You are what you worship. Agree? Disagree? If I had said, “You are what you eat,” that would be a bit easier to agree with. Food goes in, metabolizes, fuels and shapes the body. You actually are what you eat. But what about worship? Does worship have the same affect on us as food?
All week long we are seeking to answer the question, “What can satisfy the soul?” Clearly, food satisfies a hungry belly. Food is also a delight to the tongue, and for many food is emotionally satisfying. Have you ever heard of the phrase, “stress eating”? But no matter how much food we eat, there is no perfectly satisfying meal, as within hours we’re hungry again.
But what about worship? Does worship shape us? Does it satisfy? Is it true that “you are what you worship?” It’s an intriguing question, and the answer to that question is at the heart of what God is saying to the people of Israel as we continue studying Deuteronomy 12.
As we saw yesterday in our first post on Deuteronomy 12 & 13, God has to be strict about requiring Israel to worship him and him only. This is why the very first thing he says, in chapter 12 verses 2-3, is that Israel is to destroy any and all pagan centers of worship and idols in the Promised Land.
That might sound harsh. But again, remember the slave mentality? If you don’t know what I mean by “slave mentality,” please pause this post and read What can satisfy the soul? part 1 as there I explain what I think was going on in the hearts and minds of the nation of Israel.
It seems to me that what God is saying to Israel here is that sometimes it is best to take drastic action in your life. I once encountered a situation like this in my own life. It was the summer after my freshman year of college, and I was going through what I call my adult conversion, where for the first time, I was totally surrendering my life to God, to follow his ways. I looked at the many verses in the New Testament like Philippians 4:8 where one of the earliest followers of Jesus, a guy named Paul, says, “whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” and I wanted to follow that.
One area where I was allowing impurity into my life, and my thoughts, on a regular basis, was the music I listened to. So some church friends and I got together, and a bunch of us agreed that this was a concern. We went through our music collections, grabbed anything that we felt we needed to get rid of, and we threw it into a 50 gallon drum, poured gas on it, and lit it on fire.
I will tell you that Michelle and I have, in the years since, bought some of that music back, thinking, “Why did I get rid of that one, there was nothing wrong with that????” So maybe I was overzealous. I will admit it.
But at the time it was absolutely the right thing to do. I would do it again, and I would recommend others of you to do the same. Who wants to have a bonfire? Get rid of the porn, get rid of stuff that tempts you, get rid of stuff that is holding you back. Sometimes you need to take drastic action to break the power of the stuff that has a hold of you.
Also what we see in Deuteronomy 12 is the concept of being set apart. God wanted Israel to live a different way, which was a far better way, than the way of the pagan nations around them. If the people of Israel, who had a slave mentality, were to be set apart to follow this new way of God, the major first step was that they needed to remove the pagan false gods. Look at verse 3, at how specific God is, when he says that he wants the names of those other false gods to be wiped out. That’s not just removing an idol, that is removing the memory of that false god. Verses 1-3, therefore, show us clearly that Israel was to be set apart, different, following Yahweh, the one true God.
He adds to this in verses 4-6 saying that they must not worship in their way, they must worship in God’s way, and they must worship in God’s place.
Notice that he never names the place. That should jump at out you, because there was a place. The tabernacle. They had been using it for a long time by this point. Because he doesn’t mention the tabernacle, because he uses the generic word “place,” that means he wants them to have a different focus. The tabernacle, or the temple that would follow, or the city of Jerusalem where it would be located, those are place names. God, because he doesn’t use a place name, intends the focus not to be on the place, but for the focus of their worship to be where?
On him! God wants their focus to be where it should be, on him. He knows how easily people become enthralled with buildings and cities and places, and how our hearts and minds can get caught up in the wrong things. He knows how especially starry-eyed we become with the work of our own hands. You know the emotional boost you get when you make, create or fix something? It is a human tendency, and the feeling would only be more intense for Israel, considering their journey from slavery to independence. God is quite aware that Israel, when entering the Promised Land, will be very tempted by their victory, their success, and be lured away from him.
Because of that temptation, he wants them to be very aware that the place of worship is not so important, as is the fact that he will be there. His name will be there. This is why he tells them to wipe out the places of worship and even the names of the false gods, and focus solely on God and his name.
God continues in this vein in verse 7. Worship in the presence of the Lord. Be there, eat there, rejoice there. Why? Because God has blessed them. Which is a tie-in back to chapter 11 which we studied last week. Remember that? Obedience brings blessing.
Verses 8-14 describe that the people of God are not to do as they see fit, they are not to worship how they want. Instead they must worship God’s way. Again, God must be the focus of their worship.
We can learn from this too. We need to focus on worshiping God, and in his way. The conclusion is that worship does shape us. In a very real, physical and emotional way, we are what we worship. God is saying to Israel, if you do you take drastic action to clear away false worship from your land, you could easily be tempted to indulge in what is false, and that will destroy you. Place your focus, therefore, on God. Worship him. God isn’t saying that we will become gods. But the more we focus our lives on him, the more we worship him, the more like he we are inclined to be. He does want to shape us to be conformed to the image of Jesus. So I urge you to consider what it might look like for you worship Jesus more?