Worship—A Heart In Pursuit
Part 2- Loves
Focus verses: 4:15-19
1. To be human means to be for something, directed toward something and oriented toward something. To be on the move pursuing something, after something.
2. We all have this thirsty place and it matters what we drink and eat (figuratively/spiritually) for it has the power to create consequences for our lives.
3. Our hearts are the place where our longings and loves are incubated and our environments create the right conditions for those things which will be birthed into our lives.
4. The heart must be curated in order to be attentive and intentional about what we worship. We curate our hearts through learning and through habit. Worship is both hunger and habit- Ps 42:1-2
5. Worship is a right grasp in our minds of the way God really is, and a right response in our hearts to His worth.
St. Augustine-5th century philosopher and bishop from North Africa wrote “You have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests with you.” (Chadwick) This is a design claim.
Focus verses: John 4:15-19
We’ve talked about her thirsts, now let’s talk about her loves.
Why so many husbands? What was she after? Is she even aware of what she desires?
• To be human is to desire the kingdom, some kingdom.
• We are oriented by our longings, directed by our desires.
• We all have an ultimate goal we are in pursuit of which does not work on our intellect but convinces us by alluring. The goal by design is God, but we have been offered a counterfeit called “the good life”.
• If indeed we are made in God’s image, then we must first bear the image of love. It all begins with love not knowledge. I am not just what I think, but I am what I love…what I desire.
• The human heart is part compass and part internal guidance system which directs me towards my loves.
• You are what your love because you live towards what you want.
• Love is like gravity pulling us towards our ultimate goal or telos and it is restless until it gets to its proper place.
• The center of our gravity is our kardia—the region of our longings and desires.
• To be human is to be a lover and to love something ultimately
• Love in this definition is a kind of subconscious desire that operates without our thinking about it. Love is what we do and it’s not a feeling, in one sense. But in another sense, love is our most fundamental orientation to the world and is less conscious choice and more like a baseline inclination that generates the choices we make. This is a very ancient and biblical way of thinking about love. (Smith)
• Consider how Paul describes love in Col 3:12-14
o We put on Christ-like character like clothing (Romans 13:14)
o It’s like love is the big belt that holds it all together. Love as described is a virtue.
• Virtues are good moral habits—bad moral habits are called vices
o Good moral habits are like internal dispositions towards good. Virtues are character traits that become woven into who you are so that you become the kind of person who is inclined towards compassion, forgiveness, etc. Virtues are different from moral laws or rules which are external stipulations of the good.
o Thomas Aquinas shares an interesting point about the inverse relationship between virtue and the law (Aquinas):
The more virtuous someone is the less they need the external force of the law to compel them to do the good. Conversely, the more vicious a person is the more they need the “stick” of the law to compel them to do what they ought. If you are a parent, you are very familiar with these dynamics.
The goal is that at some point they will internalize this sense of good will and become the kind of people who do good without the “stick” of rules compelling them to do so.
Aristotle said when you acquire moral habit it becomes second nature. So then what is our “first nature”?
o Our nature is the hardwiring that makes up our biological systems and operates without us thinking about it.
We don’t choose to breathe or digest or blink. Even if you told your heart to stop beating right now it would ignore you because its nature is to beat. Our first nature takes care of a process below the surface of our consciousness.
Habits that become “second” nature operate the same way. They become woven into the fabric of who you are so that you don’t have to think about or choose to do these things: They come naturally.
o How then do we acquire virtues? We cannot just think our way into them. We could memorize the ten commandments or other scriptures but that would not form virtue in us. Learning virtue is like practicing scales on the piano.
We learn virtues through imitation (I Cor 11:1, Phil 3:17) and practice.
It’s why the church holds up exemplars of the faith.
o Learning to point our loves in the right direction is acquired through imitation and practice.
• If love is a virtue, then love is a habit that has the ability to orient our longings and desires toward some version of the good life shaped by the imitation and practices of spiritual things.
• So then Love takes practice and discipleship is the rehabilitation of our loves. Remember that discipleship is more a matter of reformation than acquiring information. We learn to love not by acquiring information about what we should love, but rather through practices that form the habits of how we love.
o This a matter of aiming/orienting our desires towards God and what He desires for His creation.
How does my love get aimed and directed?
• Being human means to love, but it doesn’t mean we necessarily love the right things or the true King because there are rival gods out their presenting idols for us to worship.
• We pursue those rival kingdoms because the subconscious longings of our kardia (hearts) are aimed and directed by the cultures in which we are immersed.
If learning by practice is the way our hearts are correctly calibrated towards God, then they can also be misdirected and mis-calibrated not because we are not smart enough but because the rival visions are flourishing all around us. (Smith)
I’m not talking about propaganda but practices of cultural rhythms and routines that function as teachers of our desires because they train to love a distorted version of the kingdom by covertly training us to long for “the good life”. They aren’t just things we do, but they do something to us.
We must unlearn all the bearings we have absorbed from other cultural practices.
• We are immersed in practices and cultural rituals that have shaped who we are.
• There is a contest of cultural practices in competition for your heart.
• Your religious and spiritual identity are at stake in this battle.
• These love training/shaping rituals are liturgies.
o Liturgy represents a communal response to and participation in the sacred through a variety of activities. It is a proscribed ritual or formula established for public worship. (All About Religion)
• We become what we worship, because we worship what we love.
• John Calvin refers to the human heart as an “idol factory”. (Calvin)
o We can’t not worship because we can’t not love something as ultimate. So it’s not a question of whether you worship but what or who you worship.
o Our idolatries are liturgical not necessarily theological because they are the fruit of disordered wants not just misunderstanding or ignorance.
• To be human is to be a liturgical creature whose loves are shaped by our worship.
• Our culture immerses us in rival liturgies.
Cultural practices are not just things we do. They do something to us.
The woman at the well wanted something which is why she had 5 husbands and with a man that wasn’t her husband during a time when adultery was frowned upon—not so much today because we have been conditioned to accept this as the norm. Was she aware of what she wanted? Could it be that like her we are learning to love a telos/ultimate goal that we are not even aware of that nonetheless governs our lives in unconscious ways?
The Book of Common Prayer offers this confession that speaks to our hearts conditioning:
• Almighty and most merciful Father,
• We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep,
• We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
The church must be the place where we own up to the fact that we don’t always love what we say we do.
Our own loves are elusive and can elude our conscious awareness.
Our loves are habits and they acquire direction and orientation by the cultures and climates we are immersed in over time through rituals and practices-liturgies-that affectively and viscerally train our desires.
The habits we’ve acquired shape how we perceive the world, which in turn disposes you to act in certain ways. Your love is aimed at a vision of the good life that shapes how you see the world and it operates with automaticity. Some automaticities are acquired intentionally like learning to type or drive. We choose to engage in repeated practice over and over precisely so that the rhythms could become habits. Be we can also acquire automaticities unintentionally i.e. stereotypes. No one signs up to hold prejudiced stereotypes, yet they can become habits of perception.
So you could be worshiping other gods without even knowing it. The woman at the well is living out the consequences of a previous generation the was left and was immerse in a hybrid Jewish culture. She doesn’t even realize what’s at stake because she is only intellectually aware of the rival kingdoms and their liturgical influences. Her failure to see how the cultural practices had gotten hold of her heart and aim her loves has left her unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
There are two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’ (Wallace)
Are you aware of the water you’ve been swimming in your whole life; that you and I have been immersed in a rival kingdom that has been deforming your loves? That you have been habituated to long for what they promise?
So we need a kind of wakeup call to our familiarity and comfort with the institutions in order to see them for what they really are. Scripture has a way of doing this: it’s called apocalyptic literature—you find it Daniel and Revelation. It is the genre of scripture that tries to get us to see through the empires that constitute our environment in order to see them for what they really are. Unfortunately, we have typically come to associate these scriptures with end times as if the goal of these writers were a matter of prediction. The point of apocalyptic literature is not prediction but unmasking the realities around us for what they really are. (Smith)
For example, while the Roman Empire pretends to be a gift to civilization, Rome was a monster. Our modern day Roman equivalent could be the consumeristic culture of America.
Commercials, propaganda, stores and malls tell us we’re not beautiful enough without their products which seem to lose their glitter by the time we get them home. This is Victoria’s secret. Those mannequins serve as concrete images of the good life and we have learned to pursue these ideals.
The power of the gospel of consumerism is beauty which speaks to one of our deepest longings.
Or maybe it’s the liturgy of athletics that speaks to our longings to be god-like. We wear the jerseys of iconic idols believing we somehow possess at least a portion of their power, ability or talent. “I want to be like Mike!” We wear their shoes, make them our screen savers…we are immersed in it.
The power of the gospel of athletics is belonging.
We didn’t even realize these cultural liturgies but they are doing something to us. Our practices are orienting us towards a particular vision of the good life which is a rival version of the kingdom and we are unwittingly being taught what and how to love.
You see the stadium, the university and the mall in a whole new way now.
Smartphones have habituated us with practices that make “me” the center of the universe.
WE ARE THE WOMAN AT THE WELL. WE ARE JUST AS ADULTRESSED IDOL WORSHIPPING AND SPRITUAL BASTARDS AS SHE.
Our loves and longings are steered wrong not because we’ve been hoodwinked by bad ideas, but because we’ve been immersed in de-formative liturgies and not realized it and have been pursuing a rival understanding of the good life.
It’s time we took a liturgical audit of our lives.
What if not all sins are decisions. What if temptation isn’t just about bad ideas or wrong decisions? They are often a factor of de-formation and wrongly ordered habits. Therefore, overcoming them requires more than just knowledge; it requires rehabituation-a reformation of our loves.
Look at your daily, weekly, monthly and annual routines. What are the things you do that do something to you? What are the rival kingdom liturgies in your life? What vision of the good life is carried in those liturgies? What kind of person do they want you to become? To what kingdom are these rituals aimed? What does that cultural institution want you to love?
Hopefully, you are beginning to get a little worried because that’s where we’ll need to begin—going into intentional Christian discipleship through the back door. Hopefully, being opened to liturgies will give us a new way to see historic Christian worship as a gift.
So I leave you with this question: How’s the water?
All About Religion. n.d. January 2019. <https://www.allaboutreligion.org/what-is-liturgy-faq.htm>.
Aquinas, Thomas. “Summa Theologica I-II, 92.1.” n.d.
Calvin, John. Institues I.II.8. n.d.
Chadwick, Henry. Augustine, Confessions. Vol. 1.1.1. Oxford: Oxford Press, 1992.
Smith, James K. A. You Are What You Love-The Power of Spiritual Habit. MI: Brazos Press, 2016.
The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, n.d.
Wallace, David Foster. “Plain Ole Untrendy Troubles and Emotions.” The Guardian 20 September 2008: 2.