Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
To worship is “to attribute worth”. To worship is to honour.
Many of us have received birthday or Christmas gifts from people who sacrificed to give presents they really wanted themselves. I didn’t have the heart to tell my mom, after she worked a lot of overtime and sacrificed to buy a high school graduation gown for me, that I didn’t like the one she chose. She had never had such a luxury herself, and she wanted to give me something special, but it was her taste, not mine.
I felt horrible for being a wretched ungrateful daughter so I never said anything. It wasn’t until years later that I could admit to myself that the real pain of the event was that although she sacrificed and went to a lot of trouble to buy me a prom dress, it never occurred to her that my desires and tastes might be different than hers. She was too busy working to actually sit down and talk to me. I realized I had some forgiving to do, and now I can bless my mom for doing her best in difficult circumstances.
I had a dream that a group of people who did church together in a building decided to put on a concert to the glory of God. Even though they were not trained singers they decided to learn Vivaldi’s Gloria. When the time came for the performance they crowded into the foyer (or narthex) of the church building and the pastor began to lead the orchestra and choir. We were all singing along when we realized the pipe organ in the sanctuary was not in time. The pastor opened the door and signaled to a man on the platform, who was conducting an empty room, except for the organist. The pastor showed the conductor what he thought the tempo should be by waving his baton, then shut the door.
Then a young woman got up to sing Domine Deus, “Lord God, King of Heaven, Father God omnipotent.” She sang from the heart and she sang beautifully, but the pastor/leader didn’t like her tempo either and stopped her and made her do it much more slowly. She looked bewildered, lost the flow of the song and kept running out of breath.
When the concert was done the pastor opened the door and asked the conductor if he liked the performance, saying it had been for him. The conductor just looked sad. The pastor closed the door and everyone congratulated themselves on how hard they had worked. Then they served refreshments.
To me the dream was about my own tendency to want to do something great for God -something requiring sacrifice and effort- without entering into the holy place (sanctuary) or paying attention to the conductor (Holy Spirit). It reminded me I had also done the equivalent of scraping and scrimping to buy an expensive prom dress without asking the wearer if that is what she wanted. In the dream it involved the effort of putting on a musical production without asking God (the Master Conductor) if that is what He wanted.
Music is important to me, obviously. The Lord speaks to me through music and I “anah” (respond) by singing back to Him. The problem is not about music styles or quality of performance. The problem is that when our efforts at praise and worship are based on what we like, they are not responses to His voice. They are assumptions that He will like what we like -and that results in creating a god in our own image.
The greatest honour we can pay to our friends and family is to really listen to them, and act on the desires they express to us.
The greatest honour and worship we can offer to the Lover of our souls is to enter the sanctuary, the holy set-apart place in our hearts, and listen, really listen to the desires of His heart — then act on the things He has shared with us, like the need for justice, righteousness, goodness, and love. That, I believe, is the essence of worship.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Helper,
to be with you forever,
even the Spirit of truth,
whom the world cannot receive,
because it neither sees him nor knows him.
You know him,
for he dwells with you and will be in you.