“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:4–5, esv).
When we allow anything to accumulate on the table of our hearts and minds—occupying our time and attention in a worshipful way—that’s a problem. But sweeping all those things off the table so only the Lord remains as the object of our worship aligns us with our ultimate and eternal reality. God in the center of our attention is the essence of worship.
The second commandment reminds us we have a tendency to create idols and false gods: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.”
Creating an idol isn’t just carving or molding an image. More often it’s placing godlike values on something that can’t possibly accomplish what only God can do. Whenever we worship what is created instead of our Creator, we end up with nothing but trouble. The warning in this commandment is one of the reasons we come to church: to sweep our idols off the table.
So what most often competes for our worship? We asked 100 people, and here are the top five answers:
5. Our families. We can let our children or our spouse get in the place of God. Our families are our God-given, primary responsibility—which is why they can never come before Him. If we make them more important than the Lord, we’ve failed in the very thing He has called us to model for them.
4. Money and possessions. We easily worship things instead of God. Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth. . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19, 21). When we worship God, we treasure Him and recognize His worth, but if we set our hearts on our treasure—our money, our possessions—it displaces God, and we’re in trouble.
3. Sports figures and celebrities. We worship people when we think, Oh, if only I could be like him. Do we recognize the convicting accuracy of a television program named American Idol? People are worshiping other people.
2. Our careers and accomplishments. It’s so easy to allow these fragile, temporal achievements to give our lives meaning and significance—the very qualities only God can supply—and to occupy the center of our worship.
1. Ourselves. How often do our needs and wants become our highest pursuit? When we won’t allow anyone, not even God, to get in the way of what we desire, we’re worshiping the idol in the mirror.
The discipline of worship is a deliberate act where we sweep our hearts clean and remove all the false gods who would claim our worship. We gather with others in God’s presence and ask Him to take away every worthless thing that would crowd out His rightful place. That’s worship at its best, and it’s where God shows up in glory.
Lord, I know idols can seem more real because I can touch them or see them, but they are absolutely unable to substitute for You. They lead me in false directions and let me down. Nothing I create can take the place of the God who created me. Lord, You alone are worthy of my humble adoration and trusting surrender. I long to depend on no one or nothing as I depend on You. Thank You for Your faithfulness. In Jesus’ name, amen.