Summary: Solomon tells us that when we come before the Lord in worship we need to keep in mind one very important fact: God is the focus, not us.
Overcoming Futility...A Sermon Series on Ecclesiastes
“Before the Face of God,” chapter 5:1-7 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Worship celebrates Who God is and all He has done—which gives hope, new life, community. It enables us to grasp and respond to the good work of God. Worship causes us to experience reverence in the presence of God.
Solomon tells us that when we come before the Lord in worship we need to keep in mind one very important fact: God is our focal point, not us. We obviously benefit from worship, but it is primarily for God that we come. We “go near to listen” to Him, and His words take priority. Some people show up oblivious to the fact that their worship is unacceptable. They partake of the ritual mindlessly and mechanically instead of approaching God with an attitude of reverence and holy awe. They think primarily of their needs. The “sacrifice of fools” is an empty, worthless offering. When we do not engage our hearts, our worship becomes stale and meaningless. We can’t “fake it”. The wise approach worship very carefully and intentionally; they pay close attention to God in worship.
Worship is defined as “An active response to God whereby we declare His worth” (Allen/Borror). Worship is faith-in-motion. It’s not passive but something we participate in; it is not a mood but a response; it is not a feeling but a proclamation; it is not a ritual but an earnest celebration; it comes not out of a sense of obligation but is the highest expression of love. To worship means to attribute worth...which is why we loosely say that some people worship their money, their job, their family. We indicate the objects of our worship by our priorities and by the time and energy we devote to them. Our goal in worship is to glorify God.
A major part of public and private worship is prayer. When we pray, God isn’t concerned with the length of our prayers or their eloquence. He’s not concerned about our grammar. We may stammer, use run-on sentences, pause to think, and not use a lot of fancy words—none of this matters. What matters is our sincerity and submission to God’s purpose. He understands what we’re trying to express (Rom 8:26). He wants us to be ourselves in prayer, not imitate what we think He wants to hear. Sometimes when we have no words of our own, we may pray someone else’s prayers. God cares about our heart.
Just before teaching the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus issued a warning: “The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for this nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and He knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply” (5: 7-8, the Message).
What we believe about God determines the importance we give to worship. But it’s still possible to believe correctly--to have right doctrine--yet fail to put it to practice. We affirm or deny what we think of God by what we say and do. For some people, Christianity is an external matter of lip-service; it never affects how we behave during the week. We need to also remember the weekday to keep it holy, as well as the Lord’s day. We need to attempt an attitude of worship 24/7. Worship is a way of life.
Solomon goes on to talk about making vows before God, verses 4-7. As a wealthy executive lay on what he thought was his deathbed, his minister talked of God’s healing power. “Pastor,” he said, “if God heals me, I’ll give the church a million dollars.” Miraculously, the man revived and within a few short weeks was out of the hospital. A few months later, he and the pastor chatted on the sidewalk in front of a hardware store. "You know," the pastor reminded him, "when you were in the hospital dying, you promised to give the church a million dollars if you got well. We haven’t received it yet.” “Did I say that?” the executive asked. “That goes to show how sick I really was!”
Temple vows were a common feature of Jewish worship. A vow shows that we take God seriously, and we take seriously our actions. Some people in Solomon’s day made irreverent, hasty vows, then they tried to get out them by telling the priest it was a mistake. We do not vow casually, lightly…or at least we shouldn’t. When people join a church, when couples exchanges marriage vows, or when parents vow to raise their children in a Christian home before the waters of baptism, these are solemn promises. Ministers take ordination vows. Solomon warns, “It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.” Fulfilling a vow is a matter of integrity. Failing to do so is a sign of insincerity. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t play games with God.