Thursday, August 20, 2009

Worship, part 2

I finished worship, part 1 questioning whether or not it is even possible to keep God in his rightful place and keep other things from becoming idols in our lives. As you may have guessed already, the answer is YES, we can do this. However, the method that often times is prescribed seems a bit wanting in my opinion. Often times churches give practical, religious ways to stop habits, stop worrying, and focus more on God. The prescription usually includes prayer, consistent Bible reading, and asking God to help us get over whatever we're worried about or hooked on. I'm certainly not advocating the abandonment of prayer or Bible study, but I think there is something more fundamental than these things that often isn't mentioned. The thing left out is this: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The answer to our idolatry problem (worshiping something else besides God) is not to work harder at Christian practices and white-knuckle our way through it. The answer is to learn, in deeper and deeper ways who Jesus is and how he is the greatest news in the world.

Part of being a worshiper, of being created to worship, is that we are setting our deepest affections on the object of our worship and we are willing to sacrifice many things for it. Another important part of worship (or idolatry) is that we become enslaved to whatever it is we worship. If it's your family, you will be a slave to all your family demands of you, usually feeling that you've never done enough to measure up.

Tim Keller tells a story of two women, each with terrible husbands who didn't father well, and each with one son. He counseled each of them at nearly the same time with the same advice: each needed to forgive their husband, work on loving him, and leave the rest up to God to work on their heart. The woman who seemed less mature in her faith successfully forgave her husband, improving the marriage and slowly seeing improvements of her husband's fathering. The other woman, who seemed more mature, did not forgive her husband. The son became suffocated under the mother's love, the marriage went south (I can't remember if they divorced or not), and the mother was bitter for many years.

Keller reflected years later on the events of these two women and realized one crucial difference between them: the woman who forgave her husband trusted God in such a way that her son was not an idol, yet the other one, the one that he thought would fare better, made an idol out of her son's love and wouldn't forgive her husband. The issue was not just bitterness or parenting, but idolatry on the part of the mother. When a relationships becomes an idol, we become a slave to it in such a way that we MUST have "it" - approval, success, praise/affection, power, control, etc. Every other idol becomes a master as well, though it may manifest itself in different ways.

So, how do we a.) discern idols, and b.) destroy idols? We went through how to discern them briefly in the last post, so I want to focus on destroying them. The deepest answer is that we need our hearts to see and take its greatest joy in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When we recognize Christ as our master (for that is what he is), we will come to see that he is the only master who can forgive us when we fail him and satisfy our heart. Career, romance, family relationships, education, money, sports, leisure, control, you name it - none of those things can forgive us if we fail them. We will know we are guilty of disappointing our master and work harder than ever to make it up and get in good standing. Only Christ gave his own life for us in order to become the Master of our hearts and lives - calling us to deeper trust in him and promising us grace when we fail him. We deserve infinite wrath from God our Creator - we have abandoned him, trusted in created things above him, and set our heart's affection on anything but him.

Yet Christ came, eternal God in human flesh, to reconcile us to himself. And the wild thing is this: only when we come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, when he is our Master, do we become free. Only by setting our heart's deepest affection on him, tearing down any idols that threaten that Lordship and seeing him as all-satisfying, will we find true satisfaction in other things as well. When Christ is Lord in our heart, then career, money, family, education, success, leisure, comforts, will become be subordinate to him. Instead of ruling over us, they will matter properly (these are good things, and should be important) but not so much so that we are consumed and ruled by them.

I know this post is long, but I hope it is a good encouragement for you. You don't need to work harder at stopping bad habits, you need to see and love Jesus Christ above all else. You don't need to work harder at changing your attitudes, you need to look to Christ, belonging to him and being satisfied in him.

Soli Deo Gloria

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