Have you ever wondered why worship music at Bethel is different week to week? Walking into worship you never know if you will hear organ, piano, guitars and drums, handbells or even an African praise team! This diversity is very deliberate. It is intended to help defend us from one of our most basic desires. “I want it my way!” It’s inborn, pervasive and powerful. Think about the choices you made recently. How many choices did you make for the benefit of others versus your own personal preference? I’m convinced that personal preference is the dominant motivation behind the vast majority of choices we make. On the surface it looks like the basic virtue of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” On the inside it’s a burning fire that consumes every temporary joy in anticipation for the next. Always lacking, always looking, always discontent, we strive to get our way. The blissful moment fades. “I want it my way… again!”
The god of Personal Preference
This desire for “our way” goes beyond just an inner yearning. We need to call it what it is – a god. What? A god? Really? Yes. This god is complete with all the trimmings, from temple sacrifices to worship services. This god can divide and it can unite. This god is one of the most powerful forces on earth. It’s true. The temples of personal preference are everywhere. Just look at our retail stores filled with every possible variety of products meticulously arranged to strike a chord with your personal preference and fill up your credit card. Worship? Oh yea. From political rallies to concerts to sporting events and more, this god is not lacking in worshipers. Divide and unite? Certainly! Just get two people or two groups or two political parties to say “I want it my way” about two different things! This god is so powerful they may never speak to one another again… unless the other side concedes.
The god Among Us
Not only is the god of personal preference alive and well in our society, he also tends to thrive in our churches. In an effort for truth and distinctiveness, the Christian church has splintered into all sorts of little denominations, each claiming to own the whole truth. I can’t help but to wonder if the god of personal preference had any influence there. And if that’s not enough, we splintered further over music! In the 1960’s and 70’s a portion of the church wanted to worship using music that was more like the popular music of the day. Guitars and drums replaced organs and choirs. This created a contentious divide in the church that is still alive today. Now, separate worship services are created to accommodate the preferences of each group, often dividing along generational lines. Big decisions in these churches often find one group pitted against the other. Churches today actually try to attract people based on how preferable their worship music is over any other. However, these groups are strangely united. Both sides truly want to use their music to worship God. Both sides think the other is deficient in their worship expression. Both sides have given in to the temptations of the god of personal preference, and unfortunately, this is but one example among many.
The God of Sacrificial Living
Jesus is the arch enemy of the god of personal preference. Just listen to him. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Mat. 6:25) “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Mat. 7:12) “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Mat. 13:44) “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mat. 16:24-25) This is just a sampling, but I think you get the point. Jesus became a man out of love for us, died with our sins upon him, and has given that forgiveness to us free of charge. As His redeemed children, he calls us to reflect his selfless love in the lives of others.
So, if the instrument leading worship isn’t our favorite, we put our personal preference aside, knowing someone else is enjoying their favorite instrument. When worship is led by our favorite instrument, we realize someone else may be putting their personal preferences aside for a Sunday too. In the end, when we overcome the god of personal preference together, we can focus on what’s important, Jesus.