Ben Howard’s song “The Fear” repeats the prophetic and potentially haunting refrain: “Oh, I will become what I deserve.” [1] While what we deserve may be subject to debate or even delusion, I can’t help but wonder if Ben has put his finger on a fear that most of us experience when we allow ourselves some sober thinking. To frame it in the prose of Thoreau, who observed that most of us lead lives of quiet desperation, is the despair that I may feel in my life a result of something I’m doing?  Could be.

What We Worship

It is a worthwhile exercise in self-examination for each of us to take inventory of what’s most important to us.  Not so much what we would claim we value most if asked in an interview or when giving a church testimonial, but what in fact occupies our hearts and minds — those things, people or pursuits to which we devote the bulk of our time, energy, money and other resources.

The Bible reminds us that there is a place in our lives which only our Creator should occupy. It is that “heart” or center of our being from which our volitional will is exercised and our commitments are made – it enthrones that which we worship.  If we are honest, however, lesser things or persons often fill that place.  The scriptures refer to these as “idols”, and they can be anything or anyone, whether tangible or intangible, real or imagined.  And it is not that these persons or things are “bad” in themselves, but rather that they occupy a place in our lives they shouldn’t.  Sometimes they creep in subtly, while other times we blatantly welcome them.  Before we know it, we can find ourselves living our lives for such lesser things.

We Are Becoming

That is not without consequence to our experience of life and even our own being.  The Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, asking his people:

 “What fault did your ancestors find in me,
that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols
and became worthless themselves. (Jeremiah 2:5)

The principle is repeated by the psalmist while questioning the folly of “the nations” in giving into the idols they’ve made:

Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.  (Psalm 115:8)

Likewise, the prophet Hosea graphically warns those who gave themselves to the false god Baal Peor:

they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol
and became as vile as the thing they loved. (Hosea 9:10)

What We Deserve

And so it goes. If what we pursue with our lives is empty, we become empty. If what we love is shameful and vile, we become so. If that which we worship is less than our Creator, then our experience of life is less than the life we were created to have.  We become what we deserve.

But why? Because we can’t straddle the fence regarding that to which we give our hearts.  In worshiping lesser things, we necessarily turn away from the One who made us.  As Jonah recognized when he came to his senses:

“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them. (Jonah 2:8)

The Antidote

Is there an antidote to this universal vulnerability we have to cling to lesser things, reaping the despair they predictably produce? These same scriptures say emphatically “yes”! It is in loving our Creator with all our being (Mark 12:30), seeking first His kingdom (Matthew 6:33), honoring God as God (Romans 1:21).  Or, as succinctly stated by the same psalmist above, it is when we truly “Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 115:18).

[1] Ben Howard, “The Fear” (Every Kingdom, Island/Republic 2011)