The famous theologian A.W. Tozer once said:
“Christians, and especially very active ones, should take time out frequently to search their souls to be sure of their motives. Many a solo is sung to show off, many a sermon is preached as an exhibition of talent, many a church is founded as a slap to some other church. Even missionary activity may become competitive, and soul winning may degenerate into a sort of brush-salesman project to satisfy the flesh”.
In the above quotation Tozer obviously suggests that we ought to give some serious thought to our motives behind our service to God. Is it possible that we serve God for the wrong reasons? Could we perhaps be simply going through the motions when we stand on the pulpit, when we play the organ in church, or when we sit in the pew listening attentively to the sermon while at the same time planning our next holiday? Will the Lord be pleased with such an attitude?
Already in the Old Testament the prophet Isaiah warns the people (and us) that “… they draw near with their mouths and honour Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me” (Isaiah 29:13 NKJV). It is possible to say the right words in worship without participating with the heart.
In the New Testament our Lord Jesus tells us with these words: “Not everyone who says to Me , Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21 NKJV). And even though they will say that they have done many things in the name of the Lord, yet Christ will say: “Depart from Me”, because it was lip service and not from the heart.
Can we as Christians, Free Reformed believers, worship God in church when our hearts are far from God? Yes, according to our Lord in Matthew 15:8 (NKJV) this is indeed possible. That is why He warns us again with these words: “These people honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me”.
“They had no true love to God, nor faith in him, nor fear of him; they were not at all concerned for his presence with them, or for communion with him, or for his honour and glory; their hearts were in the world, and after their covetousness; they made religion a tool to their secular purposes, supposing gain to be godliness; sought the applause of men, and contented themselves with bodily exercise; having no regard to internal religion, powerful godliness, or where their hearts were, so be it, their bodies were presented to God in public worship; and what they did it was to be seen and approved of men, not caring what the searcher of hearts knew concerning them, or what he required of them”.
It is even possible to sing our Psalms and hymns while our heart is far from the Lord. We can, for example, sing mainly to be heard by other people. According to one famous Dutch organist Dirk Jansz. Zwart this was already a problem in the days when our Genevan Psalm tunes were composed. Louis Bourgeois (1510-1559) , who wrote many of our Psalm melodies in the 1550’s, complained that some members of the congregation sang so loud only because they wanted to be heard above the rest of the singers.
In the book of Acts we have the example of Ananias and Sapphira. They sold their property for the wrong reasons. Their life was not focussed on the glory of God. They had not understood their covenant relationship with their God and the extent of His love and grace displayed before them in such glory. They did not understand or appreciate the great works of Jesus Christ of which they were allowed to be part. They did not see that He was building His Church, gathering it from among naturally hostile Jews, defending and preserving it against the attacks of Satan who was trying with all his might to destroy this fragile beginning. Instead they were motivated by self-glorification. They wanted to be praised by people. They focussed on the short-term gains in this life and thereby put at risk Christ’s Church gathering work. We all know what happened, and how Christ rose up to defend His work. It is no wonder that great fear came upon this fledgling congregation.
The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Peter exposed their spiritual pretence and uncovered their efforts to gain spiritual prestige. This was nothing else than hypocrisy which is sharply rebuked by our Lord. This serves as a serious warning for us. If we do things for the wrong reason, we grieve God!
Even when we sometimes do some good things, on reflection we find that our motivation was suspect. Rather than being concerned with or focussed on the Word or work of the Lord, maybe what we were really after was to look or feel good. In that way we can do some outstanding things for very poor reasons. We want to feel needed, wanted and respected, and this can so easily become our motivation rather than a heartfelt love for the Lord, and a desire to serve Him, to be His fellow-worker and to promote His work.
Is it all about God and His honour or about us? Is Christ’s Church-gathering work by which He is preparing His second coming the focus of our thoughts and actions, or are our own wants and desires in the centre, a so called ‘I, me and myself’ mentality? Do we always want to be on centre stage and get all the attention? Sadly we often want to serve ourselves more than wanting to serve our King and Master.
People counterfeit a lot of things, money, jewelry and artwork, just to mention a few. In the same way is it perhaps possible to be counterfeit Christians? Christ exposes them, and in the end will say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matt 25:12 NKJV).
Let us be careful that our lips and our lives don’t proclaim two different messages. The Lord created us to serve Him. He asks from us that we serve Him with heart and soul, with thought and deed. He has given us His Spirit to make us by true faith share in Christ and all His benefits (Heidelberg Catechism L.D. 20: Question & Answer 53). May our worship, therefore, be from the heart, spontaneous and joyful.
May our service to God and our prayers not be from deceitful lips (Psalm 17:1). For feigned prayers are fruitless. The Apostle Paul urges us to examine ourselves to see if we are truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Paul doesn’t say this to make us doubt but to be honest with ourselves and to think critically about our own walk with Christ.
May this therefore, be our prayer:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23 NKJV).
How good to know that He knows us altogether and that nothing is hidden from Him. But remember also that God’s searching eyes are loving eyes.