore we are clearly worshiping, which is not true at all. We need to have a clear focus on Christ and on the gospel so that we are leading our congregation to the place where we have been.

  • How true.

    And yet God Himself gives us grace to worship Him despite our feelings at times.

    That’s how generous He is with us!

  • Mikayla Bush

    One of the things that comes to mind when I read this is watching the church struggle to praise God in difficult seasons. When Brittany referenced focusing on the blessings of the Lord, it made me think about how we receive so much more than material blessings from Him…His goodness and mercy, His faithfulness, His peace, etc. When we come to worship before God, we must not base our worship off of our current circumstances. Psalm 22 comes to mind. David begins by crying out to God saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” He goes on to describe his undesirable circumstances–despised, insulted, scorned, etc., but He doesn’t stay in that place. In verse 25 he says, “From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly.” Circumstances will change, but God never will. When we truly view God and His attributes as the theme of our praise, our worship should never be dead.