“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.  When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.  Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the [temple] messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, NIV).

Understanding that God is not always worshipped at His “house” and we can and should worship God anywhere and everywhere in “spirit and truth” (see John 4:19-26), Solomon gives us some sage advice on the purposefulness and sincerity involved in rightly worshipping God. In these seven verses he speaks of some areas that directly impact whether or not we experience the awesomeness of God (v. 7) and the heartfelt worth we should be ascribing to Him. This best happens when our lives, hearts, and minds are aligned in such a manner that we don’t trivialize being in the presence of holy God. These worship instructions are profoundly simple. Solomon talks about our steps (our behavior), our words, and our vows (commitments) being pivotal in experiencing God.

In the first verse Solomon reminds us that we must be ready to experience God. We have often heard of the hypothetical family riding in the car on their way to corporate worship. They are snipping and biting at each other until the mysterious line, usually found near the church parking lot entrance, appears and then suddenly they become “spiritual” and stop their bickering (only to resume their behavior as they exit the parking lot after the service). This story is only funny because we all have done this type of thing. But this passage points to being prepared for worship. We can’t expect to experience God or genuinely adore Him when our steps (behaviors) do not honor Him. So How can we presume that God will visit us and we will hear His voice when we are living in a manner that is unworthy of His holiness (see Romans 12:1)? Although Solomon is not suggesting that our house must be perfectly in order to effectively worship Him at His “house” (which, of course, is everywhere) but living in willful disobedience hinders our ability to fully experience His presence.

Verses 2-3 are about our words. Solomon, like other passages (Psalm 46:10), indicates that frivolous thoughts and speech serve as a barrier to genuine worship. What are we thinking about, thus probably uttering, when we are seeking to experience the presence of God? It is easy to forget that worship means engaging a holy God and that requires our thoughts to be laser focused on Him. Often we are much better off and He is more honored when we are reverent and silent as we approach Him. We need  more to listen for His voice than to be “quick with our mouth” and talk like a “fool” who isn’t cognizant that God is to be central in our worship. He expects that we be so enamored with His presence that sometimes we are mute before Him – with feelings that defy articulation. For example, because my thoughts are so easily distracted from Him, sometimes I prefer to focus on the words of the worship song or hymn with eyes closed as opposed to singing and easily ignoring the meaning of the words (and that’s not just because I sing like a frog with a man in his throat – yes, you read that correctly).

Verses 4-7 talk about the vows (commitments) that are often a part of intentional worship. Virtually every time I truly experience God and am rocked by His awesomeness I’m moved to make commitments to Him. This makes sense – as we catch a vision of God in all of His holiness, light, and perfection we grasp our shortcomings. Then we are typically compelled to make a vow of service or obedience knowing how far short we fall. But how long do these vows last? How real are our commitments if they don’t linger much longer than the seconds it took to contemplate them? True worship radically changes us and we realize the gravity of making promises to an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and absolutely holy God. Understanding the bigness of the God we serve and worship should make us hesitant to babble meaningless promises as if He is not offended by our triteness and insincerity.

The overarching thought that comes to mind when I study this passage is “sacred.” Have I lost the sense of the sacredness of God and worshipping Him? Our worship is to be sacred because God is sacred. He is about sacred things. Anything, therefore, we do, inside or outside of formalized worship, is to never be treated as ordinary. In other words, as followers of Jesus we must be acutely aware that we always walk on holy ground, especially when we intend to worship. And, according to wise Solomon, approaching God with behaviors that do not honor Him, words that do not focus on Him, and making meaningless vows before Him does not please Him. For He is a transcendent God who is infinitely worthy of our full focus and endless adoration.

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