I love playing ultimate frisbee. I’m pretty sure my GPA in college would have been a few points higher had I not spent so much time tossing a plastic disc around with friends. When people ask me why I love ultimate frisbee so much my recurring response is, “Come on! How many other sports do you know that are named by a superlative adjective?” At some point in time, people decided to make up a sport involving a frisbee and to give it a name. The result? They called it, “ultimate!”
Hopefully you will find this to be a helpful illustration of how the human heart works. Man lives his ordinary life. There is so much that doesn’t rise to the level of any adjective (much less any superlatives). I’ve never met someone who said, “Brushing my teeth this morning was fantastic!” But everyday life is always punctuated by declarations of the ultimate. Brushing our teeth may be boring but a candle lit date with a spouse is amazing. The sunset is stunning. And sometimes, a new frisbee game can be considered “ultimate.” Humans can’t help placing great and ultimate value on people, objects, and events that pass through their lives.
Worship is the word we use to describe this “ascription of the ultimate”--Something that everyone does by virtue of being made in the image of God. Even though I’ve met a few agnostics and atheists who take umbrage at that statement, it remains true. A man may not “worship” in traditionally religious categories, but what he gives his time, energy, affection and strength to is still worship. It is the declaration of ultimacy. Fyodor Dostoyevsky said,
The one essential condition of human existence is that man should always be able to bow down before something infinitely great. If men are deprived of the infinitely great, they will not go on living and will die of despair. The Infinite and the Eternal are as essential for man as the little planet on which he dwells.
The Bible describes this principle in the first few chapters of the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve weren’t created with the option to worship. They were made to worship. Adam was created in a worshiper-worshiped relationship with God just as he and God shared a creature-Creator relationship. Adam and Eve’s fall into sin skewed the direction of human worship but did not erase the need for humans to worship (Romans 1:24-25).
The Heart Throne
So far we’ve seen that every human makes declarations of ultimacy and we call this “worship.” And though we don’t have time to illustrate it in this post, it’s easy to see that though the action of worship is ubiquitous for humans, the objects that they worship are diverse. One person may worship a sports tean; we call him fanatical. Another person may worship his family; we call him a committed family man. One person may worship an illegal substance and be labeled an addict. Another person may worship their body image; we call them fit. With such diversity of practice is there any way to get to the heart of what we worship? There is, because the heart of worship is the heart.
We can summarize humanity’s diverse worship practices with a simple illustration. Imagine the human heart as a throne. That throne has a seating capacity for only one king. And it is the worship of the individual that enthrones his own heart’s king. Every heart-throne is full and no heart-throne has more than one king.
Unseating a King
By this point you may see the tilt of our argument heading toward practice. What if someone finds that she doesn’t like what she worships. What if she finds that an addiction is on the throne of her heart? What if she finds a dysfunctional relationship stubbornly occupying the regal space in her chest? How can does someone unseat a king?
The answer is easy but unnerving. You cannot just remove the object of the heart’s highest desire. You cannot look at your addiction at just say to yourself, “Stop it!” Remember, every human must worship or die. You cannot have an empty heart throne. The only way to unseat the highest desire of your heart is to find a higher desire. Only something or someone more lovely, powerful, or satisfying can take up new residence in your heart. Thomas Chalmers describes this process is beautiful detail in his sermon entitled, "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection," where he contended:
Such is the grasping tendency of the human heart, that it must have a something to lay hold of — and which, if wrested away without the substitution of another something in its place, would leave a void and a vacancy as painful to the mind, as hunger is to the natural system.
You can only unseat a king with a more powerful king (Luke 11:21-22).
A King of the Hill
There were always new homes going up in the neighborhood I grew up in. My friends and me would often visit homebuilding worksites after the workmen had gone home for the day. One particular worksite was just around the corner from my home. And on it was a huge hill that served every purpose that young boys could want. It was a ramp for bikes, a rampart for armies, and an hill for a king. And that was our favorite game. One of us would run to the top and declare, “I’m the king of the hill.” That served as a declaration of ultimacy and an invitation to get tackled from behind. And so we would slug it out until the strongest kid (not me) ended up as sole king of the hill.
That illustrates what it means to live in this fallen world. Human affections are these declarations-invitations to would be kings to take up residency in the heart. And when a strong king arises victorious the worshiper may find calm for a while until another challenger comes along.
The King of the Hill
Throughout the Old Testament, God made promises to His people that He would come to finally and fully dwell with them, redeem them, restore them, and usher them into his everlasting kingdom. Then, some two millennia ago, he followed through on those promises when He came into human history in the person of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Jesus’s crowning achievement was that He came to be king of the hill. On the hill of Golgotha, Jesus was crucified for the sins of his people. He made atonement for and laid an eternal claim on the throne of the world.
Jesus was king of hill on the day of His sufferings, but He is also king of the hill to Christians in their effectual calling. Jesus is most the glorious king, there is none greater than him. Once He is seated in the human heart, none can unseat him because none is greater. So the first question of the Westminster Larger Catechism says:
What is the chief and highest end of man? Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully enjoy him for ever.
There the clear declaration of man’s highest end. The worship of God--to glorify him--is where all men find their deepest joy and highest affection. In the end, Jesus declares, “I am the king of the Hill.” There is none more ultimate than Him.