When Good Worship Goes Bad

What does it mean to worship God rightly? And why do we get it so wrong?

King David’s dying plea to Solomon is to ensure his descendants follow the LORD with all their heart and soul. This, he promises, will ensure prosperity and an enduring kingdom.

David—God’s ‘man after my own heart’—is by no means a perfect guy. Remember that little incident with Bathsheba, oh, and when he had someone MURDERED rather than face the consequences of his actions? But David is grieved by his sin, and he seeks repentance.

When it comes to worship, David sets the bar high for his fellow kings: his heart and soul are devoted to God. It sounds easy, right? Devote your heart to God and you’re done—the Almighty God is on your side.

I guess avoiding idolatry is harder than it looks.

The ‘high places’ continue to be problematic for God’s people, drawing them away from right worship of God within the context of the tabernacle and then the temple. Their devotion becomes diluted, and eventually it’s full-blown idol worship.

When the kingdom splits and Jeroboam begins to lead Israel he sets up two golden calves, saying ‘Here are your gods Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ What a sting for the one true God, who so powerfully rescued the Hebrews from slavery?

I mean, c’mon Israel, remember what happened while Moses was up Mount Sinai and your ancestors were in the desert waiting? The golden calf incident? Apparently not. The Kingdom of Israel continues to persist in Jeroboam’s sin, declining in morality and turning away from God.

While they are a slight improvement, the Kingdom of Judah is no better. The people are consistently attached to the high places and eventually they become so evil (I’m looking at you, Manasseh), that God promises exile.

Despite the fact they don’t succeed in restoring the Kingdom of Judah to a right relationship with God permanently, I find hope in reading the stories of Kings Hezekiah and Josiah.

They address the issue of wrong worship head on, destroying objects of idol worship, breaking down the high places and restoring the temple. We see a renewed devotion, but the change never lasts beyond a generation and before you know it the people of Judah are back worshiping idols again.

Our diluted devotion?

As a Christian I have the same call to love God wholeheartedly, as Jesus says: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’

Loving God and loving others: sounds easy, right?

Well, no.

I don’t love God as I should, there are ‘high places’ in my heart: places I visit to get the reassurance, comfort, and perfection I can really only receive from God. Comfort food, shopping, gossip, a perfect Facebook page, ignoring sin, preferring my own rights and needs… the list is endless.

I cannot claim a devoted heart.

What hope is there? 

Why are David’s dying words so important? God made a covenant with David; a promise to set up his kingdom forever and establish a great king whose reign would never end.[6]

God keeps the tribe of Judah faithful to the line of David. He listens to the cries of his faithful people and withholds his judgement during their lifetimes, as a response to their devotion.[7] Even in the very last chapters of the 2 Kings we see the line of David remain, in exile, but preserved—by God’s faithfulness.

The books of 1 and 2 Kings show me a God who keeps his promises, he is faithful. He shows his goodness by winning victories for his people, providing for them and caring for them.

But he is also a just God, and a God who upholds his word.

The people are so faithless, worshiping God on their terms: they devalue him, they worship idols and their affections are divided. God cannot be in covenant with these people. Judgement is imminent. Exile is coming.

And yet God is merciful in the face of judgement. Prophets call people back to God with opportunities to respond with repentance and faithfulness—what grace! What hope! What mercy!

A perfect king

When God promised his people a perfect king he wasn’t joking and—amazingly—he works sovereignly in the mess of Israel’s kings to ensure his promise comes to pass.

The kings of the past could only take us so far. We are always plagued by our diluted devotion and inability to truly worship God in the way he deserves. We need a greater King, one who will be able to change our hearts. We need Jesus. I need Jesus.

Jesus: whose time on earth was marked by the supernatural control he had over the elements, over evil and ultimately over death.

Jesus: who was and is the Messiah, the King of kings who will reign forever.

Jesus: who we can cling to in times of cultural darkness.

Jesus: who changes my heart to make it possible to worship God rightly, freely, in spirit and in truth.

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