The Second Commandment

If you’re a longtime follower of this blog, you know I address idolatry quite a bit. If you’re new, you don’t have to take my word for it; you can look through the Idolatry tag and see for yourself. I’ll try to be succinct here not because the material is unimportant but because I don’t really want to repeat myself to the point that you, dear reader, are bored with me.

So let’s talk about idols. Not tall statues cast in metal that are believed to be inhabited by a god. Not something we sacrifice for and offer to because we consciously think it’ll serve us better than God does. No, let’s talk about modern idolatry.

I’ll go first, in honesty and full disclosure. I spent almost two hours watching the NBA Awards on Monday night and have looked up prices on Finals gear and for jerseys and shirts of two different NBA players earlier this week. I have spent no time reading my Bible. When I was bored Tuesday night, I thought about watching an episode of The Joy of Painting or starting a painting of my own, but it never occurred to me to spend time in prayer. And just the other day, I was lamenting that there isn’t a Bruno Mars greatest hits album I can buy instead of having to hunt down all of the individual songs I like, yet I don’t listen to worship music outside of church when I’m picking the tunes.

I know it’s not exactly the same as physically bowing down before something, but I am mentally because they’re people and things that occupy my mind to the point that God is crammed in the back and wedged in a corner somewhere. I’m not sacrificing food or drink, but I’m sacrificing my time and money, both of which are limited for me. I’d never claim any of these idols to be what I worship, but my actions prove it even if my mouth won’t speak it.

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected – even children in the third and fourth generation of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands” (Exodus 20:4-6, NLT).

God tells us not to make idols because that’s exactly what we do. The commandments were spoken at a time when people made statues that were then turned into idols through rituals. The statues themselves weren’t bad, but people made them into a spiritual problem. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with liking a certain sports team or band or with loving your spouse or with earning a lot of money. There is a problem with loving these things and people more than we love God, with focusing on them and pursuing them to the point that we worship them and reject God.

I think we romanticize jealousy. And I get it. If someone is jealous, they have to at least care, if not love. There are many other ways to demonstrate that care or that love, but jealousy is a definite way to get the message across. We all want to be cared for and to be loved, so many times we interpret jealousy as a positive thing. We forget about the anger or hurt that fuels it. We don’t think of how the one who’s jealous feels neglected. We don’t consider the consequences that come with jealousy.

When God says He’s jealous, He means the good and the bad aspects of it. We sing about Him being jealous for us with smiles on our faces, but there are no odes to the consequences of God’s jealousy. It’s very intense and almost scary, and it definitely makes me feel even more justified in not wanting to have kids lest they have to feel the weight of my sins.

This is a perfect picture of God: so filled with love for us (us!) that He’s jealous when He’s not on the receiving end of our affection. He asks us not to make idols because it hurts Him when we do. But we aren’t always aware of what we’re doing, and perhaps that’s the first step in the remedy – mindful worship, being aware we’re worshipping God and putting him first. Our hearts were made to love on thing the most, and if that’s God, everything else with fall into its rightful place.

By Carrie Prevette

Distracted and Overwhelmed

The old saying goes, “Idle hands are the devil’s playground,” but the same could be said for busy hands as well. The adage refers to the trouble one can get into with no plans, hobbies, commitments, etc. What of an excessively occupied mind, full hands, or a clock without enough time? Aren’t those spiritually risky as well?

Busy lives are spiritually risky, not because being busy is a sin or even frowned upon, but because being busy often distracts us or overwhelms us to the point that God becomes an afterthought.

Just about anything can become a distraction – work, money, hobbies, family, church. If it’s capable of consuming the largest part of your heart or time, it can be a distraction from God and your relationship with Him.

“I’d like to go to Bible study tonight, but I need to get in overtime at work before the holidays get here.”

“I know God wants me to start this devotional, but I’m wiped out and my favorite show’s coming on in ten minutes.”

“I skipped my quiet time with God this morning to sleep in, but now something’s come up. I’ll just do it tomorrow.”

It’s not that we ignore God for people or reasons that are intrinsically bad. Most of the time, it’s for things that should be high priorities. It’s our habit of putting things as a higher priority than God that ruins us.

