The Idolatry You Should Forsake: Worship Like You Mean It

Most of us would scoff at the idea that we would practice idolatry. And yet most of us engage in it. “Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly. “ (Ezra 10:1, NIV)

After returning to Israel from exile in Persia to rebuild the temple, Ezra learned that the people who had remained in Israel had taken up with local women and local gods. They were bowing down to little idols and figurines in supplication and praise. He became utterly convicted because Israel was practicing idolatry and worshipping lesser deities instead of God. In the Jordan River valley, people worshipped the sun as well as local gods who were thought to govern fertility or rain. Pagan worship practices included repetitious music designed to help achieve a catatonic state of ecstasy; there were also stimulants and temple prostitutes to add to the local worship experience.

In our modern world, we may feel a little smug because we don’t bow down to little statues, but trust me—we practice idolatry pretty much every day when we put any other thing or desire in front of our love for God. Be honest now, does anything ever get between you and God? Ever have ANY desires that you want more than Him? Any things you want to do more than you want to worship God? Yep, those things aren’t little statues, but they ARE idols. So, take a little inventory. What do you worship?

Ezra was so stricken with grief over the danger of sin that he confessed and wept openly before the whole assembly. There are a lot of verses from the Bible that we use to express optimism and joy. We rejoice in our salvation. We know that Jesus came that our joy might be full. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. But when is the last time that you went to church and had a good cry, and wept openly in front of God and everybody?

Now, I know we feel that we can cry out to God when misfortune strikes, when life seems unfair, or when we are hurting over something that has happened to us or someone we love…That is an appropriate time to cry, but that is not the kind of crying Ezra is talking about here: When was the last time you wept in a worship service because of something YOU have done (or haven’t done) before God? When were you inconsolable in worship, not because of some bad circumstance, but because you realized the magnitude of both YOUR offense to God and the price He paid for your redemption?

I think our worship today often falls short of what it could be in terms of being transparent and repentant before the Lord, particularly in churches where expression is frowned upon, and God’s Spirit is limited to what time the local NFL game starts. Perhaps that’s because many of us are only partly committed to worship, and EACH OF US falls short of being truly repentant and vulnerable when we go to church. Could it be that we worship our own sense of decorum more than we worship the Lord? Do we worship appearances more than transformation? James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Ezra led the people of Israel by confessing and weeping, and bowing down before everyone in the house of God. The large assembly that gathered around him expressed their fellowship by weeping bitterly alongside him, by sharing his conviction over how he had fallen short of true commitment to the Lord, and being repentant over his sin. When is the last time you wept bitterly over your sin? When was the last time the whole church bowed before God in genuine emotion to confess and express true repentance?

Here’s the problem: I’m pretty sure that I’m not ready to go blurt out my sins in front of everyone at church, and I’m pretty sure most of them aren’t ready to hear me do that, either; but perhaps I can take some steps in that direction by being more honest in my confession before God, and a little more distraught about the idolatry in my life. I bet if enough of us did that BEFORE church, we’d have a different experience when we got there.

Ezra bowed, and prayed and cried with love that couldn’t be denied–
No pretense here, no foolish pride, just honesty from deep inside.
And all the people wept and prayed, forsook the idols they had made,
Left the coolness they displayed, and bowed in grief and awe, afraid.
Israel joined–no one declined–to leave their idols far behind.
What about YOUR secret mind? If you looked closely, could you find
Some altars of idolatry that none suspect, and none can see?
Confess and weep. Repent and see that if you pray transparently,
Your worship wouldn’t be so lame, your church would never be the same
And You won’t check the time in worship, waiting for the Cowboys game…

 

To buy my latest book, Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Worship Might Just Be Better Than a Trip to Walley World

How often do you experience the thrill of true worship? In the Psalms there were references to anticipation, joy, and gratitude: “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endures to all generations.” (Psalms 100:4-5 KJV)

The 100th Psalm was probably part of the liturgy in the temple at Jerusalem, something familiar to all who worshipped there. Also, as people made their pilgrimage from surrounding towns to worship in Jerusalem, they sang or chanted Psalms 119-133, which are called the “Song of Ascents” or “Songs of Steps” because they were walking uphill towards the Holy city, anticipating the things they would experience there.

Today, those kinds of behavior–road trips, music, and joyous anticipation are reserved more for athletic events, or maybe the Griswold’s excitement about going to Walley World…

To make a true comparison, picture how excited sports fans or families planning their Disney World extravaganza can get. Well, the pilgrims’ anticipation sung about here in the Psalms would have been even greater than the Griswold’s! If you have ever looked forward to a vacation, or planned a journey, then you know they were thinking about things they would see, points of interest, good things to eat, and new experiences. But there was an added dimension as well: these pilgrims were also thinking about worship.

They were going to the temple to worship Almighty God, and experience the hustle and bustle of the temple courts, the sights and sounds of sacrifice, the songs of other pilgrims, and the mystery and pageantry of the Levites performing their office. For those pilgrims, it was memorable, perhaps the experience of a lifetime. That is why they could say that they entered the gates with thanksgiving, and came into God’s courts with praise!

They would affirm in that worship everything they believed, and they would experience a depth of communion with the Lord that would stay with them in their daily lives from that moment on. Can you think of any worship experience that has done that for you? Are there moments of reverence or communion that sit as touchstones in your heart, reminders of what true worship is? In most temple services, they would sing this Psalm, a hymn of thanksgiving. As they sang about being thankful, they were reminded of God’s goodness. They would bless his name. They would recall His mercy, and they would reflect upon His truth. I bet in days following, perhaps on the trip home, they would hum this song and remember all that God had done for them…

How often do we just go to church, ho-hum, without any anticipation or expectations? Have you ever thought about starting, today, and getting ready for your next worship experience? What are you thankful for today? Are you basking in the Lord’s mercy? Does His truth mean something to you? What song is in your heart? “For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endures to all generations.” That included the pilgrims. It includes OUR generation as well. Take a moment now and anticipate your next opportunity to worship, and give thanks! Enter into His courts with praise!

 

Enter His courts with gladness; come into His house with praise!
Worship the Lord with all your heart and walk all of His ways.
Sing to the Lord a new song; shout, and lift your voice!
Exalt the Lord and His Holy name, and let your heart rejoice!
His mercy is everlasting; His word is alive and true;
The Lord of hosts has come to redeem all things and make them new!
Worship the Lord with gladness, and enter His gates with praise:
Humble yourself before the Lord, and follow Him all of your days.

 

To buy my latest book, Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread