WORSHIPPING SHADOWS

Inspired by a story told by Jason Upton…

Several years ago I was at a Christian conference, where a very popular young worship leader was part of the line up. There was more than one venue for the meetings, and on one particular evening, this worship leader was leading the worship in the smaller of the two venues, which had generally been less well attended up until now. However, on this night extra people were pouring in to the tent, as word had got out that this gifted and charismatic worship leader was going to be present.

The ushers had a logistical problem, trying to limit the number of people attending the meeting, due to health and safety and fire regulations. A scuffle broke out at the entrance to the tent, as a group of young people had to be turned away. Angry words were spoken within my earshot, as the disappointment of not being able to see their idol turned into near violence.

At the time I was shocked. I had thought we were here to worship Jesus, but it seemed that a different kind of worship was also going on. It certainly wasn’t the worship leader’s fault. He hadn’t asked to be placed on a pedestal like some kind of god.

The Book of Acts describes how a crowd of people in Lystra believe that Paul and Barnabas are gods in human form, and want to worship them. (Acts 14) This crowd are later incited to violence and events get pretty ugly. It would seem that worshipping humans like gods has a negative effect on people!

People look up to leaders, as if somehow they are infallible and have all the answers, when, in fact, they are fallible human beings, with everyday weaknesses and struggles. Operating under an anointing from God can make someone look good, can even make them seem powerful and invincible, but the truth is that person is merely a weak, surrendered vessel, whom God has chosen to use.

The applause of man can never truly satisfy, but for some it can become addictive. As people’s expectations from the “great man or woman of God” are voiced, the pressure to “perform” can increase. Are there times when we inadvertently set people up for a fall, through false expectations and hero worship?

How easy it is for human beings to go in pursuit of the latest trend in teaching, in worship, and so on, to do the conference circuit, hoping to receive yet another prophetic word or life changing impartation from the main speaker…

It isn’t inherently wrong to have a hunger for learning and to pursue things that help us to draw closer to God. But if we make idols of the people who carry the message, we have missed the point. The essential message is always the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and how that changes everything! 

Paul puts it rather well:

“When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
1 Corinthians 2:1-5

I heard Jason Upton tell a story as part of a worship session, about a Barbarian people group in the eastern part of Germany. While they were up in the mountains, they saw a huge shadow appear, and not understanding what it was, they assumed it must be God.

For years their whole village would journey up the mountain, wait for the shadow to appear at sunset or sunrise, and worship it.

In truth, what these people were witnessing was a shadow of themselves. As they stood with the sun behind them, a large shadow image of them was cast on the opposite horizon.

Jason uses this illustration to say how easy it is for us to worship “shadows,” following after images of men or women, as if they are God. Worshipping mere mortals leads to disappointment, disillusionment and frustration, but when we get tired of following one person, we can soon find another shadow to follow.

He continues by saying that when we turn to face the Son, Jesus, this brings true freedom and liberty, but for many people, this is too uncontrollable. Following Jesus doesn’t give us a life that we can control. We don’t get to know exactly where we are going. Instead we have to trust and follow.

So my question is this. Are we worshipping shadows? Or are we pursuing Jesus Christ with our whole hearts?

So much that glitters is not gold. For me, keeping my eyes on Jesus is the only way I know. I often feel weak, and I may not know exactly where I’m going, but one thing that I do know with certainty is that I can trust Him.

~ Jane

Photo by Matt Botsford, courtesy of Unsplash.

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