Our smartphones promise so much. Can they satisfy the soul? Take note today how often you use yours, and lift up your eyes and observe how often other people are on their phones. The first iPhone came out in June 2007, and in 12 years smartphones have swept the globe, with about one-third of every human using one. In the USA, research finds that 95% of all Americans have a cell phone, and 77% have a smartphone! Get this: in the 18-29 demographic, 94% use smartphones, and 100% have a cellphone. 100%! Even if the actual percentage is 99.5% and they just rounded up, these stats paint an astounding picture of phone adoption rates. And it happened fast! From 2011 to 2018, smartphone use by Americans increased from 35% to 77%. Is there any question that we love our smartphones? What does this say about us and our inner longings? What does this say about what we worship? All week long we have been looking at Deuteronomy 12, seeking to answer the question: what can satisfy the soul? Can our phones? Let’s continue into Deuteronomy 12 to find out.
We saw yesterday in part 2 that God must be the focus of our worship. Moses goes on in Deuteronomy 12, describing to Israel how this worship of Yahweh is to occur in verses 15-28. There are lots of sacrifices and blood and I encourage you to read that at some point. In this post, however, we are going to jump to verses 29-32 where Moses summarizes his theme again. Take a moment and read that.
He says, “Do not worship like the people around you worship, as it is detestable.” Look at verse 31: “They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.” Human sacrifice, God says, is totally detestable. This is a major way that Yahweh was different from other gods of the nations around Israel. There are actually many ways that Yahweh and his expectation for the people of Israel was different, and we’ve seen some of those ways already in our study through Deuteronomy. Here are some examples: He chose Israel, a weak, slave nation, rather than picking one of the powerful nations. He wanted to be a loving close relationship with them, rather than to be distant from them. He was deeply concerned that they, a nation of slaves, be protected and provided for, so they could be transformed into a life of freedom and flourishing. When they messed up, and they disobeyed him, he was gracious and forgiving. All of these characteristics of Yahweh are strikingly different from the other Ancient Near Eastern gods. Now here we see another distinction, as Yahweh is concerned about human life, in particular wanting to eradicate the horrible practice of human sacrifice. In the Ancient Near East, ritual human sacrifice was all too common, and Yahweh wanted it abolished.
Do you think there might be worship practices in our culture that God would find detestable? We’ve already talked about the possibility that Israel had a deep-seated slave mentality that could lead to them to be tempted to worship the gods of the powerful nations around them. It is hard for us to imagine Israel seriously considering false worship to the point of engaging in human ritual sacrifice. But God is right to be concerned about this, knowing that his people are so easily lured away. There was a deep dissatisfaction in their souls, and God knew that it would be attractive to Israel to attempt to fill that longing by worshiping like the nations around them. Could the same be said of us? Let’s be humble and teachable as well, considering the possibility that we, too, might engage in false worship, trying to satisfy our souls. No, Christians are not sacrificing infants, but we would do well to ask if there are any practices of false worship that might be tempting us?
It begs the question: What is true worship? What worship does God desire of us? To show up at church worship services, sing songs, pray, and listen to a sermon? Does God want us to perform religious rituals like communion? Before we identify false worship, let’s first make sure we clearly define the worship God desires. Worship that God desires is celebrating, rejoicing and honoring him, and not just in a ceremony for one hour, but through a life of following him and obeying his ways. Worship that God desires is a life of making things right in the world. Worship includes battling injustice in society, healing brokenness in relationships, serving God, and pursuing the mission of his Kingdom. And you know where that starts? Giving our hearts to him. Finding our satisfaction in him. There are plenty of times where God would say that Israel was doing all kinds of sacrifices, fasting, and rituals, but he said it was worthless to him because their hearts were far from him. In those moments, they showed they were not satisfied in God alone.
And so where are our hearts? The shocking message of false worship, God says, is that any worship can become false worship if our hearts are not satisfied in God. The music and the sermon might be wonderfully faithful to God and his Word, but if we are not satisfied in God alone, we can be tempted to desire those worship elements to satisfy us. One way to discover if our hearts are not satisfied in God alone is to evaluate our reaction to worship services. If the are “not up to par” or “boring” or if we have a critical spirit about them, or if we think or say, “I didn’t get fed” about a sermon, then it could be our hearts are far from God.
I will admit that sometimes, my heart is all about is sitting on our sofa, phone in hand, scrolling through the app store trying to find a new cool app that will make my life better. I think I want to get the most out of this phone that I am paying for every month. Like going to the buffet. I want to go there and eat all day long to get the biggest bang for my buck.
And yet what is really going on beneath the surface? I think a new phone app, or lots of great food, will satisfy me or fulfill me, and make my life better.
But that is a lie! When I went on sabbatical, I got rid of Facebook and games on my phone, and it literally felt like an emotional ripping away, but you know what? It made my life better! Instead of escaping to social media land or a phone game, which I did way too much, I tried to read a book or focus on my family, or pray. And that prayer was the major change. I tried to learn to sit in God’s presence and hear his voice. I tried to learn to be satisfied in him.
What I found is that it wasn’t my smartphone that was the problem. In fact, while I removed a bunch of distracting apps, I went on the install a handful of prayer apps that have been incredibly helpful in pointing my heart to God.
We simply cannot find our satisfaction in anything but God. And that is what God is saying to Israel, “you will not find your satisfaction in worshiping those other gods, or like they worship.” True satisfaction can be found only in God.
So follow the teaching of Yahweh, in Deut. 12:2 – take dramatic action, break down the altars to the things in your life through which you are seeking to satisfy your soul. Delete the apps, cancel the subscription. Is there music, movies, books, or something else holding you back? An addictive habit? Let it burn. Tear down those strongholds. Take dramatic action. Find your satisfaction in God alone, because only he can satisfy the longings of our souls.