On a dark, overcast summer day, hundreds of people venture to an ancient building fossilizing history and religion. Filing in, this sea of faces has come to see one thing. The pinnacle of their pilgrimage lies in a dark, incense-washed, wooden sanctuary. There, a stone carving of a deity receives offerings of food, prayers, and travelers’ admiration.
As crowds bow the knee to this idol, this cold, lifeless scene leaves the observer with a gut-turning commiseration of pity and hopelessness. But in some ways, this scene describes us all.
Psalm 115:2-8 reads,
“Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.
1. What is Worship?
Through our modern evangelical glasses, “worship” evokes a myriad of ideas. This is not referring to a skinny guy with rolled up jeans and black-rimmed glasses strumming a guitar. Yes, a church gathers for congregational worship through music on Sunday mornings, but the word worship means much more. It appears throughout the Scriptures. We are told to worship God (1 Chronicles 16:23-31, Psalm 29), and that somehow living faithful lives is a spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1). So, what more is there to worshiping than just singing?
Worship is using the heart to reflect God’s character. At every point in our human experience, our hearts function cognitively (knowing), volitionally (choosing), and affectionately (feeling). When these functions of the heart resemble God’s “heart,” that is worship. Our hearts are made to worship something because we humans are not just thinkers, or feelers. We’re lovers. People are driven by their desires — what they hunger for. We wake up every day and pursue an envisioned “Good Life.” Consequently, the direction of our love will be the direction of our worship. And the Bible is clear that we’re either worshiping God or something else (Matthew 6:24, Romans 1:25). The deep, character-revealing essence of who we are is made visible through what we worship.
2. We Look Like Our Liturgy
It is possible to think of worship abstractly and think that it is a segregated part of our lives. But I want to smash that idea. We all worship because we want to worship. It is our shared human condition as lovers to be devoted to something. Think of the idols all around us: self, money, sex, status, power, and this list stretches on and on. Idols are painfully pervasive in and around us. Our hearts are always functioning to believe, choose, and feel our way through life. The human condition is one of worship (see Romans 1:18-32). To be human is to worship.
As we humans live lives worshiping, something visibly begins to happen. Jesus says that the Jewish religious leaders of his day are of their father the devil (John 8:44). He means that by acting wickedly, they are following in the pattern of the Serpent. They look like their choices — selfish, sneaky, snakes. As usual, Jesus is getting at something really deep. What appealed to the Pharisees the most (status, reputation, influence) was evident through their worship, their liturgy.
Those who make them become like them.
We are compelled by what we think is the greatest good. As Christians seeking to grow in Christ-likeness, we need to remember that God is the holiest, purest, most gloriously supreme One over all things. Our sanctification means that we, more and more, believe and live like God is really who he is — the most beautiful thing ever. When God is more and more beautiful to us, we are compelled to live in obedience to him. Pondering his character, promises, and actions gives our hearts plenty of material for praise.
God is restoring us, turning our cold lifeless hearts — fixed on serving cold lifeless gods — into real, living hearts that now resemble him: the real, living God.
Jeremy Pierre, The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to the Human Experience (New Growth Press: Greensboro, NC, 2016), 61-68.
James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2009), 46-52.
Greg Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (InterVarsity Press: Westmont, IL, 2008).