There’s nothing wrong with volunteering at church or spending time with family and friends or furthering your career. There is something wrong with burning ourselves out on something to the point where there’s not much, if anything, left to give to God.

The receiver of our first fruits is the receiver of our worship.

All of our running runs us ragged.

Personally, if I’m given the choice to sit and relax while snacking and watching a show or movie or to read and think and really study, I’m far more inclined to choose the former over the latter.

Our everyday lives can overwhelm us so much that we don’t want to do much in our downtime.

Let me rephrase to better iterate my point: We’re so busy that, most of the time, we want to spend our free time doing things that require minimal mental and physical activity. We sometimes choose not to do what we really want or need to do because we’re too exhausted.

Where’s the joy in that?

Jesus tells us that we’ll have joy in Him. It’s a fruit of the Spirit. No, we may not always be happy, but we’ll have a deep, profound sense of joy. And if we’re not turning to Jesus to fuel and refill us, if He’s not our source of joy, it’ll be a more generic, fleeting form of joy that we do receive.

I’m reading a book called Playing with Purpose by Mike Yorkey. The book tells the stories of some professional athletes who use their talents and positions in life to glorify God. One such athlete is Jeremy Lin, the center of “Linsanity” in early 2012 and current point guard for the Charlotte Hornets.

Lin signed with the Golden State Warriors his rookie year after going undrafted and after the Warriors were bought by two men, one of whom had coached against Lin when Lin was a kid and knew his talent and work ethic. Later that season, the Warriors sent Lin to their Development League team in Reno. Lin’s first season in the NBA involved being moved around, few playing minutes, and a losing record.

Lin says of this time in his life, “People don’t believe me when I say my rookie season was the toughest year of my life, but it was. I had a lot of long nights and struggles. I had to really learn how to submit my will to God and learn to trust Him while going through difficult situations that I thought were maybe unfair at times or things that I had wished would have gone in a different way. What I learned was to lean on God in those situations, and to make my relationship more intimate by spending more time with Him every day. I did a lot of reading and I did a lot of praying. More praying than I had ever done. I just learned a ton.”

Lin could’ve been bitter and upset at how everything was turning out, and he was so busy that it would’ve been very easy to neglect his relationship with God. He chose to trust in God and carve out time for Him instead. He made sure that God was first in his life and prioritized spending quality time with Him.

I’m not telling you to neglect parts of your life altogether or to sacrifice healthy aspects of your life. I’m advising you to look at the parts of your life, what’s necessary and what’s not, and determine what’s most important.

Because in addition to joy, Jesus gives us just what our busy lives need: rest. Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT), “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Doesn’t that sound nice? Doesn’t that sound exactly like what we need is this crazy, busy world? Jesus offers it freely and gladly. Rest for our souls. Relief from our burdens. Relaxation for our minds. All we have to do is turn to Him. He’ll replace our busy with joy. He’ll refresh us in a way that only He can. We just have to take the time to give it all to Him.

By Carrie Prevette

P.S. – My mom says that the saying is, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” but I’ve only ever heard “devil’s playground.” Despite the fact that the two offer different images and connotations, the meaning remains the same. Although I am kind of interested in hearing any other different versions of this phrase now, so if you’ve got a different one, feel free to share it with me!

Anywhere, Anytime, Anyway

I used to think that worship was something that was done exclusively in church. I thought it was just another part of Sunday morning – wake up, go to church, worship, listen to a sermon, go home.

Then as I got older, I started to understand what worship actually is. It’s more than just singing along to a song. It’s more than lifting up one or both hands. While we can do both of those in church and in moments of personal, private worship, that’s not it.

What makes it worship is the thought and emotion behind it. Just because words of praise are coming out of my mouth doesn’t mean I’m worshiping God. If I know a song well enough, I can sing every single word perfectly without even thinking about it. Seriously, I can just go on autopilot. My mind could be somewhere completely different and I’d never miss a note. But if I feel overwhelmed by God’s love and my desire is just to honor Him for a moment, that is worship.

Not only can we worship outside of church, but we should. When you think about it, if the only time we feel the need to love and honor God is once or twice a week, something’s off anyway.

When I think about God, it’s not hard for me to be blown away by Him. He’s done so much for me, He’s stuck by me, and He’s head over heels in love with me. To be honest, if anyone has tried and tested God’s love, it’s me. My flimsy faith, my wavering devotion, my questioning, my spiritual mood swings would’ve frustrated any other being to the point of them ditching me. But not God.

