Awhile back, I was thinking about how we all have our preferences for worship. A recent lesson focused on Cain and Abel. In that case, God showed his preference for Abel’s form of worship.
I’ve wondered about our common interpretation of that story — that Cain’s offering was not acceptable. Perhaps it was acceptable, but that Abel’s was God’s favorite. It says that God spent more time looking at and considering Abel’s offering, while he did not do so with Cain’s. He looked on Abel’s offering with favor, but not so with Cain’s. Does that mean that Abel’s was his favorite? In other words, did Cain merely come in second place, rather than being rejected?
I can still remember track and field days in grade school where I could count on finishing well back in the pack for the 50 yard dash. That is NOT a great feeling. You’re running your hardest, and all it gets you is a participation ribbon. Coming in first feels great. All the other spots? No so much.
Cain’s sin may have been more in how he reacted (and what he went on to do later) than with the acceptability of his sacrifice. I think his sin was in his unwillingness to be happy for his brother. For wanting to win first place, rather than to merely honor God with an offering.
I think much of our modern worship culture has too much emphasis on “winning” rather than simply honoring God. I’m glad that God doesn’t let us know who’s his favorite when it comes to our “worship offerings.” Some of us like the Gaithers. Some Maranatha. Some Integrity Worship, some Hillsong United, and some Bethel. The list goes on and on.
But when it comes to how God views us, I sometimes wonder if even the very best of what we offer is the equivalent of a 4 year old’s art work that gets stuck to the kitchen refrigerator for display. It’s not professional quality. It’s not suitable even for framing. But for a parent, it’s cherished, and prominently posted in a place where Mom & Dad will see it often, and the little one knows it’s appreciated.
Does a parent think any less of it because it’s not professional caliber? Not at all. That art work was made by your kid! It’s awesome! Not because of how it looks, but because of how you know your child wanted desperately to please and honor you.
We would do well to avoid comparing ourselves with others when it comes to what we offer to God. In John 4, the woman at the well brought up the question of what kind of worship was best. Jesus declined to “declare a winner” and instead focused on the fact that God desires worshipers who worship in spirit and in truth. As God told Samuel, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”
May we do the same, starting with our own hearts. As we do so, we can take joy in knowing that our gifts to God are cherished, regardless of the outward appearance. What counts is the attitude of our hearts as we seek to please our heavenly Father.