This summer we had the opportunity to go to Athens. It was hot, interesting, beautiful, hectic, and did I say hot? I wasn't sure what to expect and what I would even get out of going but it was eye opening. Just to see the pervasiveness of temples everywhere you looked helped me to understand the culture that Paul was dealing with in so many of his writings.
It also helped me understand the pull the people had towards worshiping other gods besides the One True God and how deeply ingrained the idea of doing things to prove themselves worthy was in their hearts. It is a difficult mindset to overcome since it seems easier to do things in our own strength than to surrender. It just seems way too vulnerable and risky.
I have thought a lot about this recently as my ladies' Bible Study group has been going through Tim Keller's Gospel in Life study. This week he addressed the idea that underneath all of our sin is a root of idolatry, or worshipping something other than God Himself. He says that "in the beginning, human beings were made to (1) worship and serve God, and then (2) to rule over all created things in God's name (Gen. 1:26-28).
Instead we fell into sin. 'They exchanged the glory of the immortal God...and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator' (Rom. 1:23-25). In short, we reversed the originally intended order. Human beings came to (1) worship and serve created things, and therefore (2) the created things came to rule over them."
He points out that an idol is something we make in our image and in a sense we end up worshiping ourselves. They also sap all of our power since whatever we end up worshiping is actually our lord. Instead of gaining power from the Holy Spirit, we try to suck power out of something that will never satisfy. His challenge is that the only way to walk in holiness, love and truth is to keep free from idols since worshiping false gods leads us to ungodly behavior that serves the darkness the false gods represent.
In 2 Cor. 10 Paul talks about how the Jewish people who wandered in the desert had God's direct and obvious provision but they gave into worshiping idols which. He urged the Corinthian church to not give into the same temptation since it ushers in a life of sin and defeat.
So, it's really easy for us to see the ridiculousness of worshiping something made out of a rock or metal, but Keller challenges us to put the idea of idols in our own vernacular. In our world, the idea of an idol can take on a whole other form than we normally think of.
To get us thinking, Keller asks some tough questions: (1) "What is my greatest nightmare? What do I worry about most?, (2) What do I rely on or comfort myself with when things go badly or become difficult?", (3) What makes me feel the most self-worth? What am I the proudest of", (4) What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy"?
So in other words, what do I turn to for my glory, sense of power, comfort, identity, self-worth, feeling of accomplishment, and excitement instead of God, who offers all of this and more. What do we truly feel like we can't live without and even the thought of giving it up terrifies us?
For me, I had already been in a place of struggle over this issue for a couple of weeks before God really used this study to drive the final nail in. There has been something in my life that I have yearned to have for over 30 years and I had finally come to the realization that this situation in my life was simply not going to be the way I had hoped. The hard thing was that it was actually a good thing, a very good thing, even a Biblical desire. But, it was simply out of my control.
One morning, after wrestling in prayer over it, God directly asked me the question, "I know that this is your desire, and it's even a good one that I want for you as well, but is it your deepest desire, or am I?"
That question hit me hard because I finally saw that somewhere along the line, this yearning had replaced the yearning in my heart for God. It had become an idol. He had dealt with me on this issue before but I just didn't want to give it up, not yet. I still held out hope and put a lot of effort into making it happen. The effort led to sin as the quest turned into a lot of manipulation and disrespect for someone else.
I finally saw that if I wanted to really grow in Him and see victory in my life, it was the time to finally let it go. I had to realize that I had come to believe that I truly could not be happy if I couldn't have what I wanted, which is quite frankly a slap in the face of Jesus. Because of His death on the cross and the sacrifice He made, we can experience life, joy and peace. I already had what I needed but had decided that it wasn't good enough. It was time for me to repent and to once again desire Him over everything else.
Dealing with idols is not an easy thing. The early church had to be reminded over and over again that they didn't need to fall back into their old ways of worship to get what they wanted. The deception is deep and takes effort to transform the thought process. Romans 12:2 says "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of you mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-His pleasing and perfect will."
Even after realizing how the belief that I couldn't live with joy or peace without having my own desire fulfilled was not true at all, I have been frustrated with the level of deep sadness I have felt in letting it go. It shows me how this is indeed a process and how I need to be disciplined in this exchange of replacing the lie with the truth. Being in God's Word has to be the key in this exchange.
The tricky part is to live a life of balance since some of our desires are good and lead us to a full and enjoyable life. The challenge is to see when they cross the line and its sometimes hard to see. Even simple daily choices are hard to sort out such as when is eating a bowl of ice cream just a treat and when does it become an idol. Are we being tricked into thinking it will satisfy a deep need we have in our heart or is it just a benign want? For me, eating one bowl might be ok but maybe not the whole container!
Thankfully, God knows our hearts and knows that we need a huge amount of help with all of this. We can get so lost in the frustration and shame that comes with seeing how deceptive our hearts can be but God doesn't want that to happen either. That can make everything worse. He wants us to live in freedom so His goal is to reveal the truth in order for us to repent and turn to Him for help. Our job in the Church is to help and encourage each other as we are honest about ourselves and filled with grace towards others. We're all in this together and my prayer for you is that you can join me in saying:
Whom have I in heaven but you? And besides You,
I desire nothing on Earth.