You see, I have a desire to worship God when I focus on God.

And what happens when I don’t?

I know we talked about this a lot during the Idols series, but I’m going to touch on it again as it is relevant here and worthy of repeating. The thing about the human heart is that it always feels the need to cling to something. The object that receives most of our attention and affection is what we worship. It could be anything – a sports team, a singer, success, your spouse, your job. Many things make up our personalities and our lives, and that’s great. We should hold the aspects that make us happy close to us. But none of them should mean more to us than God.

Ultimately, nothing can make us happier than God. The love and grace of God goes deeper than something as circumstantial as mere happiness. It’s a source of joy. Joy, at its simplest, is substantial, long-lasting happiness. It isn’t moved by your situation or present state of mind. It’s a sense of peace and contentment that is rather difficult to take away.

Sounds like God’s kind of thing anyway, yeah?

Alan said Sunday, “Unconditional joy leads to unconditional worship.” If the joy we find in God is unconditional – meaning that He is our first and constant source of peace, love, and fulfillment through everything – then we will be able to worship Him no matter what.

If you still turn to God to get you through when you’re:

  • battling depression,
  • sitting at the bedside of a sick loved one,
  • filing for bankruptcy,
  • heading to the unemployment office,
  • going through a divorce,
  • repairing a relationship,
  • feeling like your world’s falling apart,

then chances are that you have that unconditional joy and are capable of unconditional worship.

You’ll get down and out. You won’t always be happy with God or what’s going on in your life. Having joy doesn’t always mean that you feel like you’re floating in the clouds. It just means that you have something there to pick you up and hold you when you don’t want to go on anymore.

“Carrie, that’s great, but I don’t really know how to worship. Like, what do I do?”

That’s an important question.

I once read this book by the lead singer of Casting Crowns, Mark Hall. In it, he talked about this woman who would look at him with a mad face when he led worship on Sunday mornings at church. I mean, she would just mean mug him week after week. Then one day after service, after keeping that exact same look on her face during worship, she told him how she was really touched by the music that morning. It kind of shocked him. He never would’ve guessed it based off of her actions and reaction to the music.

Did she sing along? No.
Did she raise a hand? No.
Did she smile? No.
Did she worship? Yes.

It doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do. It certainly doesn’t matter how it looks. If you’re not a good dancer but you want to dance, move to your heart’s content. Feel more comfortable standing and clapping? Feel free to do so.

And to worship in your private life? Read the Word of God. Talk to God. Talk about God. Do everything to glorify God. That’s what it means to worship God with your life: realizing it’s all about God and acting on that realization.

Do you like to paint? Play sports? Play an instrument? Write? Whatever it is that you do, reflect God through it and point it all back to Him – the compliments, the awards, the smiles people have on their faces because of it. When you glorify or magnify God in any way, that’s a form of worship.

Your worship is as unique as you are and as personal as your relationship with God is. No one is directly involved in your worship but you and God. It doesn’t matter how or when you worship. All that truly matters is that you do worship and that God is the recipient of your worship.

By Carrie Prevette

Bigger Plans and True Worship

Being a huge fan of The Walking Dead, you can imagine how happy I was when AMC had a three-day marathon of the show over the 4th of July weekend. I had forgotten about it until running across the second or third episode from the first season early that Friday morning. I grinned as I settled into my chair and prepared to watch as much of it as I could. Not too much later, a character said something that really struck me.

For those of you that don’t watch the show, I’ll summarize as concisely as I can for the purpose of this blog. A guy named Rick is in the hospital when the zombie apocalypse started. He wakes up, gets out, and finds that his wife and son have already left. Rick sets out to find them. He goes to Atlanta, and while there, he meets a group of people. They save him; he helps save them. They go back to the group’s camp, and it’s there that Rick is reunited with his family.

Later that night, Rick describes to the group what he felt when he woke up in the hospital. I don’t recall what word he says comes closest to describing it, but I do remember him saying how there’s not really a word that accurately and entirely fits the feeling. Then Dale, a member of the group listening to Rick, says that words are “paltry things.”

