Nothing makes me feel farther from God than sin. The shame in my heart. The gunk in my mind. Something about sin causes me to play hide-and-seek with God. After all, His holiness and perfection seem all-too-scary for a darkened heart like mine to encounter.
That’s what sin does. It taints our worship by creating a barrier between us and God. And we need not look any further than the first book of the Bible to discover this truth.
In Genesis 2, Adam and Eve live in a perfect world. There’s no sin. There’s no death. There’s no cancer, divorce, or suffering. Everything is absolutely flawless. Because of this, there’s no shame. Verse 25 reads, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (ESV).
I recently searched the word “worship” on Twitter. Much to my disappointment, I had to scroll past eleven tweets before finding one that mentioned God. Most of the “worship” tweets focused on females attempting to seduce males. Others focused on shoes and socks. But the results are painfully obvious: people worship all kinds of idols. And it’s nothing new.
In the days of Isaiah (the prophet), idolatry is prevalent. The Jews eventually find themselves under the control of Assyria and Babylon as God teaches them obedience. The Babylonian Empire is later replaced by the Persian Empire under the leadership of Cyrus the Great.
The book of Leviticus is a challenging read. It’s a detailed history describing the priesthood, offerings, sacrifices, and other laws given by God to His people. Because of this, it’s easy to view Leviticus as an outdated, confusing book about the “old days.” After all, God’s people no longer rely on priests to sacrifice animals in a tabernacle for the forgiveness of sins. But the book of Leviticus is more than bloody altars and gruesome stories. It’s a book about worship.
“And they brought what Moses commanded in front of the tent of meeting [tabernacle], and all the congregation drew near and stood before the LORD. And Moses said, ‘This is the thing that the LORD commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you.’ Then Moses said to Aaron [the High Priest], ‘Draw near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and for the people, and bring the offering of the people and make atonement for them, as the LORD has commanded’” (9:5-7 ESV).
As followers of Christ, we’re called to make disciples. But I wonder how often we view our worship through the lens of discipleship. How does our worship of God impact those around us? More specifically, what kind of influence does our worship have on nonbelievers?
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are in Philippi. After meeting a godly woman named Lydia, they come across a slave girl who is possessed by an evil spirit. Because of this, the girl obsessively shouts around Paul and his companions. The Bible says that Paul, being greatly annoyed, rebukes the evil spirit in the name of Jesus. Therefore, the slave girl is freed. However, the masters of this slave girl are angry with Paul and Silas because the girl’s ability had provided her owners with income. As a result, Paul and Silas are dragged into the marketplace, beaten with rods, and placed securely within the inner prison. In fact, the Bible even describes their feet being fastened in stocks (see v. 11-24).
That’s when Paul and Silas begin to worship through song.
“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!” (Ps. 137:1-6 ESV).
Unwilling to part from sin, God’s people find themselves in Babylonian captivity. Jerusalem is destroyed. The temple lay in ruins. Zion seems to mimic the tears of God’s people. The representation of God’s presence on earth looks awfully hopeless.
That’s the scene depicted in Psalm 137:1 as God’s people weep along the foreign waters. But the story doesn’t end there. The psalmist soon takes readers down the familiar road of worship music. Not any particular style of worship music. Just the heart behind it. And that’s where I want to focus my attention this week.