We have the opportunity in worship to bring ourselves to God. Each time we gather in worship we bring something to God. How but thought do we give to what we bring to worship?
The passage we study this morning is early worship, it’s close to creation. We learn what it means to bring things to God. Calling what we’re doing this morning a worship service can be confusing to us. We gather at set times in modern forms. It can be thought of a similar to going to a movie or a concert. We tend to think more about what we will get. Will there be songs we like? Will the message be interesting? The essence of worship is what are we bringing to God?
In Genesis 4 there’s a heavy surprise: not all worship is acceptable to God. God has specifics He looks for in our worship. Why? God loves us. It matters because it’s a reflection of our heart.
Not all worship is acceptable to God.
It was the time of the year when the results of hard work have arrived. Cain gives some to God. When we look at it, Cain’s offering is generic. There’s no great intention. Cain offers some of what he has. When offerings were presented they were consumed and burned up if they were accepted. Cain’s offering just sat there. Why did God reject his offering?
My grandfather was the most gracious gift receiver I’ve ever known. He would dote over whatever he received. We knew he didn’t need anything. We think that God is happy to get whatever we give. We think God is ok with it. Here’s God’s response:
5but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected. 6“Why are you so angry?” the LORD asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 7You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
Imagine you’re an aunt or uncle and you have a niece or nephew and their mother’s birthday is approaching. You decide to help them make a card for their mom. You bring markers, stickers, and even glitter! You lead the child to make a card. When you return to see what the child has created it’s just a plain card that says, “Hey mom.” This isn’t impressive. This reflects what’s happening in the child’s heart. You might wonder if they even love their mother!
Cain is upset. God doesn’t accept his offering. This brings to our own hearts and minds this question: Is what we bring to God acceptable? Desired? What Cain does reflects his heart. God cares about our hearts and our thoughts. God asks Cain a question: Why do you look so dejected? Cain’s anger reveals his heart. Cain is self-absorbed. Cain takes care of himself first. What’s revealed is Cain doesn’t really trust God. He likes God but he isn’t truly devoted to God. There’s a sense of entitlement to Cain’s offering. He isn’t sure how to respond when God doesn’t accept it.
Does God accept our offering? Is it enough for us to be here at church? You made it here today. That’s something, right? Worship says God is worthy, worth my time and all that I am. It reveals the heart of Cain. Several times in Scripture God rejects worship. In Amos 5:21, "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. God rejects the worship of a people who haven’t been in Israel. They haven’t worshipped and they think if they worship all will be better. They think all will be fine. Is it possible that our worship could just be noise to God’s ears? This is a troubling thought for us. God might say He doesn’t even want to hear it. He might say it’s meaningless to Him. The reason is that God cares about our hearts and what’s happening in our hearts. What’s really taking place inside of you? What are you bringing to God in worship? What thought are you putting to what we’ll do in our time together when we gather? This should be concrete in our minds that God can reject our worship. He can say this is not acceptable.
True worship includes thoughts and actions.
Abel’s offering is a thoughtful act of worship that he planned. When Abel’s animals are first born his first thought in his mind was that this belongs to God. He’s been preparing in his heart and mind.
4Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The LORD accepted Abel and his gift,
There’s a small difference in the way Abel’s gift is presented. Cain offered some of his produce. Abel offers his firstborn, a costly gift, because there was no guarantee there would be a second born. Abel’s gift says, “God, I trust You and I know You will provide all I need.” We give because we know God will provide for us in the future. God wants us to give the first fruits. God wants us to be redeemed.
In Exodus 22 in response to God delivering the people out of Egypt, they are commanded to give the first. We are here in Genesis and this command hasn’t even been given yet. Another example of giving the first is when Mary, Jesus’ mother, presents him in the temple. The first belongs to the Lord. Abel gives the first born because he wants to. Abel does this from his heart. Cain and Abel’s hearts are in very different places. We have the opportunity to engage our hearts and minds in worship. As we sing together are you thinking about singing those words to God? Finances are a part of worship too, but it’s also about what we are doing in our own heart and mind. This determines what’s acceptable. Worship is a time to talk to God and to allow God to transform our minds. In the preaching time we should be engaging our brains. My responsibility is to spend time in the Word. Your responsibility is to ask, “God, what needs to happen in my life? What needs to be celebrated? Are you engaging your mind in worship? Here’s what happens: we start to think about other things like what we’ll have for lunch. We think about all kinds of things. Is this acceptable to God? What does God want to happen? God wants your heart and mind. There will be times when God speaks to you in worship and it may be different than what I’m preaching. God may lead you to a different passage of Scripture. It’s not OK to disengage your mind and not think about God and how to worship God.
Worship comes from our heart.
God wants Cain to know why his gift wasn’t acceptable. It’s not that God is so picky and has lots of rules. It’s for Cain’s good that God wants Cain and us to worship. God wants Cain’s heart. We also need our minds and our hearts to be connected to God. God will speak to your heart. What Cain has done is he has rejected God as Creator. Cain doesn’t fully appreciate this and doesn’t fully engage with God. What’s taken place in worship, in your heart has the ability to lose control. If we don’t address this in worship, if we do not get a handle on this, sin can destroy us. In verse 8 Cain kills his brother. God is warning Cain here in verse 7 that something isn’t right in his heart and that he will explode. Our hearts move away from God when we stop showing up for worship.
God says to Cain that if he doesn’t deal with what’s taking place in his life, sin will control him. This isn’t a let’s-try-harder message. This is a heart message. In Romans 7:24, Paul says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The call isn’t to try harder, but to look to the cross, to take our heart to God and say that we know there are things in our lives that aren’t right. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ who has given so much to us. God calls us to correct our hearts. What are you bringing to God today? Can you pray, “God, correct me and heal me?”
Sermon notes are taken, transcribed and posted by Jeni Martin Johnson.