So these nations feared the LORD and also served their carved images. (2 Kings 17:41a ESV)
What is our greatest hindrance in worshipping God? We could come up with a number of potential answers.
“Our worship leader isn’t very experienced.”
“The services are too planned/spontaneous.”
“The songs are too complex/simple.”
“The band/orchestra/organist/guitarist sounds bad.”
“There are too many new/old songs.”
“Our church is too big/small.”
Ignoring for a moment that all these statements refer to a meeting context, they reveal a profound misconception about the hindrances to true worship. Contrary to what we might think, our greatest problem doesn’t lie outside us, but within our own hearts. It’s the problem of idolatry.
The passage above from 2 Kings describes a situation that existed when Samaria was resettled by the king of Assyria. It’s a situation which can potentially exist in our church services today. We can fear the Lord externally, engaging in what we perceive to be all the proper elements of worship – singing, giving, praying, kneeling, listening to God’s Word, etc. – and be actively serving false gods in our hearts. God makes it clear in Exodus 20 that he will not tolerate any competition for the allegiance and affections of our hearts. “You shall have no other gods before me.” That succinctly describes idolatry.
When someone mentions idolatry, we can picture some tribesman in New Guinea bowing down to statues of wood or metal, and think, “Thank God I don’t struggle with THAT.” Idols, however, are far more pervasive, insidious, and deceptive. Idolatry is attributing ultimate value, authority, or supremacy to any object other than God.
We foolishly think idols can provide for us what only God can give. They tempt us every day, all day. It’s not surprising, then, that even my ten year old daughter, Mckenzie, deals with idols. One of her primary idols is “not taking showers.” Otherwise known as the idols of control and pleasure. She confessed to Julie and me today that for the past three days she’s only been pretending to take a shower. (For some reason, most ten-year-olds find taking showers as appealing as scratching a chalk board for ten minutes.) After working through a tearful confession with my wife, and learning of her discipline (no playing with friends for three days), we talked about her heart. I explained to her that not taking a shower was an idol for her. She thought that remaining dirty would bring her happiness. Instead it led to deceiving those she loves the most and dishonoring the God Who created her for His glory. And it definitely didn’t deliver on the happiness promise. Ultimately, idols never do.
Over the next few days I’ll be sharing thoughts on some of the more prevalent idols we deal with as we gather to worship our Savior each Sunday morning.
Read part 2 of Idolatry on Sunday Mornings
For more on this topic, you can watch this video:
The Idol Factory by C.J. Mahaney
Welcome to the world of blogging! It is a very fun experience, though sometimes it can seem as mere work. Thank you for your wisdom and insight into this area. It is indeed our tendency to blame our less-than-successful “worship experiences” on something in the context of the church meeting. This is the same mentality that permeates the thinking of “church-hoppers”: “the message didn’t feed me,” “he preaches on the same thing everweek,” “the air conditioning is too cold,” etc. However, the hindrance is not external to us, but lies deep in our hearts. Prone to wander, we are.
On another note, I would like to personally thank you as a representative of Sovereign Grace Ministries. I live in New Orleans, LA, and am a member of Lakeview Christian Center. Our relationship with you guys has been such a benefit at these times, and it is such a joy to experience the Church when it is acting like the Church. Thank you.
Soli Deo Gloria!
I want to echo Evan’s thanks – you are a gift to SGM and the greater body of Christ.
I especially appreciated your blog today because of its incorporation of a very salient Old Testament object lesson on worship. Thank you for bringing the whole counsel of God to bear on the often contentious and infinitely important subject of worship.
CrossWay Community Church
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
I have been receiving your Worship Matters emails from CrossWalk for some time now and I really appreciate your level headed approach to the issue of worship. When some are still serving the idol of “only hymns” and others the idol of “no hymns” you have brought a wonderful balance between the two and have shown how both hymns and modern choruses are important to worship as long as God remains the focus.
It is amazing how different children are. I can see that in my own two. I have a daughter of 10 and a son of 8. However, the one area we don’t have a problem with either of them is that of taking a shower of bath. They both just love this time. On the other hand, they both dislike vegetables. Unfortunately, there are vegetables in our meals almost every day. So, they are having a hard time.
I have spoken to them before about idols not so long ago, how parents can make their children into idols, or work, cars, etc. But, I think this idea of yours is worth exploring with my children. Not wanting to eat being an idol. That is excellent!
Have a great day!
I respect what you have written, but on this issue of your daughter not taking showers being an idol- there’s something I’m missing. Could you please explain further as to why you say that this is an idol because I do not want to misunderstand the issue? Couldn’t you simply attribute it to rebelling or lying, but why an idol?
