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 Cost of Discipleship, he said that grace is costly. The way to life cost God his Son’s life. God paid a dear price to bring us grace. “Cheap grace,” he says, “is grace without discipleship,” grace without cost, without taking up our cross. 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 built 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. What will we get out of it? The problem with cheap worship, is that we are at the center, and because of that we put little or nothing into it.

What would costly worship look like? First it would put God at the center and realize that God is not here to serve us, but 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. It would prepare for the Lord’s Day by thinking about the prayers we will bring. It would approach offerings with a “first fruit” mentality to honor God by giving him our best. It would approach the Scriptures with a ready mind to hear the Word of the Lord. Contemplating the cost of our redemption, it would resolve to never approach God flippantly. Rather, we would come to lay genuine adoration and thanksgiving at his feet. In so doing we would discover the paradox that—the more costly our worship, the more we actually do get out of it!

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  • Zac Hicks says:

    Good word, Don!

  • Kim Anderson says:

    Sort of “ask not what worship can do for you, but what you can do for worship” (apologies to JFK). I’m with you.

    Recently I’ve found Dan Allender’s new book, “Sabbath”, part of the Ancient Practices series. It is an absolutely riveting, soul-searching, gut-wrenching challenge. Allender Sabbath is primarily about delight – but not the passive “impress me” stuff. Sabbath is an invitation to pursue deep delight that can only be found in active engagement with God.

    Very similar to what you’re advocating here.

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