… whom you will serve. (Josh 24:15)
Most people these days don’t like to think that they serve anything or anyone. If we present God’s offer of salvation as the chance to serve Him, that is often seen as a hindrance to faith, not a release.
The mindset of the modern age is that we have ‘progressed’ to a point at which machines and systems serve us, and we serve nothing and no-one.
Dallas Willard, in his recent book Personal Religion, Public Reality?, suggests that though we may fail to admit it to ourselves, we do still ‘worship’ (and thus serve) idols today. He frames it as the things in which we place our trust – the Government, perhaps, or the ‘market’. We don’t think of these things as idols because we haven’t deliberately made statues of them to which we intentionally go and offer blood-sacrifices, but we assign to them powers that they do not, in fact, possess – and we do, of course, make sacrifices to them.
He points out, though, that even in our idolatry our perspective is skewed. We do not worship these idols because we believe they are worthy. On the contrary:
The ‘idol’ … is supposed to have powers that, if humans appropriately serve it, will be used to benefit them. In the end the idol is always intended to be the servant of the idol-worshippers and their desires.
This is, of course, where so many people find God to be a stumbling block. The concept that we are supposed to worship Him because He is worthy is simply beyond their frame of reference. They think ‘OK, I worship Him because He’s good and then He’ll solve all my problems and make my life run smoothly’. And when the latter doesn’t appear to happen – at least not in the way they intended/expected, they feel let down and start to doubt His goodness.
This is not a modern phenomenon, though. Dallas refers to Job, too. When God drew Satan’s attention to Job as a shining example of a Godly man, Satan replied: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9) Of course Job would love God while he is prosperous and healthy, it would be a different matter if he was sick, lonely and bankrupt, surely? Yet Satan is proved wrong; even at Job’s lowest point, he is still willing to acknowledge ‘I don’t know why these things have happened, but I trust that God knows best, and believe that He is still good and worthy of worship.’
Job had the right perspective. His friends, who all sounded perfectly reasonable (‘If you’re suffering, you must have done something to displease God; if you were serving Him properly He would make you happy’), were shown to be utterly, utterly wrong.
God does not exist for our benefit or pleasure. God’s goodness is not measured by how happy His ways make us feel.
God made us for His pleasure and to give Him glory. He loves us and lavishes upon us gifts and blessings we could never deserve, but they are part of His abundant generosity, not our divine right.
Satan thought that worship was about what the worshipper could get out of it. He used to be one of God’s angels, but fell because he wanted to get glory for himself, and worshipping God just wasn’t scratching that itch. He has been spreading the same lie among us ever since he told Eve that following (worshipping) her own desires would bring her pleasure and knowledge.
My good friend and former boss, Bill Drake, used to say (and doubtless still does!) “What you worship you will serve”. You may think you’re running after more money or power or recognition for your own sake, because they make you feel good, but the fact is that none of these things will ever be enough.
Research has shown that however much people earn, they always think they’d be happy if they just had 25% more (yes, even multi-millionaires). Whatever position you rise to, award you win or record you break, you will never be satisfied, the god of self will want just a little bit more… and more… and more.
We all worship something. The solution is not to stop worshipping, but to recognise what you are worshipping, acknowledge that it is not serving you, but being served by you, and choose – wisely – whether you’re happy about that or not.