Under the Old Covenant, God laid down very specific rules about how he was to be properly worshipped and the consequences of ignoring His commands were severe (Lev. 10:3; I Chronicles 13:10,11). This was true even when the surface motives were pure.
The first commandment directs us to worship only God, and no other, while the second commands that we should worship God rightly. Aspects of what it means to worship God rightly will naturally change depending on the place in redemptive history, but one thing that is constant is the notion of sacrifice. This is obvious in the Old Testament, but the New also makes the idea of sacrifice central to right worship (Heb 13:15).
We could spend pages speaking about the Mosaic sacrificial system and how it perfectly pointed towards what Christ has done, but I will restrict my comments to this:
A sacrifice, a true sacrifice, is just that, sacrificial. It is not something that cost nothing (I Chr. 21:24). Sadly however, because our hearts are deceitful (Jer 17:9), we frequently offer what we want to offer, rather than what God requires. We often worship God in a way that is “comfortable” for us, rather than thinking and praying about what God would consider a true “sacrifice of praise”.
One corrective to this problem, with our deceitful hearts, is God’s revelation of Himself through His Word. The Bible is a primary means that God uses to change our thinking and way of living, to bring it in to fuller conformity with His will. It is worth noting that in Romans 12:1,2; Paul establishes a direct connection between worship (understood in the broadest possible sense of that word) and the transforming or renewal of our minds.
It is for this reason, that when planning services at our church, I do so with a Bible in one hand, the songbook in the other, and a prayer that my preferences will be submerged and God’s desires will be apparent.
I’ll end with an example of how God has dealt with me and transformed my view of worship over the years. When I was a young man, and a new Christian, I did not like the Psalms at all. I heard others speak about their depth and beauty, but all I saw when I read most of them was David being a whiner. It was over time that I learned the Psalms were the inspired hymn book of David’s Israel, that they were meant for public singing in the context of worship and praise, and that they were part of the liturgical renewal that occurred in Israel under David. While it is dangerous to wholesale pull Old Testament examples in to the New Covenant, a better understanding of the Psalms never the less helped expand my understanding of what subject matter was appropriate for the public worship of God.
May God be pleased to bless our obedience and desire to worship Him truthfully and spiritually by continually drawing us to a right understanding of His will.