Last night marked the return of the Premier League to the delight and the despair of many fans – albeit in front of eerily empty stadiums! Others I expect haven’t missed football at all – if anything it’s been a refreshing stoppage in play.
Whether you like the game or not, we all have things that we are passionate about, for that is a part of what it is to be human.
At our core we all desire pleasure and seek it in many ways! From relationships to entertainment; hobbies to holidays… the list is endless! You name it – we can all fill in the blanks that we turn to. But none of the happiness of this world can satisfy us apart from God.
There was a time in my life when I was obsessed with Aston Villa. I was a season ticket holder, I had the kit, the clothes – even my bedroom was a shrine to the club. And my happiness was largely dependent upon whether or not they won or lost.
I recently watched a documentary that followed Leeds United behind the scenes last season, and as interesting as it was it made me cringe because it reminded me of myself when I was younger. It’s easy to see the correlation between football and church – fans literally worshipping, singing the praises of the club and it’s manager and players, united as one fellowship in adulation. And it’s not just Leeds fans; for many football supporters enjoyment isn’t strong enough a word – they idolise their team.
Football in itself isn’t wrong – I still enjoy it! But if a leather ball hitting the back of the net is the most important thing in our lives then something is seriously wrong.
Anything that we enjoy can become an idol – when good things are elevated to ultimate things.
In the Bible we think of idols as being golden calves, statues or poles that people bowed down to, and we wonder how stupid the Israelites must have been. But we essentially do the same whenever we consider anything or anyone as being of greater worth than God.
It’s one thing to intellectually acknowledge that God is deserving of our praises, but it’s another thing to praise Him because we love Him and find Him most satisfying. Even though God commands us to praise Him, the heart of worship is not duty, but delight.
We hear praises everyday, from couples, to food, to the weather. We praise what we enjoy. When I eat a scrumptious steak I gladly express my contentment! It’s the natural response! Worship is the overflow of our enjoyment! We treasure most that which gives us most pleasure!
Many people wrongly see God as being austere and a party-pooper – that being a Christian is primarily about not doing this, and not doing that – about not having fun, supressing our desires and being thoroughly miserable. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
C.S.Lewis said, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
It is for God’s glory and for our everlasting joy that He commands us to worship Him alone. It’s a match made in heaven, quite literally! God is honoured when we are most content in Him. But if we find God to be so boring and unsatisfying then we not only dishonour him, but we also destroy ourselves.
Psalm 115:8, talking about idols, says,
“Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.”
We become like that which we worship, therefore idolatry causes us to be as lifeless and as empty as the idols themselves. And they not only deaden our hearts to God, Colossians tells us that His wrath is coming upon idolatry (3:5-6).
Those who belong to Christ shall be shielded from God’s judgment upon sin, but Christians are still prone to idolatry in this fallen world and in these earthly bodies.
Idols in themselves are not evil. The problem is our disordered affections.
The antidote is not in denying our desires, but rather in seeing Jesus as their perfect fulfilment. For example, my love for Aston Villa was really my longing for purpose, identity, community and excitement – all found in Christ and His Gospel. That doesn’t mean I no longer support the club, but my joy is rooted in Jesus.
If someone is lost at sea and thirsty enough they will drink the salty ocean water even though it will make their condition worse. Telling them not to drink doesn’t really help them – what they need is fresh water to quench their thirst.
Charles Spurgeon put it this way, “When the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, the idols will soon depart and the love of sin will take its flight.”
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians saying, “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1:9).
Worshipping God frees us from idolatry, because enjoyment of Him quenches our thirst for love like no other counterfeit.
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and let the one who believes in me drink… ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)
Blaise Pascal wrote words to the effect of, “There is a God-shaped hole in every human heart that only he can fill.” The reason why people are so unhappy in this world is because they don’t know God.
Everybody worships – we are hardwired to – even atheists.
As Romans says,
They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (1:25)
We all thirst, and most people around us see no alternative but to drink the salty waters of idolatry that kills their souls, and we too sometimes foolishly sip. We thirst for paradise lost, and idols promise us paradise, but they can’t deliver – they just enslave us and make us thirstier.
That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the things of this world, for
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father (James 1:17), and
Everything created by God is good (1 Timothy 4:4)
When I eat my steak I don’t give thanks to the cow, but to the Lord! We acknowledge Him as The Source of all pleasure.
It’s easy to compartmentalise our lives – to think of some things as being holy and everything else as common.
Imagine our lives as being a cake – I like cake, but not in an idolatrous way. Perhaps we think of God as being a slice in our cake – maybe even the biggest piece – but a slice nonetheless – and our faith in Jesus seems separate from everything else. The temptation is to go to church on a Sunday, or rather to watch livestreams, and to read our Bible and pray at certain times, tick the boxes and then get busy living the rest of our lives apart from God.
But really, we should see life as a different kind of cake – a roulade – with Christ as the best bit – the cream – bringing flavour and enjoyment to every slice and mouthful we eat. For everything we do, and everything we are, and everything we have – it must all be centred upon Jesus.
Psalm 16 says,
You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you (2);
The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply (4);
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup (5);
In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (11)
May we enjoy God today and always, for in His presence is fullness of joy! And as we feast on His delights in every aspect of life, from our corporate worship, to football, to washing dishes, our lives will, with increasing measure, speak to those around us the wonderful words of Psalm 34:8:
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!