“I am the Lord your God, you shall not make for yourself a graven image.”
“I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before Me.”
The first statement is commandment number two; the second statement is commandment number one.
What is the difference between the two? Aren’t they both about worshipping gods other than the Lord? They seem so similar.
In my post “Guardrail Number One” written on St. John Studies on October 20, 2021, I tried to explain that the first commandment is all about putting “things” as worship items before the worship of God. Some people put the accumulation of money as their number one concern. For others it may be dedicating their life to their career. Maybe it is a possession like a nice car, a nice home or a beautiful ring on your finger. The point is that people sometimes forget to put God as number one in their life. My simple definition of breaking this commandment was “Anytime a Christian strays into thinking about someone or something so much that they are forgetting God.” They don’t worship God; they worship things as their god.
Ok, that explains number one but what makes number two different?
For insight, let’s turn to Matthew 22: 26-28 when Jesus was questioned about the greatest commandment: “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in the Law?” Jesus declared, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment”.
This Scripture is so familiar to many Christians and when we break it down, it shows what God is really asking of us. John Stott* feels that the Second Commandment is about the way we worship God, whereas the First Commandment is about the objects of our worship.
My relationship with God seems to be changing right now. I have spent countless hours lately trying to understand what it means to dedicate more of myself to God. For the most part, I have to acknowledge that I have mostly learned that I have little true dedication of heart, soul and mind to Him. There is a lot of work still to be done.
Why is this really a concern? Besides In Matthew, Second Corinthians 10: 5 says that “we [should] take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” People who study the mind report that the average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day: that’s a lot of thought to control. Most of those thoughts are the result of countless bits of information we all have to deal with every day [most of it inconsequential].
Let me be personal [I think some of you may be able to relate]. I begin my day with a dark roast cup of coffee in a chair in the front bedroom of my home. My wife does not awaken as early as I do, so I know I have a guaranteed amount of early morning time to be with God [without interruption]. I have a bit of a ritual, with prayer, Bible reading and lately meditation [yes I said meditation]. Lately I have been meditating on Psalm 139 which is about the ever-present support of God. I am not sure I do this well but I turn to this Psalm and read it aloud three times, eventually finding a single verse that stands out to me. I think about that verse, turning the meaning over and over in my mind. What does it mean? What does it say about God? Then I pray through that verse. I ask God to show me what He wants me to see in that verse. Finally, I end my meditation time with silence.**
Let me be honest, the practice of meditation for me is based on mindfulness. Too many of my thoughts throughout the day are mindless [which is of course the opposite of mindful]. I try to focus my attention on the Holy Father and other things intrude [I forgot to feed the cat, I have to mow the yard, the doctor’s appointment is in two hours, the car is not starting properly etc. etc.]. Those other things literally take my mind away as I wander into the future and revisit the past. Some would say that this is merely being human and it is but when I intend to worship, I don’t want to be mentally “all over the place” [if I can help it].
The Bible says in Romans 8: 5 “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” As a practicing Christian, I want to hear from The Holy Spirit because I need guidance, comfort, power, love and self-discipline. The concerns of the world work against the Spirit and those concerns affect the manner in which I connect with God. Sometimes competing thoughts keep me from connecting with God entirely.
Not only in private study, prayer and meditation, how many times do we find ourselves participating in public worship and we are doing so mindlessly? We know the pastor’s message only partly because we find ourselves drifting in and out of a serious attention pattern. Sometimes the message is on our minds, we are relating it to our experience, successfully decoding it and making an effort to reconstruct a personal representation in our minds. Then comes a distracting thought and the pastor’s message becomes partially meaningful as we attend to other ideas. The competing thoughts might get so strong that the pastor’s message can become background sound as we begin to think of our personal concerns instead of the message. Add to this, certain aspects of the service may mean very little as we know the Lord’s Prayer and we recite it mindlessly. In my church, we say The Apostle’s Creed every Sunday. Do we really take the time to wonder what each word means or is it done mindlessly also?
When one considers the First Commandment, Stott writes that we may not have manufactured some “gruesome metal image” with our hands but what “hideous mental image do we hold in our minds?” [the concern of the Second commandment]. The Second Commandment is not focused on external forms of worship but raises the question that if God is not in our heart, mind and soul, then worship can become useless. Stott writes “We may have attended church; have we really worshipped God? We have said prayers; have we really prayed? We may have read the Bible; have we ever let God speak to us through it and done what He said?”
Mindful worship is an admirable goal but it is so hard today because there are so many distractions.
Let’s go back to my early morning routine. I don’t stay in my chair all day. I usually get up and begin my ritual around 6:30. Eventually I run out of coffee, I develop hunger and I leave my “sanctuary” to eat breakfast around 9:00. If I am able to use the time well and I don’t get distracted, I feel good about the start of the day. Distractions are always imminent; Stott encourages us to fight them with the words “it is no good to approach God with our lips if our hearts are far from Him” .
I try to conclude around nine o’clock for another reason. The two cell phones in our home begin to ring around nine o’clock as telemarketers begin their workday. Thank goodness I can see the words “scam likely” and I slide the bar to the right and stop the ringing and then I tap the button to terminate the call. Distractions, distractions, distractions…
Taking each thought captive becomes more difficult…
Concerns of the world are calling…***
*from his book Basic Christianity
**my meditation is based on Lectio Divina, a traditional monastic practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s word.
***This post is dedicated to Mr. Bob Dooley, who first spoke to me about the power of Lectio Divina. Bob is a friend, a prayer warrior, an inspiration to me.