Cheap Worship: Moving Beyond the “But I Don’t Get Anything Out of It” Syndrome

“No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not
sacrifice to the Lord my God
burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” 2 Samuel 24.24

You’ve heard of “cheap grace.”  But have you heard of cheap worship?

“Cheap grace”  is a phrase used by German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945).  In his book The Cost of Discipleship, he said that grace is costly.  God paid a dear price to bring us the grace of forgiveness–his Son’s life.   “Cheap grace,” says Bonhoeffer,  “is the preaching  of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”  In Bonhoeffer’s own life, the cost of discipleship was very high.  He was executed by the Nazis just before the end of World War II.

If cheap grace is grace without cost, cheap worship is worship without cost.  In 2 Samuel 24, David was about to enter God’s presence in worship.  However, because he took a census that he should not have, (he was trusting in his armies more than God), God sent a
plague upon the land.  When David saw the Angel of the Lord, he pleaded with him that he was the one who sinned, not his people.  So he cried out—“let your hand fall on me!”

God then spoke to David through the prophet Gad.  He instructed David to go to the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite and build an alter to the Lord.  So David did just that.  As he approached that place (which was probably the future site of the temple on Mt. Moriah), he met Araunah and offered to buy his threshing floor.  He was desperate.  He needed this site to pray in order that the plague might stop.

Araunah was ready to give David whatever he needed, for free—oxen, threshing sledges, ox yokes, the works.  But David insisted that he himself should pay for it.  He said, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”    He knew that God deserved the very best.

David then bought the threshing floor and oxen.  He built an alter to the Lord there, and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings that he had paid for.   It was then that the Lord answered his prayer on behalf of the nation.   The plague on Israel stopped.

David’s worship was not cheap; it was costly.

I wonder how much of our worship is cheap worship?  When we enter God’s presence this week in corporate worship, will we be skimpy?  Cheap worship exists when our worship  costs us nothing.  We enter God’s house, but do not intend to give ourselves.  We listen to songs, but we do not intend to sing our praise.  We listen to prayers, but we do not bring him our own intercession.  We flippantly lay a dollar in the offering plate, but we have not thought about our giving.   We approach the sermon and our main concern is what we will get out of it.

Too often, that is our whole approach to worship—we are preoccupied with what is in it for me.  And so Sunday after Sunday, we walk away from church complaining, “but I didn’t get anything out of it.”

The problem with cheap worship, is that we are at the center.  We think it’s all primarily about us, and because of this, we put little or nothing into it.  Our worship costs us nothing.

What does costly worship look like?  First it puts God at the center with the realization that God is not here to serve us.  Instead, we are here to serve him and give him glory.  We are coming to place our lives humbly before him.  We are coming as givers, not takers.  Costly worship realizes that the main gift God wants today is our lives.  This is the beginning of the profound reorientation that takes place in costly worship.

Second, costly worship involves preparation.  It prepares us for the Lord’s Day by thinking about the prayers we will bring.  It thinks about offerings with a “first fruit” mentality to honor God by giving him our best.  It approaches the Scriptures with a ready mind to hear the Word of the Lord and to be “doers of the Word.”

And third, costly worship issues in a lifestyle of service to God and others.  As we view God’s mercy to us in Christ through the cross, and as we contemplate the cost of our redemption, faith increases and we want to please God. In other words, costly worship within the sanctuary will flow out of the sanctuary into sacrificial living for God’s glory and the joy of others.  It will be motivated to share the treasure of the gospel with others, and have a greater heart for the least, the last and the lost.

This is what costly worship looks  like.  And here is the extraordinary paradox underneath it all. The more costly our worship, the more we actually do get out of it, and the more others will be blessed by it.

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