Ineffectual Worship: Wearying the Lord With our Words

Some of us work with words. As much as a farmer works does with the soil and a potter with the clay, we deal with words. Writers, pastors, teachers–we are wordsmiths.

And therein lies the challenge. Unless we stay close to the Lord and keep a steady eye on our assignment, it’s possible that in time we can send forth empty words to do our work for us. We can fill a page or an hour with words and words and more words. Eventually, we think that’s all we need to do, just speak words.

You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, “In what way have we wearied Him?” (Malachi 2:17)

Addressing the people of the Lord, the prophet Malachi is in no way limiting his message to the professional priests and ministers. All the Lord’s people were guilty of the sin of word inflation.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, filling our worship on Sunday with so many words. And leaving the church thinking we have done something worthwhile just because we spoke some words, read some written words, and sang words printed in a book or flashed on a screen.

The Lord in Heaven is sick and tired of words that are multiplied and inflated as though He were some mindless professor grading term papers by their weight.

Hymns sung without thought.

Now, I’m not going to say the Lord grades hymn-singing the way you and I might. He seems to have an appreciation for a “joyful noise” that most of us do not (Psalm 100:1). However, one thing we know He dislikes are any songs flung heavenward without thought given to them.

I will sing with the spirit and I will also sing with the understanding. (I Corinthians 14:15)

Prayers uttered mindlessly and casually.

Don’t be like the heathen, Jesus cautioned His people. They think that they will be heard for their many words. (Matthew 6:7)

I’ve racked my brain trying to recall anyone in Scripture who fit this description. Perhaps best of all is the pagan priests on Carmel when they were challenged by Elijah (I Kings 18). They took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon…. But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made.

How many books have we read where those who pray for many hours a day are celebrated? And yet, listen to this:

Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil. Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in Heaven and you on earth; therefore, let your words be few…. A fool’s voice is known by his many words. (Ecclesiastes 5:1-3)

Sermons stolen from others and delivered mechanically.

It’s called plagiarism when the sermon is lifted whole and preached verbatim. But the practice of copying from another preacher is as widespread in the ministry as it is in college, I surmise. God is not happy about it. He wants to be the Source of our messages and the inspiration for their effectiveness.

Behold, I am against the prophets who steal my words, every one from his neighbor. (Jeremiah 23:30)

The Lord said, I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my counsel, and had caused my people to hear my words, then they would have turned them from their evil way… (Jer. 23:21-22).

Bible studies sought out lazily and taught carelessly.

Sunday School teachers will not have to think hard to know how some teachers wait until Saturday night to begin studying. The product on Sunday morning reflects it, too.

As bad as that is, however, far worse is when preachers do the same. A friend of mine once produced a book of short sermons he called “Saturday Night Specials.” These were sermon briefs for the preacher who had come to the end of his week and had nothing to preach on Sunday. I have no way of knowing the truth of this, but he told me that Christian book stores have a run on their books of sermons on Saturday evenings, from pastors panicking about the next day’s messages.

Pleasant words in the service of our God by people who live like the world.

You say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord and He delights in them.” Or, “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17)

The clear and consistent testimony of scripture from beginning to end tells us God is unhappy with hypocritical living from those claiming to be His people. We recall the words of Isaiah. Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save. Nor His heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. (Isa. 59:1-2)

When Malachi uttered this prophecy, the promise of God to remedy the situation was: “I am going to send Jesus” (chapter 3:1ff). What God says to you and me is, “I have sent Jesus.”

He is God’s remedy for what ails us. He is the cure for lackadaisical worship.

Return to me and I will return to you, God says (Malachi 3:7).

And what do you suppose that means? In what way–what specific way–did the Lord have in mind?

You are not going to believe the answer.

In giving their tithes and offerings.

Here’s the text:

But you said, “In what way shall we return?”

(And God answers:)

Will a man rob God?

Yet you have robbed me!

(and you say)

In what way have we robbed you?

(God answers)

In tithes and offerings.

(God continues)

You are cursed with a curse for you have robbed me,

even this whole nation.

Bring all the tithes into the storehouse

That there may be food in my house

And try me now in this–

If I will not open for you the windows of Heaven

And pour out for you such blessing

That there will not be room enough to receive it.

