No More ‘Going Through the Motions”
Amos, the prophet of God, had and still has a great deal to say about the life, attitude, and actions of God’s people. This included God’s thoughts about their worship. Amos speaks specifically and mostly to the Northern Kingdom of his day. However, he did have a few words for Israel as recorded in Amos 9:11-15. And His Words still speak to hearts today. So let’s have a look at the big picture and apply it to our current situation.
The central theme of Amos’s prophecy is justice — social justice in the northern kingdom and ultimate justice for Israel, Judah, and their neighbour-nations.
In one of the harshest sections of Amos’s prophecy, God denounces the phoney religion of the northern kingdom.
Amos 5:21-23 NET “I absolutely despise your festivals!
I get no pleasure from your religious assemblies!
Even if you offer me burnt and grain offerings, I will not be satisfied;
I will not look with favour on your peace offerings of fattened calves.
Take away from me your noisy songs;
I donʼt want to hear the music of your stringed instruments.
Both the priests and the socialite women presented their offerings in hopes of gaining favour with God, but His response was plain: ”I will not accept them.” Nor did He want to hear “the noise of [the priests’] songs” or “the melody of [their] harps.” Why? Because of their hypocrisy and oppression of the poor. God had disciplined Israel in the past (Amos 4:6-11), but the people had persisted in their idolatry. Therefore the Lord had one message for this wealthy and idolatrous generation: “Prepare to meet your God…” (Amos 4:12)
God cares nothing for the exercise of empty religious rituals. He hates it. What’s more, God denounces moral and ethical practices that violate His standards and invalidate worship. God knows the secrets of every heart. He knows how we treat our neighbours and coworkers. He knows instantly when we are genuinely seeking Him and when we are just going through the motions — observing a tradition, trying to look pious to others, or checking off another box on our spiritual to-do list.
The fact is, He does not desire our traditions, our giving, even our prayer and Bible reading — unless these things come from an obedient, truly loving heart. If our external actions toward God do not flow from an authentic desire to love others and please Him, we are only putting on a religious show, and He wants none of it.
So, as we were worshipping last weekend at the church that I attend and teach at I was thinking about all of this from the book of Amos. I was watching as a few people stood and worshipped. Most sat. And, few of those who sat were engaged in the worship. They were talking, eating, looking at their phones, and dare I mention, napping. Yet, the worship was amazing and, even if I do say so, anointed.
The teaching was on “Less Religion — More Relationship” (available under Ralph Howe Ministries on Podbean) and people listened politely. Four of those present took notes in their personal journals. Others did not. Bathroom breaks, fresh coffee, a candy and donut as the worship and teaching proceeded. It was a good, biblically based, foundational teaching. A comment or two were made afterwards. No questions were asked. It was, it seems, just “another teaching” in a long line of weekly sermons.
Makes me wonder what God thinks when He sees all of this. Maybe something along the line of His comments to the northern kingdom through the prophet Amos. You see, worship reveals the heart of people – even the heart of those who don’t bother or worship for the wrong reason. I’m just making a personal, gentle observations. I’m not judging. God does that, not me.
But, I for one, wonder how long God is going to put up with a people – His people – who are self-centered and so me-focused that they simply can’t be bothered to worship or get excited and engage with the teaching of His Word.
Just wondering — out loud.