Last week I was really excited to share about God’s presence all around us. One of my main joys in life is having the opportunity to help people recognize Him in their daily lives and embrace that He wants to be involved in what we do. Sometimes I think people won’t choose to enter into a relationship with God because they fear they will have to cut out some of the things they love, trading them for some sort of “holy” routine. There are indeed detrimental activities that God may ask us to set aside, and if He does, it is always from the heart of a good Father who loves His children. The tension that is felt when giving something up that is not good for us is usually an indication of how deep the hook is. Even though it may be necessary that we say goodbye to some things, the more I experience life the more I realize it’s less about cutting things out, and more about the condition of my heart towards what is a part of my life.
There is a very specific aspect of our relationship with God that I want to address, but first it must be crystal clear that I’m not suggesting we can enter into amoral or sinful behavior as long as we profess our love for God first. It’s foolish to take advantage of Christ’s sacrifice in such a way, and Scripture is very clear we are to never abuse the fact that He forgives us (Hebrews 10:26-31).
I had an unfortunate lie creep into my mind early on in my relationship with God that crippled my spirit and hindered my connection with Him. Very subtly and slowly I began to give up many of the things I loved because I mistakenly believed that they weren’t pleasing to God. He never asked me to give them up, but only began to examine the dependence on such things for my joy and pleasure. As I continued to cut things away, my joy slipped with them simply because of being wrongly tied to these things. I hadn’t yet learned that He wanted me to shift my focus to Him, acknowledging that He is the true source of joy and happiness. God’s intent was never for me to say goodbye to the things I loved, but to simply reexamine their place in my life.
You may be wondering what sort of activities I’m speaking of. For me, I stopped listening to some of the music I truly loved because I thought it was more honoring to God when I listened to Christian music instead. I also stopped going to movies or watching anything that had questionable content. Perhaps the one that has caused me the most heartache was pulling away from friends that I love because they were a part of my life when I wasn’t following God. They got caught in the wake of my misguided attempt to clean up my life under my own strength, not fully realizing at the time that Christ took care of that the moment I said yes to him.
To clarify, because some of you may be lifting an eyebrow right now, it may be entirely necessary for some people to cut certain music, movies, activities, or friends from their life that are not honoring to God, but in my case, there was nothing wrong with these things. The crazy part about this is that it’s the exact territory of self-righteousness that Jesus implicitly warned the religious leaders about. They placed far too much emphasis on their commitment to the things and activities in the natural world, instead of focusing their eyes towards God in heaven. Listen as Jesus pegs them on how they’d missed the mark:
“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?” Matthew 23:16-17
Christ continues with more of the same correlations to make his point clear, but ultimately ends with the fact that he is the one that makes everything sacred, not something fashioned by man, including the temple itself (see Matthew 23:18-22). I realize that Jesus is speaking to a group of religious leaders who had a different set of responsibilities than most, but in essence his rebuke should be taken serious by all of us: don’t connect with the created things around you in the same way you’re meant to connect with the Creator Himself. You can utilize them and even enjoy them, but never forget who is greater! Your connection with God will never boil down to your hobbies or who your friends are, but instead how you’ve chosen to interact with Jesus - the one who made a pathway to God for us all.
So now we’re back to one of the most important parts of a relationship with God that I wanted to examine in the first place. I’ve actually been explaining it up to this point, but haven’t put the name to it - worship. Worship is a lifestyle as much as it is an action, and it has everything to do with the heart. In order to see how worship plays a part in our lives, we must ask, “Is our heart focused and turned towards God in our daily activity?” That simple question is the key to the joy and freedom found in Christ that the Bible speaks of (see John 15:11, Romans 8:1-2).
I was listening to part of a podcast the other day when this concept of true worship really hit me. The person speaking was describing a concert they had been to that was unforgettable. Just prior to the performance there was a huge power outage, and every light in the arena was out. The fate of the concert was uncertain until the crew began lighting candles on stage to prepare for what the artist had decide to do – continue on with the show doing a solo, acoustic set. The guy describing the scene was so excited and exclaimed that it was the most incredible concert he’d ever witnessed because there was such a raw connection with the performer.
I totally get this! I can remember some of the shows I’ve been to with vivid clarity. Pearl Jam in the Gorge, summer of 2005. E-P-I-C! I think we’ve all connected with a band or artist in such a way that the minute we hear a song from them, our memories come flooding back of who we were with and where we first heard them. These things are good in the sense that they give us a glimpse at what worship is like, however, it ceases to be true worship when our heart is engaged with the person on stage instead of God. We must realize that even though these moments feel great, our connection with the person on stage should remain temporary. If it doesn’t, we’ve actually crossed the line into idolatry; worshipping something other than God. It’s important to understand that people usually have no insight into our life beyond what is being experienced in a moment together. God on the other hand, fashioned you in your mother’s womb and is wholeheartedly invested in your life like no one else can be. That’s why He’s deserving of our heart in all experiences! If we are listening to music or watching an amazing movie and our heart is thanking Him for these pleasures, then this is a connection infinitely deeper because it’s a glimpse of what we will do forever in eternity. Worship. If God didn’t want us to find enjoyment in His creation, He would have skipped making earth altogether and just focused His attention on Heaven!
For me, because I didn’t yet understand how to truly worship God, my answer to somehow become “pure” was to get rid of things that didn’t, in my eyes, have to do with Him. Some may be at the opposite end of the spectrum; having plenty of things they find joy and pleasure in, but giving no credit to Christ for providing the way to experience them. Either way, worship is lost. My prayer is that as you hear this, you will examine your heart in relation to the things that bring you joy and pleasure. After doing so, if your thoughts turn to Christ when you listen to that next song, watch that movie, hang out with that friend, or whatever it may be, then I have no doubt your life will reflect what you’ve placed first in your heart.