Many things have been written about worship over the ages. Worship is a topic close to the human heart. Every religion that I can think of have rituals or practices that can be described worship, or at least reverence, toward spiritual power beyond our understanding. Much of the Jewish scriptures focus on the correct worship of the creator of all things and how often humanity gets it wrong. I have been studying the topic of worship lately in preparation for preaching on the topic and wanted to share an ancillary thought from my reflections.
The stories we find in the Jewish scriptures about the times when worship go wrong are telling about the human heart. While Moses is away on the mountain communing with God and receiving instruction for God’s people, the very people they are discussing get impatient and desire something tangible to worship. They gather their gold, throw it in a pot, and out comes a golden calf that they begin to worship. It seems that humans have always desired some object of veneration. The ones we create are often to satiate our own desires and help us to feel better about ourselves. John Calvin famously said,
“the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols”
John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion
His quote is thrown around a lot because of how powerfully punchy it is. Calvin, like me, is a man of too many words though so he goes on at length.
“The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labours under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has thus conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth”
A few years ago I ran across a songPlease note this song may have a curse word or two, so if you are offended by that sort of thing, just trust my interpretation of the song by the Seattle based rapper Macklemore. The song had a great hook so it wasn’t long before I was singing along. The essence of this song is a critique of consumerism. Macklemore talks about a phenomenon that I am very unfamiliar with, the obsession with basketball shoes as a status symbol. Macklemore uses this cultural touchpoint to discuss the idea that from an early age we are trained to desire after objects for ourselves. Companies, whose success depends on being desired, go to great lengths to create a cult of “must have” around whatever their product so that people line up on release dates of the new thing. The demand they manufacture allows for them to charge premium prices and increase their market value for their stock holders.
Macklemore’s song reminded me that we are all indoctrinated to be this kind of consumer. I often notice that the mentality of consumerism taints my worship of God. Calvin’s longer explanation of the human heart’s capacity to forge idols is still in play. How many of us enter our worship spaces looking for something that will “move” us. If the music or sermon is not up to snuff, we blame the Church leaders for not giving us a quality experience. I am sickened by my own mind and heart when I notice this quality of my self worship creeping in.
On the outside, I can act as though I am not worshipping with an impure heart. I can point to the fact that Jesus is the object of my worship. I can say that I have made no carved images or painted no pictures which I worship. On the other hand, my heart is busy lifting myself into the most important seat in worship. If I am not satisfied, then it must have been because the worship was not “good.”
The modern day idol in Christian churches is not a graven image, but our consumeristic hearts, which lead us toward selfish motives when we come together in worship. How do we break this proclivity we have been taught by every external force our entire lives? We have to re-train ourselves. Take some time the day before your community’s worship service and then right before that service starts the day of. Use that time to reflect on how much God loves you and the lengths he has gone to show you that love. Reflect on his call for you to love others in the same way he has loved you. Think about two things as your main goals in worship, “How can I better reflect the goodness of God through all I am?” and “How can I love others so they can reflect God in all they are?” With this kind of mentality you will find it hard to criticize the singer who went just a bit too flat on that chorus, or the lack of energy of the preacher that morning, or the kid making noises two rows behind you. Your thoughts will not be about your “experience” but about God and those around you.
Have you noticed yourself being consumeristic during worship? Have a story you want to share to add to the discussion? Comment below.