7 min. to read.
Today I find myself uncertain. Circumstances that are painful and beyond my control block my field of vision. It’s painful.
It’s times like this where I find myself reaching for idols. Not little religious statues or a golden calf. Nothing you could see, really. Just something to give me a little hit of certainty.
You may have the same problem. If you do, it’s time to pay attention. Idols are sure obstacle to a vibrant relationship with God.
Not sure if you have any idols? Well, I’ve got a little test for you. Just three questions, and then you’ll know.
It’s not statues that are the problem.
Before I share the test with you, let’s talk a moment about idols.
If you grew up in the church, you know about idols from the Old Testament. People running off and worshipping other gods. Yahweh God getting upset. Prophets telling people to stop worshipping idols or Bad Stuff™ will happen.
But the problem with idols isn’t really the statues.
An idol is a replacement for God. The Greek word translated as idolatry. The Greek word is eidololatres which comes from latreuo which means to worship or serve, and eidolon which refers to a ghost, an illusion or something false. comes from two root words. It’s someone who serves, or sacrifices or worships. The object of their service is a ghost or an illusion. So, literally, an idolater is someone who worships an illusion.
Our culture has long ago given up worshipping old statues, but we devote our time, and heart and resources to a myriad of things hoping they will give us peace, certainty, or some kind of absolution. But these things are an illusion.
With that in mind, do you have any idols?
I Have Idols. Do You?
I suspect you do to. Here’s a little test to help you know. Three questions. Each question has a blank in it. I suspect you’ll know what to put in that blank immediately when you read the question.
1. Have you recently said, “If only I could have _____, Everything would be OK?”
2. Have you felt in your heart a sense of desperation that you’re sure would go away if only you were acknowledged or loved by ________.
3. Have you felt anxiety or fear around the possibility of losing ______?
If you said “yes” to any of those, and you had a clear sense of what to put in that blank, then you know something about your own idols.
Remember, idols are substitute gods. We want them to do for us what only God can do. Most of the time, the idols aren’t bad things. Most of the time they are good things, pleasant things, responsible things. But instead of letting them take their appropriate place in our lives, we fixate on them. We ask them to save us.
- “If I only had a better job, everything would be OK.”
- “If only my husband would love me in this way, I’d finally feel accepted.”
- “If I lose her… if I lose my job… if I lose my reputation… if I lose this opportunity… I’m going to lose everything.”
These are the kinds of statement we make when we’re talking about our idols.
Clearing out the temple of your heart.
Now, don’t feel terrible if an idol-in-the-making surfaced for you today. This is natural. Our hearts are wired to worship. We look for those things that we can depend on and set our hearts on them. This is why the warnings against idolatry come so often and so seriously in the Bible.
But if we’re going to grow, if we’re going to mature in the image of Christ, then we have to set our hearts on Jesus. When an idol starts to surface for you, that’s the best time to take it down.
First, Notice the idol and talk to God about it.
I’ve been dealing with some circumstances in my life the past few weeks that are big, and out of my control. I’ve been feeling a lot of anxiety. That’s a warning sign of an idol in the making.
So, I’ve been stopping every time I feel that rush of anxiety, and praying:
“God, I’m feeling out of control. I’m feeling like I need a whole bunch of things to happen for me to feel OK again. Help me to trust You. Help me to want You most in this circumstance. Help me let the outcomes be your responsibility.”
That prayer doesn’t fix it, but it re-focuses me. I’ve been saying words like this so many times every day this week, I can’t even count them.
Second, Replace your idols as often as you can.
Your heart is wired to worship. You are going to worship something It’s unavoidable. The more you put Jesus in that place in your life, the less other things can sneak into that role. Oh, one thing: Know that this process is less like remodeling the living room, and more like playing wack-a-mole.
Make sure you’re spending time every day seeking Jesus. Get to know His heart in the Gospels, and do it every day. Make sure you’re praying. Sitting in a church service once a week isn’t enough. Your heart needs to worship every day. Actually, your heart WILL worship every day. You get to decide what your heart will worship.
Third, Tear down the high places.
In the Old Testament, whenever God’s people got serious about worshipping God alone, they went and “tore down the high places.” The high places were the groves and alters where they worshipped other gods. Sometimes, if an idol has really taken over your life, the only way to deal with it is to tear it down.
This is what happens for an addict in recovery. They have to take dramatic steps. They step away from the people and places and triggers that are associated with their substance use. They have to find a community of people to help them find a new way to live. They find a sponsor to walk with them. This is an extreme step, but if an idol is causing you to lose what matters most, don’t wait.
Noticing and dealing with our idols is hard work. Once an idol has gotten ahold on your heart, it will be painful to let it go. But idols are empty substitutes. Even the good ones. They can’t forgive us. They can’t give us a real identity. They can’t save us. All they do is undermine our growth.
- Is there something in our life that we’re desperate for other than Jesus?
- Is there something in our life that we’re anxious about losing other than Jesus?
- Are we desperate to be affirmed by someone other than Jesus?
Sure. Those things are true for me. I’m guessing they are true for you too. All those things are true, because we are wounded, we’ve lived through darkness, we’re human. But those very longings show us how badly our hearts need Jesus. It is Jesus alone who can set our hearts free.