Obstacles to Worship | #11 – The Triad
It is one thing to be momentarily distracted by the dazzling, noisy, continually-in-our-face things of the physical world around us, and another to be fixated on these temporal things. We are all very prone to the first because we live in physical bodies, surrounded, even bombarded, by the physical things around us. In our culture especially it is like being subject to an assault on our senses. It takes some effort to turn away from all that, but the more we do, the stronger those muscles become.
But the latter, the actual pursuit of these distractions is a more significant obstacle to worship. When we don’t exercise that muscle to turn away from the world toward the Lord, we can easily descend from fascination to fixation. At that point the temporary things of this world become an idol, a rival for our attention and affections.
We are told, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world the love for the father is not in them” (1 John 2:15). That’s a pretty bold statement, and it should jar us into an examination of our lives to uproot any threat this obstacle might pose to true worship. John goes on to tell us what to watch out for: “For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”
The lust of the flesh could be seen as taking those things we naturally need in life (like food, clothing, shelter, relationships) and getting them out of proportion. God created us with these basic needs, and they are not sinful in themselves. Indeed, God also created us with the task of working in order to meet these needs, but we can get all this natural and good order so out of proportion they become the goal of our lives instead of merely a means of survival. Whether we are driven by fear of not having enough, or greed at wanting more than we need, the lust of the flesh is taking these basic necessities out of God prescribed order and allowing them to drive us to excess.
Jesus warned us, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Matthew 6:31). Notice it is not the need is He is warning against, it is the frenzied pursuit, it is the anxiety that He is saying we should avoid. So our first point of examination is:
• Where do we stand when it comes to our material needs? Has the pursuit of these necessities gotten out of proportion?
• Are we prone to fear that we don’t have enough or greed that we must have more than we need?
• Does the pursuit of those things divert us from God’s priorities for our lives?
• Are they rivals for our worship of Him?
The next category John mentions is the lust of the eyes. This could be seen as taking things a step further, from the realm of necessities to that of desires and aspirations. Again, there is nothing wrong with having desires. They, too, are God’s gifts. In His great goodness He created beauty, relationships, and other pleasures for us to enjoy. If we had no desires we would not only fail to appreciate these pleasures, we would have no capacity to desire Him above all His other blessings. But when our desires for other pleasures draw us away from our desire for Him, then we have a problem.
In this same Matthew passage, Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things would be given to us as well. In other words, if we desire God first, all these other things will flow out of that. And in the 1 John passage we are reminded that the desires of this world will pass away, they are temporary. Solomon eloquently speaks to the futility of pursuing earthly pleasures. He tried it all and found it empty. When we pursue the lust of the eyes, the desires that pass away, all we will have left is ashes. Our desire for God is all we can take with us into eternity.
At this point we should ask ourselves:
• Is our desire for the Lord the primary desire in our lives?
• Are our other desires godly, and in keeping with the scriptures?
• Have we taken our desires to the Lord for His confirmation, blessing and refinement?
• Are any of our desires in danger of becoming idolatrous? If God said “No” to any of our desires what would our reaction be?
The third thing John alerts us to is the pride of life. This could be described as the futility of seeing ourselves as our own source. When we worry about the necessities, or pursue them in order to hoard our heap, we have not heeded Jesus’ teaching to remember that it is the Father who provides. When we pursue our desires for the things of the world above and beyond our desires for the Lord and His kingdom, we have omitted Him as the Source of our desires and aspirations. We think we must grasp these things. By our own strength we must acquire and attain, instead of looking to Him. This is the essence of the pride of life.
Jesus is such an excellent example of how we should approach this pride-of-life issue. He said over and over again that He was dependent on the Father, that He did nothing apart from the Father. When He was tempted in the desert, and had fasted for 40 days, He was legitimately hungry (a flesh need). Yet, when the devil suggested He turn stone to bread (which was within His capability), He did not step outside His dependence on the Father in order to meet even this most basic of needs. He waited on the Father’s provision, seeing the Father as His Source. That is what we must do to avoid the lure of the pride of life.
The questions we should consider in this category include:
• Do we truly look to the Father as our Source, or are we constantly striving in our own strength to meet our needs and desires?
• Do we run ahead of God, especially in the desires we have that we suspect might not be is perfect will for us?
We will never outgrow the battle against this triad as potential obstacles to our worship. It takes regular inspection of our lives to make sure that the Lord remains primary—our Source for our needs, our principal desire, and filter for all other aspirations.
by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries