Thoughts From Amos 5
“Is God Listening?” This question stopped me in my tracks while I was reading a short book written by Pastor/Worship Leader/Song Writer David Ruis, entitled “The Worship God is Seeking: An Exploration of Worship and the Kingdom of God”. The words absolutely jumped off the page at me. The question wasn’t asked with a sarcastic or judgmental tone.
It was simply an honest question regarding the nature and activity of our modern worship practices. As I reflected on my reaction to David’s question, I realized that I’ve always assumed that God was listening. Why wouldn’t He be listening? As I understand the scriptures, they are filled, especially the Psalms, with encouragements and commands to worship, to gather together and give praise to our God. So why wouldn’t He be listening?
However, in the book of Amos 5:21-23 there is a startling revelation. In this passage God speaks through the prophet Amos, “(21) I hate, I despise your religious feast; I cannot stand your assemblies. (22) Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. (23) Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.” This passage was written to the nation of Israel during a time when they were following what they understood to be the God ordained methods of worship (religious feasts, national assemblies, offerings, gain offerings, choice fellowship offerings) prescribed through the scriptures and the prophets. But God wasn’t listening. In fact the verses say that God and reached a place where He despised what they were doing.
Now that is a scary revelation. Our creator God can actually reach a place of despising and turning away for our activity of worshipping Him. When I read those verses I ask myself, “Did the Israelites know?” “Did they realize that their worship times were falling on deaf ears in the heavens?” Then I wonder, “Is the same thing happening today?” “Is God listening to our worship; to our offerings? “Does He end up despising our assemblies as well? After all what is so different from what we are pursuing today in our assemblies and times of worship?
If you take the time read the entire passage in Amos 5 you will see that there were some major issues with the lack of social justice within the nation of Israel and that God was greatly displeased. To be sure, the moral decay of Israel and the absence of appropriate justice for the poor are important keys to understanding why God had finally ceased to listen. Yet, for this discussion, I want to turn our attention to what I believe is another part of the answer to the alarming revelation proclaimed in Amos 5.
Verses 21-23 of Amos chapter 5 have always reminded me of the words of King David in Psalm 51:16-17, “(16) You do not delight in sacrifice (worship) or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. (17) The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” These verses are very similar to the verses in Amos 5. In both, God is not pleased with the physical activity of worship that is going on. However, Psalms 51:17 sheds some light on the issue of God’s displeasure. Here David points out that God is not interested primarily in the activity of sacrifice and worship in and of itself, but rather He is focused on the heart. The Word says, “… the sacrifices of God are broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart … God… will not despise.” God doesn’t need more songs to be sung, more church services to be held, or more sacrifices brought to Him. These activities only hold value to Him in the light of where our hearts are focused and how we are postured before Him. God desires a humble, broken, yielded, contrite heart. This is type of heart he will not despise. In other words, the worship from this type of heart God will not despise. In Amos, God says that He can reach a point of despising our religious activity. Yet in Psalm 51, He says that He will not despise the broken and contrite heart.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, the Psalms are filled with commands for God’s people to gather together in the assembly, to praise His name, to shout His praise and worship Him with instruments and singing. Obviously, these activities are God ordained, worthwhile and desirable. However, we must remember that doing these things without the appropriate heart posture and focus can lead to the terrifying results of Amos 5.
One final thought to tie everything together. Not long ago, I wrote an article that was based out of the Gospel of John 4: 21-23, entitled, “The Worshippers God Seeks” (article available at http://BrentHelming.com). In that article I focused on the reality that God is seeking worshippers who will worship in spirit and truth. I believe that is also what Psalms 51 is saying. The believer who worships God with a broken spirit and a contrite heart is walking in the call to worship in “spirit and truth”. God is after our hearts; He is after us. He doesn’t need or want empty or hypocritical activity that looks religious. God desires a people who will act justly, love mercy (Amos 5) and worship humbly and authentically (Psalm 51) before their God. As we approach God in worship with this posture, we can be sure … He is listening!
Brent Helming has been involved in Pastoral and Worship Ministry for over 20 years. He has traveled both nationally and internationally leading worship and teaching at Churches and conferences. He has written numerous worship songs such as “Your Beloved”, Jesus Lead On”, “Rock of My Salvation” and “God of All Splendor”, along with an interactive work book titled “Hot Tips for Worship Leaders”.