The exhortation? To ascribe glory and strength to the LORD – who alone deserves it.
The challenge – to re-claim and re-direct the glory and strength we ascribe elsewhere – whether consciously or not. The glory and strength we ascribe to ourselves when we carry on in our own strength, the glory and strength we ascribe to God’s enemies when we feel we can’t carry on and today – the glory and strength we ascribe to idols.
Ascribing to idols what is due to God – it is not a new problem is it? It is almost fair to say that it is the story of the whole Old Testament. The story of a faithful God and his adulterous people. In the New Testament Paul is brimming with thankfulness to God for the Thessalonian Christians who have “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thes 1:9).
Idols: an old problem yes, but not a problem of the past. They are just so hard to spot aren’t they? They are a bit like chameleons taking on the appearance of their surroundings, appearing entirely normal, just part of the furniture – brazenly hiding in plain sight in the day-to-day bit and bobs of the lives they have infiltrated. To the outsider of course the disguise doesn’t seem to work so well. Have you ever watched a murder mystery and shouted at the character alone in the house on a dark and stormy night: “Don’t answer the door!”. It is so obvious that danger lurks on the other side. Similarly as we read through Israel’s history we want to call out: “Don’t do it!” as time and time again they open the door wide to idolatry whether it is Ashtoreth poles, the high places or alters to false gods like Baal and Molech. Israel’s idols are so obvious to us aren’t they – they stand out like a sore thumb, like a hippopotamus hiding behind a pot plant – but when it comes to the idols in my life – well suddenly they are cunning masters of disguise.
Isn’t it obvious that Superman is just Clark Kent without his glasses? Well – apparently not if you see him everyday.
But I’ve got sidetracked! If I have got you thinking about how to spot the idols in your life there are some excellent books on the subject. I can certainly recommend Tim Keller’s: counterfeit Gods for example.
So how do these well hidden idols steal the glory and strength we should be ascribing to God? In what ways do we look to them to do what only God can do? In what ways do we treat them as only God deserves? Where are we ascribing worth,to mere man-made ‘statues’? Worshipping (worth-shipping) them instead of our faithful, loving, sovereign, heavenly Father?
Well, if money is an idol then the big car bill that has just come in out of the blue will cause me to worry and lose sleep. It will distract me and play on my mind, diverting my concentration and energy. I will go over and over again what I could have done better to avoid it or plan for it, struggling to forgive myself or move on. I will fail to be thankful to God that we actually can afford the repairs, that we have a lovely friend who owns a garage and is totally trustworthy and that we have a second car and kind and helpful friends. Basically I am ascribing to money – or more subtly I am ascribing to the control I desire over my money – glory and strength.
If switching off from everything, being numbed to the pain or merely the relentlessness of real life is an idol, then watching ‘just one more’ of a DVD box set will win over getting a goodnight sleep and subsequently getting up well. The time given to crashing will be out of balance with plodding through some of the bits and bobs that need doing, or relating to the people around me. I am giving it a precedence of place in my day that ascribes it glory and strength to make my life livable.
If rest and comfort are my idols then I will sacrifice time and money and even relationships at their alter – thereby ascribing them glory and strength.
If being appreciated for what I do and ‘how brilliant I am’ is an idol then I will struggle to keep going when my days are full of being told by my children that I am mean and horrible and wrong most of the time. I will struggle to keep going in a ministry that is full of shut doors – sometimes shut in my face! In other words I am ascribing glory and strength to the avoidance of failure and uselessness.
Again, I’m not exploring all this to make myself feel guilty, to beat myself up, but to expose my foolishness and the harm it is doing. Because these idols don’t deserve an ascription of glory and strength. Not only can they not deliver what we expect of them, but they entrap us and rob us of joy and rest and unburdened service. When we ascribe to God glory and strength we can enjoy these things rightly, but not be their slaves. God is the one who provides for us all that we need, who give us true rest from our burdens, and who chooses us not to be impressive and wonderful but to wonder at how impressive he is.
When I first read the exhortation to..
“Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength” Psalm 96:7
..my mind immediately went to singing, proclaiming and declaring the greatness of God. And rightly so. Again and again we are commanded to sing a new song, to shout aloud our praises, to speak to each other in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. And, indeed, I need reminding of this again and again.
BUT …it would be a shame to just sing louder or more frequently from the same old position of the practical, often unconscious, ascribing that goes on in my day-to-day life. Rather I want to un-ascribe greatness, glory and strength where it has been wrongly directed. It is as though by sending it to the wrong address I am stealing it from our Lord.
Basically friends, we need to remember that we are born worshippers. If we are not ascribing greatness, glory and strength to the Lord, we will be ascribing it elsewhere. What a mighty and patient Father we have that even as he graciously loosens our grip on the false gods we cling to, he is teaching our hearts what it is to ascribe to him what is his due and our delight.
So, let us ascribe glory and strength to the LORD – trusting only in HIS glorious strength and grace to change our wayward hearts.