A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about worship and how we must maintain awareness of what we are worshiping, what our intentions are, and take action to repent when we realize either are skewed. Today I want to take another look at the topic of worship/idolatry and give you something more to consider when it comes to who/what you are worshiping. Everything I talk about is something I’ve dealt with personally or am currently dealing with. I want to be extra clear with this one that I am so far from perfecting this (if you’re looking for a good example, check out Jesus). But it’s important and worth working through alongside others. Let’s take a look at the Hierarchy of Worship.
A hierarchy is a series of ranks organized by their importance. They are usually displayed as a pyramid to represent fewer roles needed to be filled toward the top and more at the bottom. You may have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The bottom of the hierarchy is the basic physical needs of a person. The pyramid goes up until it gets to “self-transcendence”. The idea of this hierarchy is that the only way to begin working towards your desired level of fulfillment is to fulfill each level below first, starting at the bottom. I think humans tend to enjoy organization and visuals like this and we make hierarchies out of a lot of things. Consider people who map out “life plans”. They usually have their one major goal in life and a bunch of steps they have to achieve first and maintain in order to get there.
I want you to think about how we do this with worship (using the definition of worship being all we do. See my last post on worship for more info on that). There’s a couple different ways this can look. The first is having to get all our physical needs and/or desires met before being able to focus on God. The second way is having to get all our designated religious duties met before being able to focus on God. Let’s look a little deeper into these two.
Physical Needs, Then God.
This one is essentially Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with a different end goal. With this one, people have this idea that they need to be comfortable before being able to worship God. Through this they end up worshiping provision rather than the provider. They can’t worship until they feel safe. While I understand this take, I would challenge it by asking what it is that makes them feel safe? Food, water, and shelter may be comforting, but they are not our protection or providers. God is the only one who can accomplish those things. Relationship and community may bring happiness, but we will inevitably be let down putting our faith in man. God is the only one who will ever fulfill our needs and remain entirely faithful. These things all make life easier, but they are not safety nets. All of these things can crumble in a moment. God cannot and will not crumble. Our safety and comfort is ultimately in Him. If you find yourself in this place of wanting to feel safe before being able to worship, consider why you don’t feel safe knowing God is holding you in His hands.
Religious Duties, Then God.
The next one, and one of my favorite topics, is a bit different. It even has this guise of worshiping God alone. While I’ve certainly dealt with the previous example, I find myself struggling with this one much more often. While physical needs coming first stems from an idea of “safety then worship”, this one stems from an idea of “perfection then participation” You may have heard that second phrase floating around recently! I’m not sure who originated that term, but I think it has some great application in a lot of areas. Specifically, this one. “Perfection then participation” is dangerous because it shifts our attention from giving God the glory and recognizing His redemptive power and puts it on finding how we can make ourselves worthy. We then find ourselves no longer worshiping God and instead worshiping our morning bible studies, daily prayers, the number of church meetings we attend, or our volunteer hours. In short, we are worshiping ourselves and our deeds. They don’t deserve worship.
It can also sound like shame. Shame that you still don’t do enough to be worthy of God and thus cannot worship Him. The hard part about beating this lie is this bit of truth in it: We could never have done enough to be worthy of the love and mercy God gives us. The blatant lie is that we are not worthy and so we can’t worship Him. Remember the whole reason that you are able to know God is because Jesus died to make you worthy (Romans 3:21-26)! God sent His son because He knew we were flawed, sinful beings, and He wanted to make a way for us to live in eternal communion with Him. A communion that He said can start now through the Spirit He sent to us.
I want to be so incredibly clear that none of those actions I mentioned are bad. Intentionally making time for them is not bad. They are all very good, beneficial, even necessary things for us when our intent is in check, we are aware of that intent, and we act in repentance when we get off-course (once again, check out the last blog post).
At this point, you may be waiting for me to give you the ideal hierarchy, but there isn’t one. Ultimately, there is a conflict that comes up with the idea of a Hierarchy of Worship and the Christian faith. It is that it requires there to always be more than one thing present.
Even if God is first (and maybe last, or thrown in the middle as well), our attention and love is divided. No matter the order that you put things. Perhaps I am too bold, but I firmly believe making God the only one worshiped is our goal, not merely putting Him first (Matt. 22:37, Luke 14:25-33).
There’s a second conflict here with our flesh now. Making God the only one worshiped and the purpose of all we do goes directly against the self-centered, self-worshiping desires of the flesh. You have to choose the Spirit or the flesh, and there is a cost either way. You have to decide which is more worth it to you. You choose God and take on stewardship rather than ownership of your life. You trust His will, love Him fully, follow His commands, and you begin your eternal life with His Spirit and perfect joy even now. You have to be willing to give up your own desires for His. You choose contentment. You choose the flesh and you choose a life of self-gain and striving for something that cannot fulfill you. You take life into your own hands (something none of us are capable of), and you are bound for hurt. I tell you from experience that the “cost” of surrendering your own life and desires to God is exponentially better than the cost of being left unfulfilled and eternally separated from Him.
