GOING TROUGH THE MOTIONS
Going through the
Worship is our response to God’s
tremendous acts on our behalf. Yet too
often our gratitude subtly becomes a
casual obligation or a meaningless ritual.
Worse still, our habit of insincere worship
can blind us to unconfessed sin in our lives.
This lesson will reveal the consequences
of improper worship and will challenge
you to evaluate your motives and attitudes
as you come before God.
1. How would you describe what worship is, and is not, to a new
2. With what attitude do you typically enter God’s presence?
Read the following three sets of Bible passages and application notes.
Answer the questions for each set before moving on to the next.
K J V
And in process of time
it came to pass, that Cain
brought of the fruit of the
ground an offering unto
the LORD. And Abel, he
also brought of the firstlings
of his flock and of the
fat thereof. And the LORD
had respect unto Abel and
to his offering: But unto
Cain and to his offering he
had not respect. And Cain
was very wroth, and his
countenance fell. And the
LORD said unto Cain, Why
art thou wroth? and why is
thy countenance fallen? If
thou doest well, shalt thou
not be accepted?
N I V
In the course of time
Cain brought some of the
fruits of the soil as an
offering to the LORD. But
Abel brought fat portions
from some of the firstborn
of his flock. The LORD
looked with favor on Abel
and his offering, but on
Cain and his offering he
did not look with favor.
So Cain was very angry,
and his face was downcast.
Then the LORD said
to Cain, “Why are you
angry? Why is your face
downcast? If you do what
is right, will you not be
N L T
At harvest time Cain
brought to the LORD a
gift of his farm produce,
while Abel brought
several choice lambs from
the best of his flock. The
LORD accepted Abel’s
offering, but he did not
accept Cain’s. This made
Cain very angry and
dejected. “Why are you
so angry?” the LORD
asked him. “Why do you
look so dejected? You
will be accepted if you
respond in the right
The Bible does not tell us why God rejected Cain’s offering, but it was probably because Cain’s
attitude was improper or his offering was not up to God’s standards. In Proverbs 21:27 we
read, “The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable—how much more so when brought with evil
intent!” (NIV). God evaluates both our motives and the quality of our worship. He does not
accept improper worship. Cain’s false worship destroyed his relationship with God and eventually
led him to murder his own brother. When we do not give God the worship he deserves,
our relationships with him and others suffer.
3. For what reasons might God reject our worship?
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4. Why is it so easy simply to go through the motions when we worship?
5. How would you characterize a sacrifice offered with evil intent?
6. How do you think your worship of God affects your relationships
K J V
And Nadab and
Abihu, the sons of Aaron,
took either of them his
censer, and put fire
therein, and put incense
thereon, and offered
strange fire before the
LORD, which he commanded
them not. And
there went out fire from
the LORD, and devoured
them, and they died
before the LORD.
N I V
Aaron’s sons Nadab
and Abihu took their censers,
put fire in them and
added incense; and they
offered unauthorized fire
before the LORD, contrary
to his command. So
fire came out from the
presence of the LORD and
consumed them, and they
died before the LORD.
N L T
Aaron’s sons Nadab
and Abihu put coals of
fire in their incense burners
and sprinkled incense
over it. In this way, they
disobeyed the LORD by
burning before him a
different kind of fire
than he had commanded.
So fire blazed forth from
the LORD’s presence and
burned them up, and
they died there before
Nadab and Abihu abused their office as priests in a flagrant act of disrespect to God, who had
just reviewed with them precisely how they were to conduct worship. In response to their care-
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less worship, God destroyed them with a blast of fire. Performing the sacrifices was supposed
to be an act of obedience, but they did not take their duties seriously enough. We are all in
danger of making the same mistake Nadab and Abihu did when we treat lightly the holiness of
God. Do not forget that the opportunity to worship God is based on his gracious invitation to an
unworthy people; it is not a gift to be taken for granted.
7. What can we learn from this passage about the kind of worship
God demands of us?
8. In what ways, even unintentionally, do we show disrespect for God
in the way we worship?
9. What is one way we can humble ourselves before God in worship?
10. What truths in this passage can help you prepare to enter God’s
presence this week?
L E S S O N 2 12
K J V
Wherefore the Lord
said, Forasmuch as this
people draw near me with
their mouth, and with their
lips do honour me, but
have removed their heart
far from me, and their fear
toward me is taught by the
precept of men.
N I V
The Lord says: “These
people come near to me
with their mouth and
honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far
from me. Their worship
of me is made up only of
rules taught by men.”
N L T
And so the Lord
says, “These people say
they are mine. They
honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far
away. And their worship
of me amounts to nothing
more than human
laws learned by rote.”
