Christian worship is unlike any other form of religious exercise because we worship the living God. Since our God is not like lifeless idols, we practice our faith differently than the rest of the world.
Scripture contrasts idol worship against true faith in the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:20–40. We see a memorable scene on the mountain: hundreds of false prophets dancing around and shouting, “O Baal, answer us.” They even try cutting themselves to get their idol’s attention,
“But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made.” (1 Kings 18:26)
The account is tragic and hilarious. Elijah even joked at their solemn observance, “Maybe your god is in the bathroom. . . . Perhaps he’s asleep” (1 Kings 18:27). Can you imagine how shocked the false prophets would have been if Baal actually responded? How many ceremonies had these prophets participated in without hearing so much as a sigh from their revered deity?
One reason people worship idols is because they make no demands of you. It seems far safer to bow down before a god who is incapable of speaking. Maybe this is why 450 prophets were volunteering to speak on behalf of Baal — their god needed help communicating, and he wouldn’t object if they mixed up the message a bit.
Idols are the work of human hands and completely unlike the living God (Psalm 135:6, 15). In the beginning, the Lord God fashioned us out of dust and made us in his own image to serve him only and to rule over all creation. But in the terrible exchange of idolatry, we bow before objects in our own image — or in the images of birds and beasts — and instead of serving the living God and ruling over all creation, we serve creation to escape the rule of God.
In the western world, it may be less common to stretch out in front of sculptures, but the same core impulse to serve created things is nevertheless alive and well. We know the repeat offenders: money, sex, or power. Or perhaps a certain person in your life or an activity you enjoy has gradually shifted from being good to being a god.
It is so easy to start investing extreme amounts of time and energy, money and affection in worthless worship to fake saviors. And our religious ceremonies, whether formalized in cultic practices or informal in habits, give us the illusion of worship without the intrusion of God’s authoritative voice.
The God Who Speaks
Speaking is central to God. God himself is Word, and his speech commanded nothing to be everything (John 1:1–3). “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty” (Psalm 29:4). When God wants the dead to come to life he says, “Live!” (Ezekiel 16:6), and when Jesus wanted his friend to walk out of the grave, he spoke, “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43). Even now, Jesus is holding together your molecules with his words (Hebrews 1:3). If Jesus were to stop speaking, you would stop existing.
How unlike the idols of this world is our speaking God. You will never hear a croak from the Baals or body-image, from Molech or money, from Asherahs or animism.
But you cannot escape the revelation of Yahweh (Psalm 19:3–4). All of our human speaking is a mere reflection of the true speech that created the world.
We Worship by the Opened Ear
Because Christians worship a speaking God, we approach worship differently than any religious sect or worshiping community.
First, we do not need to cry out like the priests of Baal, “O God, answer us,” because we recognize that our gathering only exists because God has called us out of darkness into the fellowship of light (1 Peter 2:9–10). The church is a verbally-founded gathering, and our worship begins with God’s voice calling to us, with hearing the voice that false worship can never coax from the nothingness. When you meet with your church this Sunday you gather with people who have already heard the voice of God and responded.
Second, we expect to continue to hear his voice every time we open the word he has written for our hearing. All Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16), and his word never returns void (Isaiah 55:11). We need not be like the priests of Baal, cutting themselves with knives to get their god’s attention, hoping to hear a divine word. As long as Christian worship drips with Bible, God speaks. We cry out for God to speak with authority and power in our worship meetings — and then we open up our Bibles to listen.
Finally, we can expect to see evidence of God’s voice in our churches. The proof of the Lord’s voice in our midst is powerful, new life. This side of Mount Carmel, we experience a spectacle greater than fire burning on an altar; we know the burning of our hearts as the Scriptures concerning Christ are opened (Luke 24:32). We are eyewitnesses that the God “who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
So, gather with God’s people this weekend to hear from the God who speaks.