The gift and the Giver

As my wife and I sat in bed last night, discussing the sermon from church earlier that day on worship and idolatry, it occurred to us that most of our problems stem from misplaced worship. Most of everyone’s problems, especially those who have committed their lives to following Jesus, stem from misplaced worship, because there is only One who is worthy of our worship. We’ll come back to this in just a minute.

As we sat there in bed, my wife asked me to pray with her. This is not uncommon, as we often do this, but it had been a few weeks since we last prayed together. Fighting off the guilt of not leading my wife in prayer regularly, I began talking to God.

I started by acknowledging my authentic feelings of disappointment and discouragement – I have been mad at God for a couple of months now – trying to be as honest as possible since He already knows the depth of my thoughts. I begged Him to bless us as He has done for so many others around us, many of whom I am jealous and often find myself coveting their possessions.

Then it felt like someone flipped a switch in my heart and the lights came on, and I started praying for something I wasn’t even thinking of when we began. I prayed that God would help us love Him more than His blessings. In that tender moment, it clicked: our problems are rooted in the fact that we love God’s blessings more than we love Him. We love the gift instead of the Giver, and that is misplaced worship, the root of idolatry.

Our pastor quoted Augustine in regards to the 10 commandments, who is credited with saying that a person only breaks commandments #3-10 if he has already broken #1 & #2. I would follow that up by saying that if a person focuses on obeying #1 & #2, they probably won’t struggle much with #3-10. Here is what the first two commandments say:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:2-6 ESV)

Worship is just a churchy word for assigning value and worth to something. In commanding us to not have other gods and to not worship them, God is telling us that He is the most valuable thing in existence. He is the most worthy object of our attention and affection. He is more important than where we live. He is more important than the car we drive or the phone we carry around. He is more important than the food we eat and the shows we watch so faithfully on TV.

So the real question is, do we believe that God exists and that He is the most valuable thing, the most worthy thing in all of existence? If we say yes to these questions, then let’s strive to live in a way that reflects our affirmation of these truths. Let’s love God, and not just the blessings He so lavishly pours out onto us. Enjoy the gifts, and fall in love with the Giver.

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