However, the real matter of worship is not the externals, but the heart. I’ve been studying 2 Samuel 6 where David sought to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. You know the story. They throw it on a cart, put together a parade and start off. Along the way, the cart jostles, the Ark tips, and a poor guy named Uzzah reaches out to steady it. I call him a poor guy not because of the name (which is enough reason to feel sorry for him) but because of the end result here. God strikes him dead on the spot.
Seems like a bit of an overreaction. And some will point to the fact that part of the problem here is in the externals. God is upset in part because they were not doing this in accordance with his prescribed method for moving the ark. David figures that out, and later tries again, this time the right way, and the results are much better.
But is it really just about the externals here? Is God really upset just because they used a cart instead of carrying it with poles? Well, yes and no. That is the part of the reason, but it’s also because it reflects a deeper heart issue. David didn’t start with the right mind set. They did the wrong externals because their hearts were not in the right place. They took no thought at all to the issue of God’s will, God’s holiness, obedience to God’s Word, etc. And that’s the real issue in our worship.
Here are some thoughts from Charles Spurgeon regarding the issue. This is from a sermon on the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 13. (The Lesson Of Uzza. Delivered By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. Nov. 4th, 1888. No. 2855) (Note: the entire sermon can be read here)
If I read the story aright, it seems to me…that there was too little thought as to God’s mind upon the matter. David consulted the people, but he would have done better if he had consulted God. The co-operation of the people was desirable, but much more the benediction of the Most High. There ought to have been much prayer preceding this great undertaking of bringing up the ark of the Lord; but it seems to have been entered upon with very much heartiness and enthusiasm, but not with any preparatory supplication or spiritual consideration. If you read the story through, you will see that it appears to be an affair of singing, and harps, and psalteries, and timbrels, and cymbals, and trumpets, and of a new cart and cattle; that is about all there is in it. There is not even a mention of humiliation of heart, or of solemn awe in the presence of that God of whom the ark was but the outward symbol. I am afraid that this first attempt was too much after the will of the Flesh, and the energy of nature, and too little according to that rule of which Christ said to the woman at Sychar, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Yes, beloved, all worship fails if that is not the first consideration in it. Let the singing be hearty and melodious, let everything in our services be in proper order; but, as the first and most important thing, let the Holy Ghost be there, so that we may draw near to God in our heart, and have real spiritual communion with him. The outward form of worship is a very secondary matter; the inward spirit of it is the all-important thing; there appears, to me, to have been too little attention paid to that in the first attempt that David made to bring up the ark; and, therefore, it was a failure.
Maybe I’m making it too simple (or maybe too difficult), but it seems to me that if we spent more time focused on God, humbling ourselves before Him, looking to honor and reverence him instead of pleasing our own flesh, then all of the fights over songs and styles and such would pass away. The externals do matter, but only as the outgrowth of hearts that are truly prepared for rightly worshipping our Great God of Grace. After all, it’s all about Him to begin with. Soli Deo Gloria!