King Solomon, in Ecclesiastes chapter five, addresses the issue of our attitude in worship.
Ecclesiastes 5:1: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God; better to draw near to listen [or “in obedience”], than to offer a sacrifice of fools, for they ignorantly do evil. Do not be rash with your mouth, and do not let your heart be quick to utter a word before God. For God is in heaven, and you are on earth; so let your words be few.”
Solomon emphasizes that the true content of worship, is the attitude of our hearts. Now those of us who have grown up in a tradition influenced greatly by the protestant reformation, and then the dissenting tradition, and the Bible conference movement and forward, are quite happy to say that it’s all about the heart, and not about externals. But I fear that our aversion to external signs of reverence in worship has resulted in a far too casual demeanor in our worship service — which is exactly what Solomon is warning us against.
And when I see, Sunday after Sunday, how many of us drag our feet into the sanctuary five or ten minutes after the service begins, because we weren’t really ready to start yet because we weren’t done talking with someone… or how many people standing in the back of the sanctuary continue in their conversations during the music (of which I have been guilty within even just the past couple of weeks), I think it’s ridiculous! It’s disrespectful and dishonorable, considering the reason we are gathered — which is to worship the living God. Fellowship is important, but there’s a time we’ve set aside for the corporate worship of God, that must be respected. And I think it has a lot to do with our loss of a sense of reverence for God, and a sense of the gravity of worship.
Reducing the Christian life to externals is certainly a danger. And I’m not suggesting that we turn it into a ritual — a liturgy devoid of any attitude of life and love and passion. Isaiah 29:13 makes it clear that that is wrong: “These people approach Me with their mouths, and honor Me with lip service, but their hearts are far from Me, and their worship consists of man-made rules learned by rote.” But I think there is the danger of making it so casual, that we forget the gravity and sacredness of worship. There is a difference between being comfortable, and having a good time, and being familial, because we are a family… But there’s a difference between being familial, and being casual about our worship of the sovereign, holy God. And that’s what I want to warn you of, and I think that’s what Solomon is warning us of here — the danger of an over-casualness in our approach of God in worship. You know the phrase, “familiarity breeds contempt?” Well I think in this case, familiarity can easily breed a casual, careless attitude, that forgets the sacredness of worship. We must always beware of that tendency in our own hearts to become casual in our attitude toward the worship of our God and King.