In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, God gives His people a message about their sin and disobedience in worship. He says in chapter 1, verse 7 that the people are "presenting defiled food upon [His] altar." He then suggests in verses 8 and 9 that they would not cut corners like this with their respected human leaders.
The sin that had crept its way into the hearts of the people is manifesting itself through laziness. Their affections were not kindled for God, so their expressions of love for Him were lacking. This is different than the blatant sin of outwardly worshiping a false god or denouncing the faith. What was happening with the Israelites in Malachi was complacency as they nestled into the comfort and convenience of easy "worship." God had given His people instructions on how to worship Him and what was to be brought before Him, but those who lacked love for God began to bring lesser offerings.
The people were going through the motions of worship but not bringing their best. The priests were condoning this laziness and only propagating the idea that easy, lazy motions were enough to please God while the affections of the heart remained cold towards Him.
The Lord has much to say to the people about their sin in Malachi. He condemns their disobedience and laziness and convicts the priests, too, because they were to be protectors of truth and anchors of proper instruction for the people and their acts of worship.
We can learn a very valuable lesson from this opening chapter of Malachi. Our expressions of "worship" might come in different forms than they did in Malachi's day, but we still struggle with the same sins of laziness and convenience. It is crucial that we be vigilant in examining our acts of worship.
How easy is it for us sing the songs, clap our hands, and nod "yes" to what the preacher says while our hearts remain far from God? How easy is it to simply show up at church events as if our presence alone pleases Him?
Where do we cut corners and stop bringing our best before Him out of love and respect? When we prioritize our weeks, what gets cut first due to busy-ness? Is it time with God?
At the end of the day, we need to be aware of what we start giving when we stop caring. This should be a sign to us that our hearts are not in the right place. We need to understand that our minimum efforts are not pleasing to our Heavenly Father. However, we also need to know that the other end of the spectrum is thinking that offering our best will please God even if our hearts are not in it. We see this in 1 Samuel 15:22
"Samuel said, 'Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.'
So, while God deserves and desires our best, what He desires most of all is the devotion of our hearts. We shouldn't assume that if we just ramp up our giving and put more effort into our worship that we're making up for a heart that has turned away from God.
What we give to Him should be a proper reflection of our heart. In Malachi, we see where the hearts of the people are by looking at their defective sacrifices. May the overflow of our hearts produce acts and gifts that honor our great God!