There is a fascinating principle revealed in Psalm 115:4-8. It reads,
4 Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
5 They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
6 They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
7 They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
8 Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
Verses 4-7 plod along with standard fare for anyone who has considered idolatry, the emptiness of it, gods created with human hands, somewhat human and yet dead stone and wood. That brief description is an appalling picture of idolatry, showing that King Idolatry has no clothes. Many people who worship different facets of creation miss the truths here but we should at least admit that to find idolatry empty one does not have to go on a long search. Then comes verse 8. It is haunting and arresting, as if all of the sudden you wonder whether someone has been slipping anti-freeze into your gatorade. Could this be? It certainly is. We become like what we worship, that in which we place our trust.
Let me give you an example, one which incorporates more modern idols than stone statuary. Consider firs the man who worships money. And by that I do not mean that there is small shrine in his bedroom with a green Ben Franklin above it. Nevertheless his whole life is centered on getting and keeping more wealth. There comes a day though that he finds himself alone, divorced, friendless, successful, and rich. How can we account for his successful and empty life? Well, he has become like what he worships. The world of greedy financial gain is founded on transactions, cutthroat if need be and always self-serving. Relationships can’t survive, much less thrive, in soil permeated with transactions. They whither and die, even as the money comes in. We become like what we worship. Our money-worshiper became like money—valuable, unfeeling, and alone.
The Gift of Worship
The transformational power of worship isn’t something that humans stumbled upon in alaboratory or fashioned in an underground smithy. It is a gift from God. “Hold on right there,” you might be saying. “This doesn’t sound like a gift, it sounds like curse.” I could respond that all curses are misappropriated gifts from God but that is another thought for another day. So I’ll simply say, yes, the principle that you become what you worship is a gift from God for our renewal and good.
We need not trace the sordid fall of humanity into sin but only to say colloquially that your life is a mess as well is mine. Or to use a more appropriately biblical term, we are inveterate sinners. As Paul laments in Romans 7, we don’t do what we should and the very things they we know we should avoid are the things we find ourselves doing… often. What is the way of transformation that God has provided for those who have experienced new birth in Christ but still find themselves living out this daily and personal warfare with sin? It is worship. Listen to Paul writing to the Corinthians,
Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:15–18)
Paul is describing the difference between the non-believing Jew and the Christian when it comes to the worship of God. He’s doing it with a nod to Moses’s experience with God in Exodus 34:29-45. What is important for our discussion is the second to last sentence where Paul describes transformation. This transformation is into the image of God by beholding the glory of God. Christians too become like what they worship, beholding God in his Word, worshiping him there, gradually releasing their white knuckled grip on this passing, trifling world, becoming more like Jesus, the savior that redeemed them.
So we return to this gift idea of worship. All humans become like what they worship. For Christians this is a blessing-to-life, while for everyone it is a curse-to-death. But that isn’t the last thing to say on this topic. How does this worship-transforming concept affect cultures and societies as Christians rub shoulders with non-Christians?
The Missionality of Quiet Times
The answer is simple. As you give yourself to the rhythm of weekly personal worship and Sunday corporate worship you are gradually being remade, renewed into the image of Jesus. Virtues are growing up in the soil of grace while the weeds of sin are plucked up by the diligence of your soul gardener, the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t mean that you somehow float an inch off the ground or are no longer at moments a colossal jerk. You still make mistakes and intentionally sin. But when you do you repent and go to God for more grace, finding yourself transformed even when your worship is predominated by lament and repentance. But this is the kicker, you’re living this life of worship with and in front of other people. And as you are transformed you grow in your capacity to love them. A Christ worshiper is a boon for society.
Your neighbors, baristas, youth sport coaches, teachers, and friends, all of them, are being daily exposed to a version of you that is only growing in your capacity to love. There is a Christ-likeness trajectory to your life that is not only winsome but nourishing. Your virtues and growing love for service find outlets in the lives of the people and organizations around you. Your willingness to seek forgiveness when you’ve offended someone or say, “I’m sorry,” when you’ve messed up are both cups of cold water in the desert of what passes as interpersonal relationships today. Some people will see you, hear the gospel of Jesus, and ask who they can be saved. Others will simply be loved well by you. You see, personal worship has everything to do with loving your neighbor because by giving yourself to rhythms of personal worship you’re also giving your neighbor someone who is become more like Christ.
We don’t have to choose between personal devotions and aggressive missions because they are the same thing, radically inseparable, mutually reinforcing, like conjoined twins, both dead if you try to separate them. Our communities desperately need the gospel of Jesus brought to them by people who are being transformed, from one degree of glory to another, by the gospel of Jesus. Let’s reach Culpeper, but from our knees.