Worship & Arts
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 without them.

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 God.

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.