Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men’s hands…
Those who make them are like them;
So is everyone who trusts in them. Psalm 115:4,8
Corporate worship is designed to embed your story in the larger story of redemption, so you’ll always place your hope in the grace of Jesus. ~ Paul David Tripp
In writer/director Christopher Nolan’s 2000 haunting movie Memento, the feature character is a man named Leonard. This is a tragic character in the classic Greek sense of that word.
Leonard (Guy Pearce) is a man who is struggling to put his life back together after the brutal murder of his wife. But Leonard’s problems are different from those of most people in his situation; he was beaten severely by the same man who killed his wife. The most significant manifestation of Leonard’s injuries is that his short-term memory has been destroyed; he is incapable of retaining any new information, and must resort to copious note-taking and Polaroid photographs in order to keep track of what happens to him over the course of a day (he’s even tattooed himself with a few crucial bits of information he can’t get along without).
Leonard is a tragic character because he can’t remember his story.
In many ways Leonard is a picture of many of us and the times in which we live. We are a people that don’t have a clear picture of our story.
Scientist have validated what various cultures have known for years: In order for each of us to make sense of our lives we all live with some sort of meta narrative, some form of story of the world that shapes how we live and our choices in day-to-day life.
This is what a story answers for us. And we can’t live without a sense of our story. But often, like the character Leonard, we try to stitch together moments, snapshots and ideas to try to have a narrative that helps to make some sense of our lives.
Our faith is a story of what the living Creator of all of reality has done to form, love, rule and rescue us and the entire cosmos in the person of Jesus Christ.
And when I drive up the dirt driveway that leads to our church, walk into the building and sing songs and pray prayers, I am telling this story. When we participate in worship week-by-week we are celebrating, enacting and telling the story of rescue, redemption, and restoration by our Creator God of the cosmos. By doing these acts and elements we are sinking the story deeply into our lives and creating soul-memories.
And what I learn from the ancient poems of the Bible is that we all worship—something or someone. For atheism is not the opposite of worship, idolatry is.
The late author David Foster Wallace was asked to deliver a commencement at Kenyon college in May of 2005. By no means is he a believer. But he shares some powerful insights into the concept of worship in that address.
Here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.
If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear.
Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
Worship is our default setting. And we always become like what we worship. So, when we worship something other than the Living God ultimately it will only degrade and dehumanize us.
A simple diagnostic to asses who or what I am worshipping is to try to imagine what would cause me to come completely undone if I lost it. Everyone loses loved ones and things in life—we all do. And it hurts. But what is it in my life that if it is threatened with loss causes me to panic? What do I turn to for comfort when it feels like my life is falling apart? What are the things in my life that if I didn’t have them would make me feel like I weren’t a person anymore?
The ancient book that we love suggests that we give our heart-allegiance to the One who created us.
God created everything that is. He made God’s dimension of reality and ours. The living, free, sovereign God is the One who stitched together the tectonic plates that lie at the floor of the oceans. He is the one who thought up the majestic elk, the gentle dove and the weird duckbill platypus. He is the One who hand-placed the over billion stars in our galaxy and the billion or more galaxies in our universe. And He is the God who has shaped every atom, neutron, quark and string at the sub-atomic level. And He is the God who knows every freckly age spot and hair follicle of your body and mine.
God is our creator. That’s why we worship Him.
We not only worship Him because He is our creator, we worship Him because he is our rescuer.
You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord;
He is their help and their shield.
God rescues us even when we are good as gone. We worship a God who has rolled up His divine sleeves, gotten his hands dirty rescuing a sin and death-ravaged creation. God “mixes it up” with real people in real places to save us from ourselves. Even in all of our mess and brokenness He shields us, protects us and helps us. He marks us with His love and blesses us.
And what we have in the Bible is an epic story of God doing exactly that with people like you and I down through the ages until He finally helps, rescues, and blesses us once and for all in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
I love the story of when a missionary described the God of the universe as found in Jesus to a Chinese woman for the first time. As she heard the missionary describe Jesus her eyes filled with tears and then she said, “I always knew there ought to be a God like that somewhere, I just didn’t know His name.”
And so, dear reader, immerse yourself in the story of Jesus week-by-week and find healing for your broken soul.
Now that you know His name, perhaps you will find yours.