You May Be Worshiping Wrong

There was a great sadness in the woman before me as we discussed the dysfunction of her marriage.

“Does he ever bring you gifts?” I asked.

She nodded, staring out the window. “He brings me gifts all the time, but nothing I desire. He brings what he wants to give, what he wants to be seen giving, things he wants a woman to have. Each one, as valuable or costly as it may be, simply reminds me that he doesn’t even see me. Our relationship is completely about him. He gives what he wants to give, nothing more or less, and revels in his own satisfaction.”

It appeared the man’s emotional maturity halted in toddlerhood. Many a mother or father has received a well-intended gift for Mother’s or Father’s Day from a child that reflected the child’s own interests with little thought to the recipient.

While I treasure all my children’s attempts at giving, I clearly recall the single gift each one chose that indicated to me they had matured enough to consider my interests, my desires, and that I may want something different than they would choose for themselves. Those gifts marked a maturing point in our relationship.

We’ve all experienced the frustration of receiving an offering of praise, or gifts, or service from someone that wasn’t anything we wanted, only to be told we should be grateful we’re receiving anything. In both our personal and professional lives, this is a sign of an unhealthy relationship.

For years, I struggled with the story of Cain and Abel. The brothers, born to Adam and Eve, each brought an offering to the Lord. Abel brought “of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions” to the altar, while Cain brought an offering of “the fruit of the ground.”

The writer expresses what happened next this way, “And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:4b-7 ESV)

In my immaturity, I sympathized with Cain. Wasn’t it the thought that counted? Didn’t he bring what he had to the Lord? How could God reject Cain’s offering, his worship. Why was a lamb better than fruit?

Now, as I watch a generation of people, old and young, who insist “I can worship anywhere, any way I desire.” Or throngs of people who believe they can engage in worship that God “should accept” without mention of Jesus Christ, without repentance, without discomfort, without transformation. Now, that I understand God was explaining to Cain that there was an acceptable sacrifice that Cain could offer if that was Cain’s desire, but that blood is required to cover sin. Now, I have a glimmer of understanding. Wanting to understand better yourself? Become closer to our Lord, watch church sermons and practice the way of His teachings.

Too many modern worshipers are like that boorish husband. Their worship says “I don’t care to invest the time or energy to learn what You are like God, or what you desire. This is what I want to give You and You should be happy with that. Worship for me is less about our relationship and more about how I want to express myself and how I want others to see me expressing myself.”

Modern day Cains abound and in very real ways, they seek to destroy their Abels, because they sense that their brothers’ and sisters’ worship is somehow acceptable, where theirs is not. Easier to tear down the true worshipers, than to engage in repentance and a transformative relationship with Jesus.

The answer hasn’t changed. Worship outside of relationship with Jesus Christ, the lamb who was sacrificed for us, is no worship at all. Unacceptable. Denied.

Lest you think this is archaic, Old Testament thinking, Jesus, the loving God of forgiveness and grace who laid down His life for us, indicated that not every offering would be acceptable before the throne of God. “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 ESV

He told the Samaritan woman that a time was coming when “the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” John 4:23b ESV

If there are true worshipers, there are false ones, as well, loved ones. Truly, the thought does count with our Father. But, if the thought is “I don’t care what God says or wants, I simply want to express my own freedom of worship,” it is rightly rejected.

There is a cultural concert of rebellion barraging us daily, demanding that we say “All ways to God and all expressions of worship to Him, are acceptable. All understandings of God are fine. All approaches to God work equally well. Who am I to judge?” As if the spirit of Cain has multiplied and his descendants now occupy a large portion of the earth.

Now is the time to press into God, to immerse ourselves in His Word, to encourage one another with the truth, to remind one another daily that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. That no one comes to the Father, except through Him. That true worship isn’t about what we want to offer, but about what He wants to receive.

Are you worshiping in spirit and in truth, loved ones? The answer matters.

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    The Conversation

  1. Pam Halter says:

    Ah yes, the old “it’s the thought that counts” mentality. It looks YEARS for me to figure out the correct response to that: “But what were they thinking?” Whatever we do, whether it’s gift giving, worship, responding to something … it all starts with how we think.

    Thanks for clearing up the Abel vs Cain offering, too. I’ve always heard it was because Cain didn’t give his “first” fruits. That God would have accepted his offering if he had chosen the BEST of the fruits and vegetables. I didn’t think that was right. I wondered if Cain should have offered a blood sacrifice. But I was also told it was because Cain was a farmer. That’s why he offered plants. But what you said sits right with me. God *did* require a blood sacrifice to cover sin.

    Happy Sunday!

  2. Angie Dicken says:

    I have always seen the story of Cain and Abel as a heart issue. Cain’s heart wasn’t in it, he was just going through the motions. It’s all about the heart. Exactly why Christ came, to prove that no outward expression is as important as our inward posture.
    I believe there are people who might be drawn to Christ through their attempt to worship. I was. Because i worshiped God first without knowing Him, was that’s “wrong” worship? It was a door to salvation for me. Worship in itself is a very personal act of acknowledging that God is in charge. I guess if you aren’t a Christian but are claiming to be, then the issue isn’t worship but truth. I don’t believe that a true Christian who is sincere in their heart can worship “wrong”. God made us to be extremely creative and come to him in all facets of our lives. If we lay down our hearts in song, story, deed, or word, and offer it to him, he will not turn us away. It’s all about our heart’s posture…right? There is so much Grace for us mere humans, I hope we can also give it to others.
    Interesting post.

  3. John Seither says:

    AMEN! It IS possible to dishonor God by offering up praises that make much of ourselves and what we prefer, and make little of Him and His glorious sacrifice for us, who were His enemies. Very prideful of us to come into His presence with that attitude.