Real Worship

By Mark D. Roberts

April 24, 2017

When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 1:15-17


A hand reaching out to touch barbed wire.In the time of Isaiah, Israel continued to do the things associated with worship: offering sacrifices, keeping the festivals, and lifting up their hands in prayer. But God’s people were not honoring him in the way they lived their whole lives. They were seeking their own good rather than that of others. The strong took advantage of the weak. The rich abused the poor. The powerful ignored those who were powerless, like orphans and widows

God’s response to Israel’s worship is startling, given the fact that he had clearly commanded his people to worship him through sacrifices, festivals, and prayer. Yet, when they engaged in divinely ordained acts of worship, God would turn aside, rejecting their offerings. Though he wanted to be worshiped through prayers and sacrifices, God desired something else even more. Real worship required a renunciation of sin. Real worship included living a life of faithfulness, justice, and compassion. Real worship meant learning to do good, seeking justice, and helping the oppressed.

We who belong to the Lord through the New Covenant do not make ourselves clean by our repentance or our good works. We receive such cleansing through the once-for-all work of Christ. Yet, having been saved by grace through faith, we are to walk in the good works God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:8-10). For us, as for the Israelites, real worship includes more than prayer and praise. It’s more than what we do in our worship gatherings. As James writes in his letter, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

Thus, Isaiah reminds us that we are to worship God, not only on Sundays or whenever we come together with the people of God. Rather, we are to worship God each day, in every action and every intention. God is honored as much by how we treat our employees at work as by how we praise him in church. God is worshiped when we, like the Israelites, learn to do right, seek justice, and defend the oppressed.


Do you think of worship as something to be done all week? Why or why not?

How might you worship God in the context of your work?

How might you worship God in your volunteering? In your financial choices? In your political activity? In your relationship with your family?


Gracious God, what an honor it is to worship you. Thank you for making yourself known to us so that we might offer to you our lives in worship.

Help us, we pray, to learn to worship you, not just when we gather with others for praise and prayer, but also when we go shopping, supervise our staff, make plans for our startup, or parent our children. May you look upon our lives and be glorified in all we do. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentaryWorship and Work (Isaiah 1ff.)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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