Dear Confused (Erin),
Thanks for asking me to clarify my comments about idolatry in the life of my ten year old. I can understand why you’d have a question.
You’re absolutely right that what she did was lying, laziness, and disobedience. In fact, we talked about those with her as well, and reminded her of the Gospel that paid for all her sins.
But at the root, every sin is choosing to pursue and obey something other than God. That’s idolatry.
In the Old Testament God repeatedly addressed the issue of idolatry. In the New Testament, while idols are still mentioned, God speaks to us more often about sinful desires (Rom. 6:12; Gal. 5:24; Eph. 4:22; 1 Pet. 2:11). All our sinful desires are rooted in the pursuit of other gods. As R.C. Sproul says in The Holiness of God, “The slightest sin is an act of defiance against cosmic authority.” (p. 111) It’s helpful to realize that every sin we commit challenges God’s absolute claim to our worship. Even not taking a shower when your parents have told you to.
For more information on idolatry and its effects I’d recommend Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Idols of the Heart and The Idol Factory, three messages by C.J. Mahaney.
Thanks so much for your thoughts on idolatry in worship. I cannot tell you how much that truly hits home. I am young and I have to say that when you talk about ascribing ultimate value to something other than God, something in my stomach churns. In my limited experience of life, I have been told that various things were great and I began to ascribe a certain level of value to them. I still ascribe value to things, but whether I can say that it is more than the value I ascribe to God, I cannot give a definite answer.
When it comes to taking these other areas in which we hold great value to the worship service, there is a question that always lingers. Am I worshipping God on Sunday and desiring the other things of importance in my life more than God? Or, am I trying to worship God so that He’ll give me the things I desire in this life? Thanks, Bob for presenting this information that sparked such self-examination. I appreciate your words.
One great thing I have learned from Ray Comfort is the proper use of the Ten Commandments, particularly in evangelism (yeah, that one shocked me too) but also in our everyday life to demonstrate to us our need for a savior. We are righteous in our own eyes until we have been broken by God’s holy Law: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Ooh that stings when we discover what the ‘other gods’ really are: control and pleasure, the worship experience itself, food, sex — any gift from God that is NOT God.
The Law of God confronts us with our need for a savior like nothing else can.
“The first duty of the Gospel preacher is to declare God’s Law and show the nature of sin.” — Martin Luther
“Ignorance of the nature and design of the Law is at the bottom of most religious mistakes.” — John Newton, who wrote “Amazing Grace”
“I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the Law.” — Charles Spurgeon
Check out Ray’s sermon “Hell’s Best Kept Secret,” it really rocked my world. Mostly Biblically accurate, though he proof texts a bit.
It’s so true that our idolatry runs into our time with God on Sunday mornings. Not only do we throughout the week let our focus go elsewehere, our authority become something other than God himself, but at church on Sunday it’s almost funny, sad actually, that we try to blame it on other “things” other “people” for reasons why we are distracted in the service. It truly comes down to our own heart, what it is pursuing, and facing our own idolatry. I’m looking forward to reading the parts 2 and 3 after I post this…thank you though for you thoughts, challenges, and reminders.
I think that there are very many distractions, or “idols” that can get in the way of corporate worship services. The intent of worship has to be in the person’s heart when they go to a worship service. We have to put away our worries and distractions, giving them up to God, which can in a way be a form of worship. We recognize God’s ability to take our distractions away and worship Him only.
Thank you for your comments. Sometimes it is so easy for us to forget the strongholds that Satan has on us in this world. It is weird to think that we can make anything an idol, even not taking showers. It’s crazy to see the process of how a simple act can turn into a struggle for us. Just like your daughter, we start dishonoring God and have idols that we never believe we could have. I never really thought about a shower becoming an idol before, but after contemplating it, like I said before…anything can become an idol if we let it. My friend is reading Signature of Jesus by Brennan Manning and she shared with me a little bit from it on page 112, “Do you hunger for Jesus Christ?…To discern where you really are with the Lord, recall what saddened you the past week. Did you get depressed over lack of recognition, criticism from an authority figure, finances, lack of friends, fears about the future, your bulging waistline? What has gladdened you the past week? The joy of slowly praying, “Abba, Father”? Or were the sources of your joy a new car, a Brooks Brothers suit, a movie and a pizza, a trip to Paris or Peoria? Are you worshipping idols?” After reading your article, this excerpt came to mind. It reminds me that no matter who you are, no matter young or old, you have to keep your eyes set on Jesus or something so easy as showers can slip into something that is distracting to us. Going back to Sunday morning worship, I will have to agree with you that we hinder ourselves. It does rely upon our own hearts and how we have hungered for Jesus that week. Thank you for your words and causing me to think!
