When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? (Isaiah 1:12)
Relate: Sixth grade was the epitome of my acting career. I managed to land the lead role in the elementary school musical, Fat Fat Jehoshaphat. I was Jehoshaphat. Honestly, I think I landed the role more because the king kept using big words nobody else knew and since I really was a bit of a nerd, it wasn’t as hard for me to act like one.
Anyways, the plot of the story is that a foreign army shows up to attack my kingdom. The Moabites and Ammonites aren’t really all that big of a deal. We can whip them easily. The problem is those Meunites who joined in. Those Meunites, we are told, are so tough that every morning they gargle with peanut butter. Some of my people want to run away, others want to hide themselves and their valuables. As king, I declare that instead we will fast and pray. (This is how I go from being fat fat Jehoshaphat to flat flat Jehoshaphat.) As we are coming together at the end of the fast, the high priest leads us all in the following prayer:
Dear God, who hast been so beneficent to us. Wilt Thou show us thy benevolence forthwith. Howbeit we have failed to be meritorious of Thy favor…
That is as far as the chief priest gets before I interrupt him, tell him to stop using a vocabulary he doesn’t even understand and then I break into one of my solos called Simple Words. I was brilliant. To this day I am a bit disappointed that nobody managed to get a copy of that play into Stephen Spielberg’s hands. I would have been the next great child superstar.
React: In all seriousness, all too often we act as though the only to come before God is “in all seriousness”. Whether we are Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, or Pentecostal, we all have our own version of “reverent ceremony” by which we feel we must follow when approach God. For some that ceremony might be incense and Gregorian chants. For others, it is a rousing rendition of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”. Still others are certain that God will not hear our voices if we do not have a playlist of songs from Hillsong United and Jesus Culture. We start with a couple fast songs, work our way into those slower, soulful ones and then after a short moment of acapella, the drum beat comes back in ushers us all into His presence.
We all have our own version of ceremony. It in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. I tend to struggle to remain focused during a service entirely in Latin. Others might be incredibly blessed by this and would consider something less formal so disrespectful that they simply cannot enter in. The problem isn’t with our ceremony or structure for worship. The problem comes in when we begin to worship the structure. We begin to think that this is how God must move. Any deviation from our recognized ceremony is irreligious. It is against this tendency that God speaks out through Isaiah, “When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?”
I ask that You surprise me. Break through into my life in ways that are completely unexpected. Move in unorthodox ways so that I can continue to understand that it is You that I seek, not some religious formula. Make me uncomfortable. Keep things fresh and surprising. Help me to understand that You break through to us because You love us, not because we have found the method or means to call You down.