There is a gathering of men who are pursuing God that meets every Tuesday night at The Bride Church. The name might be deceiving because they are not all tradesmen. Craftsmen for Christ meets every week to worship, dig into the Word of God, and encourage each other as we fellowship together. After worship through song this week, one of the gentlemen who never misses a week made a comment like this:
As I sing the lyrics of songs like How Great Thou Art, I wish I had the kind of relationship with God that would produce those kinds of words from my own heart.Paraphrased
We had some good conversation around those thoughts, but I honestly didn’t think much about it after leaving that evening. Facebook reminded me of a post I wrote 12 years ago and I saw a connection between what I was learning then and what I and the Church need to continue learning today.
Cultural Influence and Human Nature
I can’t speak for cultures around the world, but American culture has developed us to have an outcomes-based mentality. Get and education so that you can land the best job. Find a good job that pays well so that you can one day retire in comfort without any financial worries. Be productive so that you can keep your good job and contribute to society. Exercise so you can enjoy a healthy life. The list could go on.
How many of us treat our relationship with God that way? Believe in Jesus so I can go to heaven (or avoid hell, depending on your motivation). Support an orphan in a third-world country so I can feel less guilty when I avoid eye contact with with homeless woman I pass every day. Sing some songs in church on Sunday morning because it makes me feel better.
There is nothing inherently wrong with outcomes-based motivation. Even Scripture gives a glimpse of outcomes when giving instructions:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Matthew 11:28 (ESV)
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already…John 3:18a (ESV)
It’s not just American culture. It is human nature to want something in return for our efforts or expect something in response to our actions. If the end goal or outcome motivates us to start down the right path, there is no harm in that. But our motivation must mature in order to sustain our progress on that path.
I’ll use worship through music as an example because it is a worship song that sparked the conversation on Tuesday. A lot of emotion is connected to singing worship songs. Actually, there is a lot of everything connected to singing any song. There are a number of research papers/articles about how singing and playing music uses both sides of the brain. Additionally, singing releases chemicals that make us feel good in the brain. Like anything that makes us feel good, singing can become addictive and turn into an idol.
I often hear people comment about how “good” worship was on any given Sunday. What are they really saying? Is it that the band was sounding really good and the vocals harmonized like an angelic choir? Or maybe they are saying that singing that morning made them feel really good. At best, I think they might be trying to say that they experienced an intimate connection with God during the worship music. Truly, it is only God who can rate our worship because it is Him whom we are worshipping. At least He’s the one we should be worshipping. If our worship is about the feelings we get while singing, then our worship is no to God. It is idol worship because it is idle worship. It’s not going anywhere.
Motivated by I AM
Our motivation in all things should be to glorify God (See 1 Corinthians 10). Even if we start with a selfish motivation, we can mature into a right motivation. When we get caught up in the things we do or say rather than caught up in who God is and His glory, our motivation might be slightly skewed. If we get lost in the emotion and the feelings we get from worship, service, giving, or anything else, then we’ve lost sight of our true and right motivation: I AM.
It’s important to remember and know what God has done for us, but our response should not be simply comprised of giving thanks. We ought to adore Him, praise Him, and continually pursue Him for more than what He has done. HE IS more than what He’s done. When God first revealed His Name, He said “I AM.” Provider, Protector, Redeemer, Restorer, Healer, Counselor, Prince of Peace, Almighty, Everlasting, Father, Savior, Friend, Help… These are all parts or perspectives of I AM.
I’ve had at least a handful of conversations about the idol of worship over the past year, but there are other idols that we’ve kept around in the church. They’ve been hiding in plain sight as good things. We are called to do these things: care for widows and orphans, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give shelter to the sojourner. But if they are more important to us that the One who called us to do them, they are nothing more than a polished idol that looks shiny and clean. Don’t lose sight of Jesus Christ when working in His Name. Remember who God is beyond what He has done.