So these nations feared the LORD and also served their carved images. (2 Kings 17:41a ESV)
What is our greatest hindrance in worshipping God? We could come up with a number of potential answers.
“Our worship leader isn’t very experienced.”
“The services are too planned/spontaneous.”
“The songs are too complex/simple.”
“The band/orchestra/organist/guitarist sounds bad.”
“There are too many new/old songs.”
“Our church is too big/small.”
Ignoring for a moment that all these statements refer to a meeting context, they reveal a profound misconception about the hindrances to true worship. Contrary to what we might think, our greatest problem doesn’t lie outside of us, but within our own hearts. It’s the problem of idolatry.
The passage above from 2 Kings describes a situation that existed when Samaria was resettled by the king of Assyria. It’s a situation which can potentially exist in our church services today. We can fear the Lord externally, engaging in what we perceive to be all the proper elements of worship—singing, giving, praying, kneeling, listening to God’s Word, etc.—and be actively serving false gods in our hearts. God makes it clear in Exodus 20 that he will not tolerate any competition for the allegiance and affections of our hearts. “You shall have no other gods before me.” That succinctly describes idolatry.
When someone mentions idolatry, we can picture some tribesman in New Guinea bowing down to statues of wood or metal and think, Thank God I don’t struggle with THAT. Idols, however, are far more pervasive, insidious and deceptive. Idolatry is attributing ultimate value, authority or supremacy to any object other than God.
We foolishly think idols can provide for us what only God can give. They tempt us every day, all day. It’s not surprising, then, that even my 10-year-old daughter, Mckenzie, deals with idols. One of her primary idols is “not taking showers.” Otherwise known as the idols of control and pleasure. She confessed to Julie and me today that for the past three days she’s only been pretending to take a shower. (For some reason, most 10-year-olds find taking showers as appealing as scratching a chalk board for 10 minutes.)
After working through a tearful confession with my wife and learning of her discipline (no playing with friends for three days), we talked about her heart. I explained to her that not taking a shower was an idol for her. She thought that remaining dirty would bring her happiness. Instead, it led to deceiving those she loves the most and dishonoring the God Who created her for His glory. And it definitely didn’t deliver on the happiness promise. Ultimately, idols never do.