The book of Ecclesiastes is hardly regarded as a liturgical guide for corporate worship in the local church, but the Holy Spirit has given us this book to teach, correct, and exhort God’s people. I encourage you to read these verses slowly and feel the weight they seek to instill.
 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.  Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.  For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words. (ESV)
The concern of the “Preacher” in Ecclesiastes is that we have a proper view of who God is, and that this truth would directly affect the ways in which we endeavor to worship Him.
Reverence in Worship
The overwhelming theme of these verses, and the book of Ecclesiastes, is to have an appropriate fear of God. This doesn’t mean that we cower in the corner, trembling at the thought of God when we gather with other followers of Jesus. What it does mean is that we are to have an appropriate understanding of who we are in light of who God is – and this is to inform how we approach worship.
In verse two, the foundation for this comes from the simple phrase “for God is in heaven and you are on earth.” This phrase is nestled in the cautious approach we are to have before God and this is the stated reason. What does this mean?
This means that God is holy. Not only is God pure and perfect in righteousness – as we often view holiness – but he is also transcendent or other-worldly. There may be no other passage of Scripture that paints us a more terrifyingly beautiful picture of this than Isaiah 6:
 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.  And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (ESV)
As the angels worship before the throne of God, they aren’t singing hit songs – regardless of how beautifully they are written or how skillfully they can be performed. They are focused on the character of God. As Isaiah watches all of this unfold, the glory of the Lord is so overwhelming that he is brought to tears and confession. Ecclesiastes and Isaiah point our worship, not to the aesthetics around us or the emotions within us, but to the God who is above us.
Joy in Worship
Maybe this seems too puritanical and outdated for some. Understandably so. Focusing on the holiness and righteousness of God doesn’t often draw huge crowds. It doesn’t jive with our constant desire to feel good about ourselves and always be happy. I would argue that the two ideas – joy and fear – are not mutually exclusive, though.
As Psalm 24 asks us the question “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord, and who can stand in His holy place?” We all know the answer to the question. No one can. Not a single person in the 6+ billion population of this earth could stand before God on his/her own merit. However, because of Jesus, we are now qualified.
There should be great joy because we are made participants and heirs of the Kingdom of this holy God. Does that not bring you joy?! We should have a rightful fear of the holiness of God but joy to approach Him with confidence and assurance because Christ has suffered on our behalf, risen victoriously from death, and breathes new life into all who call on his name.
Why does all of this matter? I grow concerned when I learn of local churches opening their times together with performances (I chose that word carefully) of “Come Alive” from The Greatest Showman. Does this fit the scope of “hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs?” I’ll let you decide that for yourself. But I also ask that you consider the words of Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, commenting on Ecclesiastes 5:1-3:
“Instead of awe, church leaders turn to gimmick and entertainment to gain new consumers.”
Are people leaving the local worship gathering in awe of the performance and musical ability of those on the platform? Is the invitation to next week’s gathering centered around “We can’t wait to see what they’ll do next!” Brothers and sisters, may we be a people whose words are few, who guard our steps, and acknowledge that God is in heaven and we are not.
My prayer is that people would leave the local church gathering in awe of God’s holiness and mercy, not our skills or the beauty of our buildings. Our task is not to fill the seats with as many people as possible, but to reflect the glory of God so that the nations might believe and worship Him. By God’s grace may we strive to be faithful, not flashy.