We Become Like What We Worship
By Don Williams, Ph.D.
Jan 20, 2005, 13:57
Worship money, become a greedy person. Worship sex, become a lustful person.
Worship power, become a corrupt person. Worship Jesus, become a Christ-like
person. We become like what we worship. But what does it mean to worship?
The verb “worship” in Hebrew means to surrender, to fall down
in submission – the way we would humble ourselves before a mighty king.
(Psalm 95:6) Paul says that worship is the offering of our bodies as a sacrifice
(Romans 12:1). This worship goes on in all of our lives. While we may fail
to understand it, worship is the spiritual part of our surrender, submission
and attachment to many things. The worship of money or sex or power or people
results in addictive and compulsive behaviors. The staggering truth is that
we are all lured into worshipping something or someone other than the living
God. This is idolatry, pure and simple. It steals our humanity and addicts
us. So, if we are really to be free from idolatry, we must understand addiction.
Addiction happens when we attach our desire to alcohol or street drugs or sex
or gambling or making money or a person who controls us, or whatever. As
that attachment grows, it consumes us. Little by little, we become captive
to the very things that give us pleasure and meaning. Dr. Gerald May says, “We
are all addicts in every sense of the word.” If this is true, we are
also all idolaters in every sense of the word. You say, “Not me, Don.” But
remember denial is the first symptom of addiction.
We are set up for addictions because we are wired to seek pleasure and avoid
pain. The pleasure never fully satisfies us, however, and we need more and
more of it to get the same result. If a beer releases us from inhibition, soon,
one will no longer do. Our bodies reach a tolerance for the alcoholic content.
Now we need two beers to get the same effect, then three, then a keg. Also,
most of us, running from our pain, seek to medicate it. A relationship blows
up. Rather than experiencing the loss, grieving, and going through the loneliness
which follows, we will often “rebound” into another relationship – even
if it is unhealthy. This fills the emptiness inside, at least for the moment.
Again, relationships easily become addictive; we feel that we can’t live
Psychologist John Bradshaw says that most of us come from “dysfunctional
families,” families that don’t work in an open, healthy way. We
were often abused as children, either sexually, physically or verbally. We
live with a lot of repressed pain as a result. [“Men don’t cry,” remember?]
Bradshaw calls this “the hole in the soul.” We will stuff anything
into it in order to fill it up. It is a magnet for addictions. But it only
grows larger –nothing satisfies.
If idolatry is the issue and addiction the result, how can we understand it?
The three C’s provide a handle. Addiction starts with craving. It leads
to control loss and the result is continuing use. We build, say, a dependency
on nicotine. When we need a fix, to relax or lift our mood, the craving sets
in. The more we use, the more we want (and need). We are now out of control,
on our way to chain smoking. Once addicted we are in the continual use pattern.
When this becomes an obsession, it becomes an idol.
What are some of the things to which we become addicted, and, therefore, worship?
First, substances: alcohol, caffeine, street drugs, prescription drugs, nicotine,
sugar, and foods. Second, processes: gambling, sex (pornography, masturbation,
affairs), exercise (endorphins), work (the next sale, the next deal). Third,
people – relationships. The technical term for this is “codependency.” As
the alcoholic is addicted to alcohol, so the codependent is addicted to people.
Judith MacNutt jokes that as a codependent person is dying, someone else’s
life passes before him.
What then are the roots of addiction? There are several, as we have suggested
above. But the root is spiritual; it is idolatry. Whatever the objects of our
addiction are, they become idols in our lives. We become preoccupied with them,
crave them, serve them. As we have seen, worshiping them is the spiritual side
of addiction. The Bible teaches that we not only dishonor God with our idols,
but we also lose our true humanity. Psalm 115:4-8: “…their idols
are silver and gold, made by the hands of men…. Those who make them
will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”; Jeremiah 2:5b: “They
followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”
In New Tasks for a Renewed Church, Tom Wright analyses idolatry.
