In his book entitled Prayer, Phillip Yancey compares the way we come to the Lord in prayer to the way in which toddlers approach their parents. Yancey says that if we were to ask the parent what is the right or proper way for their child to approach them, they might give you a strange look. Right way? A parent means being open to the needs of their child, there is no one correct way. Just so, there is no one correct way for us to approach God through prayer.
Likewise, it seems to me that there is no one correct way for us to approach God through worship. However, it seems like there can be some wrong ways.
Amos chapter 5 verses 18-24 reads,
“(18-20) Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD! Why do you want the day of the LORD? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? (21-23) I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. (24) But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
The first half of the text, verses 18 -20, brings a surprise from Amos as he turns the Israelites perceptions of the day of the Lord around. Thinking that the day of the Lord would be one of celebration, laughter and salvation, Amos warns the Israelites that they couldn’t be more wrong. Instead it will be a day of darkness and despair. Strange, since that was the way the Israelites usually thought the day of the lord would be for their enemies.
Why does Amos say this? The answer is revealed in the second half of the text. Here it seems that God’s voice takes over.
Starting with the words “I hate, I despise your festivals....” we are quickly introduced to God’s emotional feelings towards the Israelites worship, praise and song.
How would it feel to have God hate your worship and praise?
The reason for God’s hatred becomes clearer in verse 24 when he delivers the line “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” It seems that the Israelites faith had a few missing ingredients –justice and righteousness. Shane Claiborne, in his book The Irresistible Revolution, says that this passage in Amos declares that “God hates our worship and singing if they are devoid of justice, and God demands that they cease until we practice justice for the poor and oppressed.”
Not only is our worship and praise useless if we are not also practicing justice, it is in fact hated by God. That kind of holy disgust sounds reminiscent of Revelation 3:16 “So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
For a closer look at what justice and righteousness meant in the Old Testament Allen R. Guenther, author of the Believers Church bible Commentary on Hosea and Amos suggests looking at the 29th chapter of Job. Here Job “puts on” justice and righteousness by rescuing the poor, comforting the dying, representing a stranger, helping the blind and lame, supporting widows and orphans, and standing up for those who are oppressed. All in a few verses!
What does your church look like? Are justice and righteousness practiced alongside worship? Are they often forgotten about or perhaps in some cases do they become so much the focus that worship itself takes the backseat? Is God trying to say to us that he despises our worship? Should the day of the Lord also look like darkness to us because of our lack of justice?
Let us remember that as we are gathered in to sing and give praise so too are we sent out to do justice and show righteousness.