In his quest to find out how to live a meaningful life the writer of Ecclesiastes addresses the issue of worshiping God.
Let us read Ecclesiastes 5:1-7:
1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. 3 For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.
4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear. (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7)
The film clip titled James 3 portrays a family of four getting ready for church on a Sunday morning. Even though the viewer cannot hear what the family members are saying, it is not hard to read their lips, or at least their attitudes. They wake up grumpy and still sleepy. Dad stumbles over the laundry and kicks it out of the way. Older daughter argues with mom about she will (or will not) wear to church. Younger daughter spills her milk and cereal. Angry words are exchanged, especially when dad slams on the brakes while mom is trying to put on lipstick in the car.
As they get ready for church, no one in the family smiles or exchanges even one friendly word. . . until they walk into church and it is time to put on a happy face. Mom and dad smile at the first people they meet. They take their places in the sanctuary with smiles on their faces. When they stand to sing the opening song, their eyes are closed in reverent adoration. As the film clip ends, the sound begins, and we can hear what they are singing: “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.”
Now, I know that this does not happen to you or your family, right? It only happens to other people and other families—and in other churches! Or does it?
When you go to worship God on Sunday mornings, what happens at your home before you get to church? What attitudes do you bring to worship? What is on your mind during the worship service? How attentively are you engaging in worshiping God?
More than two millennia ago the Preacher (who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes) noticed a similar problem with the people of his day. People went to worship God, but they failed to approach God with reverence. Worshiping God had become a mere formality.
In fact, we know from the prophet Malachi (who wrote his book only a century or so before the Preacher wrote Ecclesiastes) that the people dishonored God in their worship of him. God required that the people bring the best, unblemished animals to be sacrificed in worship to him. Instead, the people brought God what they could not use themselves. They brought the sick, lame, and blind animals to God. And the result was that instead of blessing his worshipers, God said, “Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished” (Malachi 1:14a).