(Malachi 3:7-10)

Can you believe this? God faults the people for their failing worship, their empty wordiness, their insulting offerings, and the sinful rebellion which these all indicate in their hearts. And when He is asked to propose a remedy, He suggests–no, He commands–that they start bringing their tithes and offerings!

Is this the remedy for our ills? For our wickedness?

Not in itself. And perhaps not for all groups. The Lord was, after all, speaking to His people, rebellious and neglectful though they were.

It was for them, however. Once they had taken their eyes off the Lord, they fixated them on “things,” material possessions, getting and grabbing and keeping and amassing more. Just so easily does money–in all its manifestations–supplant the rightful place of God in our hearts.

So the remedy, the first step at least, was for them to begin to give the way God had commanded.

Remember that this is the same group we are addressing here. People like you and me who come to church and go through the motions and never connect with the Almighty in our worship.

Think of this: we are God’s people. In one sense, you could say we are the cream of the crop. We are definitely the bearer of His good news, the ones commissioned to take Christ’s gospel to the ends of the earth. The ones redeemed from sin and given an inheritance in Heaven.

And when we rebel, this makes us the ones whose sin is most severe.

And to us, God says:

“Start getting serious about your giving.”


Jesus told us the answer.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

Those of us who have decided our hearts are far from God even when our words are there–Matthew 15:8 speaks to this–should take to heart what the Lord says. Wherever we place our treasure, that’s where our heart will be.

Our affections follow our investments.

You have been saved. God has forgiven you of your sins. Your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. You are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. God has added you to His family. The Bible speaks to you as it does to no outsider. You know you will never again come into condemnation. You are so blessed.

But you are in trouble. Your heart has strayed, your compassion has cooled, your zeal has left. You are going through the motions in your worship.

You have turned your attention away from loving God and serving Him. You care less and less about obeying Him. And the matter of giving a sizeable portion of your income and savings and possessions to the church, to people in need, to missionaries looking to you for support–these matter less and less to you every day.

God could beat around the bush. He could send you sermons and lists of instructions. Instead, He goes straight to the heart of things and says, “Start giving. Do it seriously and earnestly. Start now!”

Not what we would have expected and, may I say, a far cry from what we want. What we would like is for the passion for the things of the Lord to be restored in us and then, maybe, we will begin giving again. A little at a time, and increasing along as we grow in our love for God.

Nope. It’s not going to be that way. If money has set up its throne in our hearts, the cure for that monster is to start giving.

Robert sat in my office boasting about his possessions. After his discharge from the military, he had bought up trailer parks in a big way. The money was flowing in. When he married Verna, he made sure that she carried her half of the freight. They divided the mortgage payment down the middle, as they did with the groceries and utilities. The fact that Verna held down a low-paying job which brought in a small income mattered little to him.

His money-fixation was destroying his marriage, just as it had ruined most of his other relationships.

“I have a prescription for you, Robert,” I told him, and handed a small piece of paper across the table.

He stared at it and then stared at me. “What?” he said. “You can’t be serious.”

“I am serious,” I said. “Money is destroying your soul and poisoning everything about you. You’re going to have to conquer it before it destroys you.”

“But give it away?” he bellowed. “You want me to give my money away?”

That’s what I had written on the paper.

“Large amounts of it,” I said. “If you don’t, you will never know the love of God in your heart or the love of Verna in your life.”

He wasn’t able to do it. The marriage ended soon after and he dropped off my radar. I see Verna once in a while and she is beautiful and happy. My guess is that Robert is miserable and alone.

To the man we call the rich young ruler, Jesus had similar instructions. “One thing you lack. Go your way. Sell what you have and give to the poor. Then you will have treasure in Heaven. Then, come, take up the cross, and follow me” (Mark 10:21).

Want a quick way to begin real worship? The kind that really connects with God and stirs your soul?

Write a big check to your church this Sunday. Larger than you have ever given before. Bigger than anything you ever thought you would be able to give. And one more thing….

Give it to the Lord in prayer before you put it into the offering plate. Tell Him you want Him to be Lord of all your life. Not just “Numero Uno” but all the numbers, from first to last, Alpha to Omega. And that this offering represents your commitment to Him.

Then don’t look back. Go forward. See what else the Lord has for you to do today.

You’ll be loving God more, loving His church a lot more, and loving the work of His people a great deal more. Your treasure is there, so your heart will follow.

Put some heart in your worship; bring a big offering.

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