Worship—Filling the Abyss­

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By Tim Harlow

Financial campaigns are good because they remind us where to look for the help everyone is seeking.

Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century French philosopher and mathematician, is often quoted as saying there is a “God-shaped vacuum” inside of us. That’s a preacher’s abbreviation of the following paragraph:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself (quoted in Penseés, a collection of philosophical fragments, notes, and essays).

07_Harlow_JNI wonder if Blaise had been reading about the children of Israel.

I’m in the middle of my fifth capital campaign at the same church. Honestly, during every one of them I feel like a parent who makes his kids stop playing on a beautiful day so they can come inside to do their homework. It’s unpopular. But it must be done, and it’s good for the church, and you know the church will be in trouble if it isn’t done. Still, sometimes it would be easier just to let it go.

Then I read this,

They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done” (Exodus 36:3-5).

They had to stop working and tell Moses to tell the people to quit giving.

What?

I need a copy of that sermon.

Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work (Exodus 36:6, 7).

“Restrained from giving more.” Why were they so anxious to give?

Sure, they’d seen and heard and felt the presence of God in a scary way. They’d seen Moses’ radiant “God-burned” face when he came down off the mountain.

But I wonder if it has something to do with Pascal’s idea, because this is after the famous golden calf incident.

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. . . . Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron (Exodus 32:1-3).

They were willing to give their gold for something to worship. As Pascal wrote, “Seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are.”

And so are we. So is all of humanity. Walk through the slums of Nairobi and witness people living in the worst possible conditions—holding a cell phone. Come to a Financial Peace class at our church and learn how much credit debt bondage is possible. (On average, Americans between the ages of 18 and 65 have $4,717 of credit card debt. At one of our recent Financial Peace University classes, we actually had one person see the light and cut up 23 credit cards!)

We want to worship. We need to fill the “infinite abyss.”

It’s my job as their leader to show them how and who to worship. Jesus told us the how was with our gold. He told us we can’t serve both God and mammon, and I’m not sure we’ve believed him.

So I’m going to go tell the kids—it’s time to stop playing and come in. I know in the long run they will be glad I did.

Tim Harlow serves as senior pastor with Parkview Christian Church, Orland Park, Illinois. 

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