Worship is a terrible thing to waste. Technically, there’s only so much of it anyone can give. Only so much energy that can be called upon for worship, only so much time available to be directed toward worship. And the only thing worse than wasting our worship on the wrong things, perhaps, is wasting our worship on the right things. Worse than bowing down to idols is throwing away our offerings to the One who alone is worthy of worship. But that’s exactly what the religious elite of Jesus’ day were doing.
And the Pharisees and the scribes asked [Jesus], “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And He said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
(Mark 7:6-8 ESV)
Unwashed hands. That was their beef. Not just that they weren’t clean, but that Jesus’ disciples were neglecting the ceremony. Less about dirt under their fingernails, all about the pious demonstration of self-declared holiness. The Pharisees and scribes were sticklers for making sure that after coming out of the marketplace, the place where commoners hung out, that everyone saw them washing their hands before putting any food in their self-proclaimed righteous bodies. Not a command of God. A tradition of men. Ostensibly to honor God, in actuality to exalt themselves. Wasted worship.
Not that a habit of hand-washing couldn’t have value. Just that it didn’t. How come? The proximity of their heart. Rather than a heart that drew near through their actions, it was heart far away. Unengaged. Focused on the practice, disinterested in the Person. A far away heart, that’s what wastes worship . . . even rightly directed worship.
They were concerned more about going through the motions than they were entering into the meaning. All talk, no heart. Wasted worship.
They kept an eye on the crowds to make sure the crowd was keeping an eye on them through all their ablutions and oblations. Right routine, perhaps. Wrong reason. Wasted worship.
Holy action designed to please or impress men. Righteous ritual that meant nothing to God. Wasted worship. All because of a heart that was not pursuing the One who delights in real worship.
I can’t imagine a worse indictment, “In vain they do worship Me.” The sacrifice of their lips, fruitless. The tithes they offer, worthless. The disciplines they practice, useless. All because of the proximity of their heart. All dependent on whether they were seeking to draw near or not.
How I need to guard my heart. Only so much energy available to worship. Only so much time. Only one living God worthy.
And only one way acceptable. With a heart that desires to draw near. A heart with its affection set on Him who alone is to be worshiped. A heart in humble obedience, more concerned about following the commandments of God than the traditions of men. A heart which doesn’t waste worship.
By His grace. For His glory.