The piercing scream emanating from the miserable child strapped into the back seat of the van betrayed my abysmal failure as a parent. We had pulled off the road, and with flashers intermittently illuminating the neighborhood, I ransacked the vehicle in search of the one thing I would have made sure to bring if only I had developed sufficient skills to be a daddy. I could sense passing cars slowing as they neared us, the drivers shaking their heads at the naivety of this young father. I had done the unthinkable: I had left the house without a pacifier.
In our house, a pacifier was affectionately known as a “ba-ba,” and my oldest son quickly developed an addiction to the rubber drug. He usually carried one draped around his neck and he often appeared in public with two simultaneously protruding out of his mouth. While many of my friends kept unnecessary items like money in the pockets of their jackets, mine were stuffed with spare ba-bas. You never knew when you would need to whip out a replacement on a moment’s notice.
If you’re judging me right now, I want to be clear that not all of my children became addicted to a pacifier. My youngest son, for example, preferred his blanket. Today it is threadbare, perpetually soggy, and all four corners are chewed up, but it never lost its supernatural ability to offer comfort on a moment’s notice.
If you are a parent, you know that each child is different when it comes to finding comfort. Yours might have taken to thumb-sucking or adoration of a favorite toy. Whatever it was, you know the importance of never straying too far from it. If we’re honest, we might admit that the first thing we would grab on our way out of a burning house (family excepted, I assume) would be that blanket, toy, or ba-ba. After all, life would be unbearable without it.
Whatever your child uses, it is meant to be a tool for the purpose of providing comfort. A blanket is designed to swaddle a child and give him the comfort of being close to his mother. A pacifier is meant to satisfy the child’s natural desire to suck, which allows him to eat and keeps him alive.
However, we quickly find out that the tools designed to give comfort become the sole focus of the child. Rather than serving as a tool to fulfill a purpose, the object itself becomes the purpose.
Fortunately, most of us mature past the need for a pacifier, blanket, or favorite toy. My frantic ba-ba search took place about a decade and a half ago. I am happy to report that the screaming child has matured into a fine young man who no longer needs a pacifier (as far as I know, anyway).
Although we forsake our childish ways as we grow, we often fall into the same trap on a deeper and more important level. We claim to worship God, but we actually worship the means and methods that are supposed to assist us in worshiping God.
Here’s the good news: we’re not alone. In fact, none other than John the Apostle succumbed to this temptation even as he received the incredible vision we know as the book of Revelation.
As we near the end of the book, John has seen all the destruction that will take place as God finally unleashes His wrath on the rebellion of man. Natural disasters, devastating plagues, and incomparable bloodshed dominate the headlines. Then, just when John can barely handle any more bad information, an angel offers him a sneak peek into the New Jerusalem, a city in which there will be no more pain, tears, or death. Unable to contain his excitement over the revelation that the turmoil of life will turn to bliss, John falls in worship at the feet of the angel.
The angel would have none of this groveling. Sharply rebuking John, he issued a clear command: “Worship God” (Revelation 22:9).
John, of course, knew that all worship must be directed to God alone. In a moment of uncontrollable ecstasy, however, he lost track of his theology and worshiped the messenger rather than the One who sent the message. He got so caught up in the moment—realizing who God is and what He is going to do—that he began to worship the means of what he knew rather than the source.
Let’s not be too quick to criticize John, though, because we often do the same thing. Too often we worship a favorite preacher or musician, a church, a denomination, a style of music, a church building, or tradition instead of God. All of these are meant to draw us to God and help us celebrate Him, but we tend to get sidetracked and worship the means and methods.
Most of us have undoubtedly outgrown our juvenile addiction to ba-bas and blankets. Maybe it is also time that we end our fixation on the means of worship and actually worship God.