To begin wrapping up, I’m going to give you a few passages of scripture to consider. Each deals with idolatry and putting our trust in God rather than man. Please take the time to read them.
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men’s hands.
They have mouths, but they do not speak;
Eyes they have, but they do not see;
They have ears, but they do not hear;
Noses they have, but they do not smell;
They have hands, but they do not handle;
Feet they have, but they do not walk;
Nor do they mutter through their throat.
Those who make them are like them;
So is everyone who trusts in them.
Note: The phrase “what you see is what you get” takes on a new meaning here. Not only are the idols of men as lifeless, loveless, and inactive as they seem, those who look to and worship them become the same way. What you worship will make a home in your heart, and what is in the heart is what comes from your mouth (Matt 15:7-11). If you begin worshiping anything other than the one true, living God, you will inevitably become as lifeless as the object of your affection.
Jeremiah 10:2-16 – This one is a tad longer, but don’t time out! Each line is intentional and worth reading.
Thus says the Lord:
“Do not learn the way of the Gentiles;
Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven,
For the Gentiles are dismayed at them.
For the customs of the peoples are futile;
For one cuts a tree from the forest,
The work of the hands of the workman, with the ax.
They decorate it with silver and gold;
They fasten it with nails and hammers
So that it will not topple.
They are upright, like a palm tree,
And they cannot speak;
They must be carried,
Because they cannot go by themselves.
Do not be afraid of them,
For they cannot do evil,
Nor can they do any good.”
Inasmuch as there is none like You, O Lord
(You are great, and Your name is great in might),
Who would not fear You, O King of the nations?
For this is Your rightful due.
For among all the wise men of the nations,
And in all their kingdoms,
There is none like You.
But they are altogether dull-hearted and foolish;
A wooden idol is a worthless doctrine.
Silver is beaten into plates;
It is brought from Tarshish,
And gold from Uphaz,
The work of the craftsman
And of the hands of the metalsmith;
Blue and purple are their clothing;
They are all the work of skillful men.
But the Lord is the true God;
He is the living God and the everlasting King.
At His wrath the earth will tremble,
And the nations will not be able to endure His indignation.
Thus you shall say to them: “The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens.”
He has made the earth by His power,
He has established the world by His wisdom,
And has stretched out the heavens at His discretion.
When He utters His voice,
There is a multitude of waters in the heavens:
“And He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
He brings the wind out of His treasuries.”
Everyone is dull-hearted, without knowledge;
Every metalsmith is put to shame by an image;
For his molded image is falsehood,
And there is no breath in them.
They are futile, a work of errors;
In the time of their punishment they shall perish.
The Portion of Jacob is not like them,
For He is the Maker of all things,
And Israel is the tribe of His inheritance;
The Lord of hosts is His name.
Note: I hope you read all that. Not only does this passage reinforce what we read in Psalm 115 about idols being lifeless, worthless falsehoods, but it tells us how our God is the complete opposite. Not only is He full of life, He created it. Not only does he put to shame those who worship false Gods, He raises His own people in glory.
Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.
“The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings.
Note: Something I want to point out here is that we are considered “man” and trusting in ourselves for provision is just as dangerous as trusting in other people for it. Yes, community and responsibility are good, but our trust cannot be put in those things because it will lead to our destruction. Our trust must be in God, who can certainly use those things but is by no means limited to them. Additionally, trusting in ourselves to make us worthy of our salvation is foolishness. We are not capable in any sense of making ourselves righteous and the attempt to simply disregards Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to give us the way to salvation. Instead we have to keep our eyes on Jesus and pray for awareness of our own heart (which we see in this passage can be very deceitful, so we pray for wisdom).
Do you see how incredible God is and how worthy He is of our total, undivided devotion? When committed to God there is no room for fear because we are safe and loved. There is no room for pride or shame because He is the one who has made us whole. There is no room for other gods or idols because He alone is worthy. We see that when we take the time to learn who He is and how it is only by Him that we are sufficient and can have peace that our needs will be met (2 Cor. 3:4-7, Matt. 6:25-34).
Above all, I want you to remember that when committed to a life lived for Christ, there is no room to worship anything else. Not physical needs, not relationships, not religious duties. Only God. We cannot continue to create hierarchies or some numbered list of what we worship and love. While it sounds paradoxical, when we worship and love God alone, all other commands of respect and love (different from worship) for others become second nature as they overflow from that love of God. We see and regard people as God does. With that, we remember that we are to give God the only place in our hearts (Matt. 22:37, Luke 14:25-33). This is not an easy thing to learn and is an act of constant surrender and repentance. Do not grow weary, though. Your reward is worth it.
Thank you for reading! I hope this challenges you as much as it has me. While it is not an easy thing to give up all you have and perhaps identify yourself with, it is so much sweeter to place the entirety of your identity in Christ. This is something I am still working through myself, but I see the fruit of it more and more each day. If you have any questions, comments, encouragement, or just want to talk through your own experiences feel free to comment or message me personally by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on Instagram (@gabrielle____r)! Abide in Him. May He bless you and keep you. Have a wonderful week!