In many religions in the world, the acts of worship that are performed are ceremony or ritual. And in those religions, the performance of the ritual itself is the significant point. A person might be sprinkled with sacred water, drink of a ceremonial wine, eat of a ceremonial meal, or speak certain ritualistic words, and, when they do such things, the performance of the religious action is assumed to be what is important. But this has never been the case with biblical faith whether true Old Testament Judaism or Christianity.
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.
Note the opposing parallel statements in this proverb. God is deeply offended by the sacrifice of the wicked. God welcomes the prayer of the upright. What is the difference? In both lines, a person participates in religious ritual. One makes an offering. One says a prayer. And the differentiation between acceptable and abominable is the heart and life of the one performing the religious act.
Take something simple today, perhaps the singing of a song as an act of worship. What pleases God? Is God pleased when a person with a great voice sings a great song that she actually does not mean? Or is God more pleased when a person who lacks in talent sings a song of truth with deep sincerity? It is the sincere-hearted, faithful believer who pleases the Lord.
Or, go further. Both a genuine Christian and a person who does not know the Lord can participate in religious ceremonies like baptism or Lord’s Supper. A lost person can convince church leaders that he should be allowed to join in the ceremony. But God’s word is clear that such participation is an abomination to God. The Lord is not pleased with the religious ceremonial acts of an unconverted person, one who opposes the Lord in his heart.
Christians, we should not allow this to make us assume that ceremony does not matter. Nor should we let ourselves think that any religious action we come up with will please God if we are simply sincere. We need to worship the Lord in accord with his commands. And the Lord has commanded formal and informal acts of worship. But as we obey those commands, we should also recognize that the worship that pleases the Lord is worship from a sincere, forgiven believer who comes to the Lord with a genuine heart.