When I was a young teen our house was broken into and robbed. Among other valuables such as jewelry and various electronics, the thieves made off with my Super Nintendo. I’m still not over it.
It’s a very unsettling thing to realize that thrives have been walking around your private living space, a space that you unconsciously always considered to be safe. It’s the sort of event that motivates you to check the locks twice each night and make sure all the windows are firmly latched.
While most of us take every precaution to secure our valuables against theft, far too many of us are very casual about securing our hearts in regards to the worship of God. There are three thieves that roam our souls, and if we leave our hearts unlocked they will delight to snatch away our worship.
The First Thief: Boredom
I am not talking about that understandable boredom that comes from worship being conducted in a truly unacceptably boring manner, when the preacher is looking down, mumbling his notes, struggling even to keep his own wife from nodding off during the sermon. Those sorts of scenarios are actually a violation of several of the principles we observed last week.
That’s not what I’m talking about when I talk about this first thief. I’m talking about boredom with the things that God has provided for you in the worship of the church. We get bored with the songs, sermons, and servants of the local church. We long for something novel and potentially exciting. Sometimes we even chase it until we find it. And it typically fixes the problem (or so we think) for a short period of time, but soon what was once new and novel becomes mundane and just as boring as the older things we left behind.
The problem wasn’t actually with the church, it was within us; and so we bring the problem with us wherever we go. We must not be like Israel in the wilderness when she got bored with God’s manna. Rather, we must rejoice and maintain thankful hearts as we are regularly supplied with spiritual nourishment from our Heavenly Father.
The Second Thief: Criticism
It is frighteningly easy to sit through the worship of God and focus on the proficiency (or lack thereof) of the service, the musicians, and the preacher, rather than the glory of the God we allegedly came to proclaim. Do we come to church with a checklist, a mental report card that we fill out and render judgment? Have we come to evaluate men or to engage with the living God?
Remember that the men leading worship are always imperfect, but love forgives much. Cultivate a spirit of loving grace for your church and an eager expectation from your God. Resist the temptation to become a sour critic of all that doesn’t measure up to your personal standard and refocus your heart on the one you are called to truly evaluate- O taste and see that the Lord is good He is able to make the most hardened critic weep again for joy as they surrender their heart to actually exulting in Christ for his majestic excellency.
The Third Thief: Cynicism
Sometimes we look at the church and we get cynical. We look at worship, and we scoff. We say in our hearts, what can this really do? What’s the point?
We must remember that God has set up the church and the accomplishment of his mission on earth in such a way that His power is made perfect in our weakness. We do in fact perform many functions in worship that do look quite weak. Preaching? Glorified speeches about the gospel, a message about a Man most people think has been dead for two thousand years? The systematic study of an ancient book? These are the things of simple, biblical, weekly worship. It the weekly does look weak to many.
But God says to us, “I will send home the armies of Gideon and win the battle with the weaker force, I don’t need your gimmicks, novelties, or strategies. I will accomplish my own purposes through the worship I have commanded. My strength will be manifest in your weakness. I will bless my children, I will draw them together, I will draw in more, and I will send them all out on My mission, My way, through My worship.”
And we get cynical? Jesus has been building His church as he promised for two thousand years. He says:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV)
The all-authoritative Jesus is with us always. He is present and active in His church. And yet we somehow allow ourselves to forget this and slip into cynicism. Maybe what we need more than anything is a simple recommitment to trusting God at his Word. Maybe then our worship would be closer to His heart and His purposes, and many of our concerns and controversies would fade away.
A Defense Against Thieves
In the final analysis, the defense against to these three thieves is not novelty, it is repentance and recommitment. Dorothy Sayers wrote about Christian theology that The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man- and the dogma is the drama. Although she wrote specifically about the temptation to throw off the older forms of orthodoxy, Sayers’ quote is relevant to worship in all its dimensions. Christian worship is a staggering drama; it is the whole story of redemption played out each week. If such things bore us, or if we are critical or cynical about them we must repent. We must reengage, not with the church per se, but more likely with the God of the Church Himself.
I called these things thieves that will steal our worship on purpose; this boredom, this criticism, and this cynicism. When we allow them to grow in our hearts, we don’t just diminish worship; we can actually depart from worship. We take ourselves out of the vital dynamic of divine interaction and become an outside observer. Jesus said of the Pharisees: These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. We can be bodily present in worship, even mouthing words and technically listening to a sermon, but in truth we are as far away from worshiping God as you could possibly imagine.
Maybe what we need is to have something reignited within us. Maybe we need to hear the Lord saying to us like he said through the prophets long ago, return to me with all your heart. Maybe then, our hearts will be locked up tight against the various thieves that have come only to steal and destroy. May the Lord guard our hearts against such burglary in our worship!
(By: Nicolas Alford)
 Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church, p. 1.