“They despised my judgements…for their heart went after their idols.” Ezekiel 20:16
“The human heart is an idol factory.” -John Calvin.
We were driving thru the hills, red clay and short trees of the Oklahoma country-side when I began to understand this statement. I had searched for contentment, tried to “will” myself into content feelings in so many areas of life. Yet, true, deep contentment remained an elusive thing. I would begin to feel like maybe I was discovering lasting joy, when a serious case of “the blues” would attack.
I began to ask God, “What is stealing my joy? At a moment’s notice, it can be gone!” That question to my Creator began a journey that continues today.
What Is an Idol?
Idols – those are gold and silver statues, right? Since childhood, I’ve known of the idols that the Israelites worshipped instead of the true God. Looking back at Old Testament history, I have wondered why in the world they would continue to create idols for themselves. Perhaps I’ve even felt a little smug that I would never do that . . .
But, over the last few years, God has opened my eyes to see that my own heart is no exception. He has used scriptures, sermons, and conversations to shine His light into my heart, and His work continues.
What is an idol? Anything that we care about more than God, anything that we run to for comfort or direction instead of God, or anyone whose opinion we care about more than God’s. When something is raised up as an idol in our hearts, we begin to expect God-like responses from it (or them) - perfect judgment, omniscient timing, even saving from our troubles.
2 Corinthians 10:5 says “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
Idols exalt themselves against our desire to know God – they satisfy temporarily like a snack when what we really need is nourishment that only He can give.
Dethroning the Idols
Pastor Mark Driscoll says "Idolatry is taking a good thing, making it a god thing, and that's a bad thing.”
I will never forget the Friday night. I was up late listening to a testimony on-line, the kids were tucked in and my husband, Darrell, was at a youth group fundraiser. God began to reveal that I had allowed my husband to be raised up as an idol in my heart. I love him, I respect him, I treasure the gift of our marriage, but I had raised him to a dangerous place in my heart. Tears flowed, and when Darrell happened in to grab something he needed from the house, I sincerely apologized and he was relieved. People know when they are being placed on a pedestal, and they know they will disappoint. That’s too much pressure for any human.
Shortly after that, God added a few other things to my idol-removing list. Here are a few that might resonate with you as well:
· People – especially husband, children and extended family. They can’t give me identity, purpose, and meaning in my life. When a person is idolized, his or her opinion is raised above God’s. The misunderstanding or disapproval of people can then be mistaken for God’s disapproval – or their approval can be mistaken as God’s. That gives the person who is idolized a lot of power over us – power that God is jealous for. It is a delight to get to be a wife and mother, and it is a privilege to have extended family that care for us. They are gifts of grace -- but they must not take His place. Don’t take a good thing, and make it a god thing.
· Heritage – if I idolize the ideas and convictions themselves, they will disappoint and ultimately lead me astray. I have been given a Christian, holiness-pursuing heritage. I believe it is a path of blessing for me and my children (see Psalm 78). But like the Jews of Jesus’ day, it is not enough to say “We have Abraham as our father!” Jesus desires my loyalty before all others. Don’t take a good thing, and make it a god thing.
· Food – Do I calmly retreat to the kitchen to nibble on something when in crisis, lonely or discouraged, or cry out to God and look to His word for direction and strength? Food is a gift, but it must be enjoyed to God’s glory. Don’t take a good thing, and make it a god thing.
· Money – believing that “Going shopping will medicate away my troubles” and “If I have it, it will fill the God-sized hole in my heart.” Not really. It too will leave me needing something else. Don’t take a good thing, and make it a god thing.
· Information – thinking that if I can find the right information, this problem will be solved. “But God, I just love to read!” “No, you are looking for a ‘savior’ from your ‘hell’ of organization-impairment, too many pounds to lose, children-training issues.” It is easier to get lost in Google, Youtube, Facebook, or the latest fad, than it is to act on the information that I already have. Don’t take a good thing, and make it a god thing.
Honestly, the Idol Factory is still going, and the fight to pull them down is a daily battle I face. But I’m looking for God’s perspective on each of these areas. They may not be wrong in themselves, but they can only be a blessing if they are dethroned. I know that this daily battle for my mind and heart has eternal significance.
Questions for Personal Discovery
Here are some questions that might reveal idols that are taking up precious space in your heart:
· What is your greatest fear?
· What do you long for most passionately?
· What do you care about?
· What do you think about?
· What are you motivated by?
· What do you give yourself to?
· Where do you run for comfort?
· What makes you happiest?
· What makes you angry?
Idolatry used to sound so far away, but the concept has been brought home to my heart. My journey has been very painful and personal at times, but I’m finding that as the idols topple, deep joy and contentment increase. I want to know – truly know – that only God is above all the stuff of this life – only God is filling that place in my heart. “I’ll worship only at the feet of Jesus . . . there’ll be no other gods before Him, just Jesus only will never fail.”