The people claimed to be close to God, but they were disobedient and merely went through
the motions. Therefore, God would bring judgment upon them. Religion had become routine
instead of real. Jesus repeated Isaiah’s condemnation when he rebuked the Pharisees, the
religious leaders of his day (Matthew 15:7-9). We can also slip into lifeless routines when we
acknowledge God but fail to give him our love and devotion. If we want to be called God’s
people, we must worship him honestly and sincerely.
11. Why did Jesus hold the Pharisees up as an example of how not to
12. How can believers fall into a habit of empty, meaningless worship?
13. How do our motives and attitudes toward worship affect our worship?
14. How can we make sure that the way we worship is pleasing to God?
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This lesson looked at three biblical examples of people breaking
their covenant with God through improper worship. Their stories reveal
the serious consequences of false worship. While true worship nurtures
love for God, false worship erodes our relationship with him! Examine
your current worship habits. If you find yourself only going through the
motions, ask God to forgive you and to reveal the joy of true worship.
15. How can you avoid the trap of simply going through the motions in
your worship of God this week?
Read Leviticus 7:37-38.
God gave his people specific directions to follow when they worshiped. All of the rituals symbolized
deeper spiritual truths. But over time, the people became indifferent to the meanings of these rituals
and to God himself. Many churches today observe rituals that have lost relevance to worshipers,
but others have revitalized their worship by rediscovering the meaning and purpose behind
their customs. Whether you are struggling with private devotions or stale public worship, a rediscovery
of the Scriptures and of the actions of faithful Christians can breathe new life into old forms.
16. What rituals or traditions does your church include in worship?
17. How can you discover the meaning or purpose behind those traditions?
18. What custom or practice in your church’s worship is most meaningful
to you? Why?
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Read 1 Samuel 4:1-11.
The Israelites rightly recognized the great holiness of the ark, but over time they began to
regard the physical presence of the ark itself as a god. God wanted the ark to remind Israel
to worship him, not the ark. They treasured it as a good-luck charm, expecting it to protect
them from the Philistines. Their neglect of spiritual matters lulled them into a false sense of
security and idolatry. It also led to military defeat and oppression. The consequences of
Israel’s sin would linger for several years.
19. When have you seen spiritual failure result in other far-reaching
20. How can religious customs crowd out our worship of God?
21. How can we make sure rituals and customs point us to God’s
presence without their becoming objects of worship themselves?
Read 1 Samuel 15:1-31.
This is the first of numerous places in the Bible where the theme “to obey is better than
sacrifice” is stated (see also Psalm 40:6-8; Proverbs 21:3; and Matthew 12:7). A sacrifice
was a ceremony that allowed humans to express praise or show sorrow for sins; God would
grant forgiveness based on the sacrifice. But if the person’s heart was not truly repentant
or he did not truly love God, the sacrifice became a hollow ritual. All religious ceremonies or
rituals are empty unless they are centered on love for and obedience to God.
22. Do you think Samuel was saying that sacrifice is unimportant? Why
or why not?
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23. How do you think the quality of our worship is related to our
preparation for worship?
24. How can you show obedience as you worship this week?
Read Jeremiah 7:1-11.
The nation of Judah worshiped, but it did so in a way that ignored its apathy and sin. Therefore,
God sent Jeremiah to the temple gates to confront the people about their false worship.
We can easily do the same as the Judeans did. Attending church, taking Communion, teaching
Sunday school, and singing in the choir are good in themselves, but they should not replace
devotion to God. The busy pace of life can cause us to be satisfied with the mere performance
of religious duties.
25. What usually motivates people to participate in church activities?
26. What activities or ministries are you involved in at your local church?
27. How can you participate in those activities in a way that honors God?
Read Malachi 1:7-14.
Malachi confronted God’s people about their false and profane worship. God’s law required
that only perfect animals be offered, but the priests were allowing the people to offer blind,
crippled, and diseased animals to God. The priests knew what God required, yet their
sacrifices were unworthy and their worship was insincere. They were lazy, arrogant, and
insensitive. God charged the priests with failing to honor him—to the point of showing
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contempt for his name. If we give God only our leftover money, time, and energy, we
follow the same path as those worshipers whom Malachi criticized.
28. What is an example of an unworthy offering today?
29. How freely do you give your time and money to God?
30. What can you give to God next Sunday as an act of worship?
Read Mark 7:7.
A hypocrite is someone who acts a part. He pretends to be something he is not and holds
others to a standard he has no intention of meeting. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites
because they appeared to be devout religious leaders but had no love for God in their hearts.
Their worship was motivated by a quest for status, wealth, and admiration. We become
hypocrites when we are satisfied with playing a part and follow certain rules of worship while
allowing our hearts to remain distant from God.
31. In what ways can we be hypocritical in our worship?
32. Why are we so reluctant to face our hypocrisy?
33. How can genuine worship overcome the hypocrisy in our lives?
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