First, idols are all a perversion of the good. For example, sex is good, under
God’s design and plan. As an idol, it is degraded, and enslaves us. Second,
idols enhance us. When we worship them, we feel “ten feet tall.” Cocaine
takes away our inhibitions. Under its influence we become sexy, funny, and
aggressive – we feel confident and become the “life of the party.” Third,
idols demand sacrifice. Every addict knows what she or he has sacrificed to
the idol of alcohol or drugs - time, energy, money, integrity, and even other
people. Fourth, we create an ideology to justify our idols. Sexual obsession
becomes the “sexual revolution,” the conquest of damaging, Victorian
repression. Drug addiction becomes altered, spiritual consciousness or my freedom
to find pleasure as the goal of life. Fifth, idols enslave us. They demand
our lives. No wonder Paul teaches that behind the dumb idols lurk demons. (I
Corinthians 10:19-20) They want to hold us in the kingdom of darkness.
The Bible carries on a continual battle with idolatry. The first commandment
is: You shall have no other gods before me. The second is: No idols or graven
images. (Exodus 20:3-4) God alone is worthy of our worship. In this, he gives
us back our true selves.
If we become what we worship, the road out of idolatry is to renounce our
idols and turn to the living God. As Elijah challenged Israel on Mt. Carmel, “How
long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but
if Baal is God, follow him.” (I Kings 18:21) To renounce our idols, we
must make a personal, public surrender. In psychological language, we must “detach.” This
only can come by God’s gracious intervention. Moral conviction will not
do it. Only brokenness at the center of our being will do it. Only bitter grieving,
deep exposure and conviction of sin will do it. Only cutting through our shame
and guilt will do it. This is God’s gift to us. Ask him for it. We must
repent – turn from our selfishness, reverse course, and return wholeheartedly
to Jesus. We admit our spiritual bankruptcy, lay down our idols at the cross,
and surrender our whole selves there. This is the true worship of the true
Paul writes in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view
of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing
to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” God’s mercy
in Romans 1-11 is the gospel of his free grace and justification [“not
guilty’] given to us in the death of his Son and sealed in our hearts
by his Spirit. By this mercy, then, we come to worship. We bring the sacrifice
of our bodies. They are acceptable to God, through the perfect, sinless body
of his Son.
Now we ask the Spirit of God to fill the “hole in the soul” with
himself. We begin to worship God alone – to love him with all our heart,
mind, soul and strength. We fall down before him as King. We offer him our
gifts: our shouts of joy, our songs of praise, our tithes and offerings. Worship
becomes witness, as we confess all that Jesus has done for us. Next, we bring
our petitions, listen for his voice, and trust him to answer our prayers. Worship
results in obedience, the joyful living out of his will for us.
This worship will change us into Christ-likeness. Rather than being conformed
to this world and our idolatrous addictions, his Spirit will conform us to
himself (Romans 12:2). He will birth in us the character and gifts of the Spirit.
We will find our home in his family and carry the ministry of Jesus to our
friends, telling them about the radical change he is making in us and the radical
freedom we enjoy.
As we make this public surrender to the Lord, we should ask people to pray
for us, for our healing and deliverance from addictions and idols. Then we
need to set aside daily time for worship. Get a CD or worship tape – try
the Vineyard’s “Hungry” album, or Matt Redman’s “The
Father’s Song,” or Delerious?’s “King of Fools.” Listen
to it at home. Listen to it in the car. Read a Psalm a day and learn the depths
of prayer. Start reading the Gospels in the New Testament – a chapter
a day – and ask to fall more and more in love with Jesus. Confess him
daily as “Lord,” and submit to him daily as King.
Worship drugs, become a depressed or burned out person. Worship work, become
a restless, frantic person. Worship people, become a selfish, dependent person.
Worship Jesus, become a Christ-like person. We will be loving, forgiving, joyful,
peaceful, patient, trustworthy, faithful, steadfast, self-giving, and serving.
We become like what we worship. We are either like the idols or like the living
God. We must make our choice. Paul tells the Thessalonians: “…you
turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for his
Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us
from the coming wrath.” (I Thessalonians 1:9-10) There is really no option.