In my next book, Surprised By Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels (based on my sermons from Jonah), I have a section on the connection between what we worship and what we fear. After a conversation about this connection the other day, I thought it might be helpful to post that section here.
All of us are worshipers—of something. It's that simple. We're created, designed, and wired for worship. Being human is to be a worshiper. It's one of the biggest distinctives that mark us as human beings in this universe filled with living creatures.
The English word worship derives from the idea of "worthship," meaning that we all serve those things to which we attribute ultimate worth. Worship is a posture of the heart. It's an attitude of loyalty and trust toward something—someone—in your life that you believe makes life worth living. Thus, we all worship something or someone. This is true whether you consider yourself to be religious or not, spiritual or not, Christian or not. Typically, whatever we worship is our "non-negotiable." It's that one thing, should we lose it or part with it, which would bring both devastation and hopelessness.
What you choose to attribute ultimate worth to—what you choose to worship—depends on what you fear the most. If you fear loneliness, you worship relationships. You depend on them to save you from a meaningless life. If you fear not being accepted or esteemed, you worship your social network, the way you look, the car you drive, or the amount of money you make. You depend on these things to validate your existence. If you fear insignificance, you end up worshiping your career or your accomplishments.
Behind everything you worship is some fear that, without this person or thing, you'd be lost. Life wouldn't be worth living. Your fears cause you to attribute ultimate worth either to things such as success, reputation, family, relationships, or to God. Either you believe your life would be meaningless without your friends, or your career achievement, or your children, or your possessions, or your social status, or whatever, or you believe your life wouldn't be worth living without God, because you know he alone can provide everything you need (and, in fact, long for)—justification, love, mercy, grace, cleansing, a new beginning, eternal approval and acceptance, righteousness, and rescue.
We're all worshipers—but God is the only reliable object of worship because nothing and no one extends these things like God does in the person and work of Jesus Christ.