I see Idolatry as a problem not only on Sunday mornings, but a daily problem. Anytime, that we are finding our worth and value in something else we are forming an idol. This can be many things from appearance, success, power, money, relationships, possessions, etc. the list could go on…we all know that. I find myself too many times putting up idols, and before I know it I view my self as less because I am seeing worth in an idol, and not in the living and timeless God. How silly we are sometimes…how silly I am sometimes.
I agree with what you said to Erin. That sin comes out of us pursuing something else. That is so true even if it is ourselves that we are making into an idol.
Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comment, but just wanted to say that while the Brennan Manning quote is right on, I wouldn’t recommend his writings on the whole. Some of his views on the Gospel, the church, and prayer are poorly worded at best, harmful and unbiblical at worst.
We foolishly think idols can provide for us what only God can give.
What truth is in that above statement. I often find myself whether on Sundays or not, following in the footsteps of unbelievers by idolzing things other than God. Whether it be money, clothes, food, etc. I sometimes try to make a fix for God and provide something in replace of Him. We sometimes base our value and worth on such things when really our worth comes from God and Him only. We are foolish in believing such things and it really does start here (with yourself). I know that I’m guilty of these things throughout my entire day. If I focused more on God and not so much on earthly and material things, than Idolatry would be more irrelevant than so.
Wow! I guess I never really thought of something like this before today! How easy it is for me to get into the mindset of idolling something that I shouldn’t. There are so many things that distract me from doing what I know is right. As a human, its easy to get in that idolizing mindset and easy to deny it, but as a Christian, and after reading this article, I am finding myself stepping back and evaluating if I am idolizing something that I should not be doing, which I know i am. Now the real challenge is fixing it and breaking myself of the habit!
Thanks so much for your insight!
I think the greater idols (eidolon) we can end up getting caught up with, are the conceptual idols we have, in our ideas (eidos) of the God we say we are worshipping. In the emergence of YHWH worship, the competitive God (ergo, the jealous God) dissappears, and El slips into the early history of the people of Judah/Israel. This new YHWH demands something different than worship, and rituals, and sacrifices. This YHWH is continually reminding the people, through the voice of the prophets, that he is sick of the incense and the rituals…the worship songs, and zealous prayers…what he wants is for his people to be hospitable to the stranger in their land, to be the voice for the oppressed, to look after the widows and orphans.
The tendency is for humanity to find comfort and security in the rituals, which do more for us than they do for God. It often becomes idolatry…worshiping our own ideas of who we think God is…the God who holds the ocean in the palms of his hand…who defies our human attempts to define him. The act of idolatry therefore happens long before the act of song-singing and praying…but gets carried into it.
Also, I think that children seek control generally, by rebelling against the authority of their parents (who essentially control nearly everything they do). The more controlling the parents, the more the child will rebel…and so, having some discussion with a child about idolatry and lying, sounds a little extreme.
Suffer the little children who do not shower…for it won’t kill them. More damage could be done with anti-idolatry polemics to little children, than acknowledging the controlling situation the child is rebelling against.
Unless we become like a child (who may or maynot shower) you will not taste the kingdom.
faith, hope and love
This makes a lot of sense to me, the more i think about it the more that i wonder what i truly worship. Many people struggle with the big idol of money, and i know i do really bad. There are so many little things that people do not understand is idolatry and i wish there was an easy way to point it out, or see that we are doing it.
i am glad that this was brought up and talked about, because there are so many people that need to hear this, and think much like i did and need to everyday. We need to figure out what we are worshipping and give those things to God, and worship God, and rely on him to give us those other things.
Bob. Have you preached on a radio program on this subject before? I heard you a couple of weeks ago, a month or two probably. If I remember, there was an illustration of an African minister who was amazed by the idolatry around theater systems where American household look forward to congregating everyday. Also the presence of food everywhere…anyway, let me know if it was you that I was listening to and I would like to get that audio cassette
Thanks for stopping by. I’ve done some radio interviews, but never mentioned an African minister referencing idolatry around theater systems and the abundance of food in America. But it’s something worth pondering.
Clearly, anything or anyone that could separate our love from God is an idolatry.
Thank you for sharing these insights and elaborating it more in this post.
Fun to learn new things especially about Worship and God
Such a needed discussion on worship leadership. I am stunned that some could disagree with this premise, but it’s true. Anything that is not God, can replace God in our affection. When that takes place, we have become idolators. I mentioned this idea in a book I wrote…glad to see others wrestling with the same idea.