For whatever reason, that really struck me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a writer, if it’s because it was so wonderfully phrased, or if it’s because it’s so true. But one thing’s for sure, Dale isn’t wrong. Sometimes words fail. Sometimes they’re just worthless.

When I showed up to church on Sunday morning and found out that there was just going to be worship and no sermon, I began to think about how plans can also be “paltry things.”

I could go on and on about the plans in my life that have failed or changed dramatically. I’m sure we all could. If you can’t relate, I’m very interested in talking to you because you’re probably the first person I’ve ever encountered whose life has gone perfectly according to what you have planned.

That’s just it, isn’t it? Our plans have the capacity to change and fail and ultimately lack meaning. God’s plans never do.

Adjusting to God’s dreams for my life instead of my own has been one of the most difficult parts in my relationship with Him. I get this vision of how I want things to go, and I build them up so much in my mind. I think it’s going to be excellent. Then God steps in and says, “Carrie, that’s actually not what’s best for you. It’s not happening.”

“What do you mean, God? Of course it’s the best thing for me. It’s the best thing period! Don’t You see it?”

The thing is, God does see it. The only difference is, He sees it from an objective point of view and a much broader point of view. He knows the other possibilities and the consequences. And He loves us enough to give us what’s really the best for us, no matter how much it might break our hearts at first.

You may recall that Abstract just recently started a sermon series called Idols. Last Sunday would have been the second of a four-part series. But it’s hard for a pastor to preach when he can barely talk. Hearing a sermon was part of our plans, but God had a better idea. Instead of hearing the sermon that God and our pastor have prepared, we spent the morning in worship.

If no one else needed a service full of worship, I certainly did. I needed it, and I didn’t even know it.

The significance of worship cannot be overstated. It’s how we show God that He is the most important thing in our lives.

Worship is a product of loving something a lot. I’m not talking about I-really-enjoy-this love or even holy-smokes-Batman, this-is-amazing love. It’s more along the lines of where-has-this-been-all-my-life, I-would-rather-die-than-live-without-this love. (Words really can be paltry, huh?)

Worship is great in theory, but it’s even better in practice. I’ve been in services where the preacher or worship leader said, “Okay. Let’s praise God and worship Him,” and I listen and praise God and enjoy myself. The experiences were good, but they didn’t exactly change my life. (That’s just me, though. By no means am I saying that those services weren’t moving and deeply meaningful for other people.)

I’ve also been in services, some with that exact same little intro, where I’ve felt the presence of God so strongly and I’ve been so moved by what I heard. Those experiences have stuck with me. Some of them took place years ago, and to this day, I could take you to the exact place where I stood with my hands held high to God and my heart completely captured by Him.

There is no better feeling than being completely lost in worship to God.

When I think of worship, the first thing I think of is a Bible verse that doesn’t even use the word “worship.” Psalm 42:1 (NRSV) says, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”

Isn’t that how we feel when we truly enter into worship? We aren’t satisfied with where we are with God. We want to grow closer to Him and feel more of His love. We know we need to be refreshed and refilled by Him. Not only is God a source of happiness and relief, but He’s also our source of life. It’s a moment when we realize just how much we need God.

And by worshipping, we express not only that we realize all of this, but we take a moment to thank God for being all of that for us.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I do something for someone, and they thank me for it, it feels fantastic, especially if it’s something that I worked hard on. It’s nice to hear that someone’s actually grateful for something I’ve done.

Imagine how happy it must make God for us to worship Him for everything that He’s done for us, especially in a world where people blame Him more than thank Him.

Maybe God’s done something really big for you lately. Maybe you’ve recently gotten a job or you’re car has been repaired or you’ve made a friend and you don’t feel lonely anymore. Don’t forget to take the time to really thank God for that blessing.

You don’t just have to thank Him for the big blessings either. Maybe you’re just happy that today wasn’t as bad as yesterday or you read or heard an encouraging word somewhere that you desperately needed. Then again, maybe you’re just having a really good hair day. If it’s a big enough of a deal to make you think about it or smile about, it’s big enough to thank God for.

Worship starts with love and ends in gratitude. Things may not be going the way you planned, but that doesn’t mean it’ll all end badly. God has better things in store for you. And that is certainly something to praise and worship Him for.

By Carrie Prevette

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