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When Good Things Become Idols: Guest Post by Brandi Jarrett
When we think about idol worship, we might picture the Israelites bowing down to the golden calf or the Egyptians sacrificing to their pagan gods.
As modern enlightened Christians we seem to think we’re far removed from this temptation. It’s even laughable to us to imagine divine power embodied in a statue – a mere man-made chunk of rock.
But the commandment to “put no other God before me” was not relegated to a particular place in time, or a particular type of idol.
God’s Word always has implications for our lives in the here and now – and He knew well how our wandering hearts would need this directive even today.
When Good Things Become Idols
Our 21st century idols might look much different than they did in ancient Israel. But I’ve noticed in my own life how they can present in the form of otherwise “good” things. And the temptation to bow down is subtle yet very real.
We are instructed by the Word to be alert to these dangers (1 Peter 5:8), and to continually renew our minds in Christ Jesus (Romans 12:2).
Here are 4 types of idols that Christians can be allured by, usually without realizing they’re idols at all.
If we’re not intentional in the focus of our worship, I believe we can easily find ourselves prostate at the feet of these desires.
The idol of family
As a mom to young children, this is probably the biggest temptation in my own life. It’s easy to say that my priorities are Jesus, then my marriage, then my children. It’s harder to put into practice.
For example: I know that I need time spent in the Word each morning before the day really begins. But how many times do I let my parenting responsibilities interrupt my daily quiet time, if not bring it to a grinding halt?
“I’ll do it later, I promise, Lord. I’ll have time for Bible study after breakfast.” But more days than I’d like to admit, that time never comes.
One could argue that by serving your children, you are serving Jesus. And I would agree that my ministry to our family is of critical importance.
Yet, you can’t draw from an empty well. I’ve realized so many times that if I would race to the Word before I race to the Keurig (yes, even before then!), I might be renewed in ways that defy human logic. I might better be able to fix my tired eyes on He who deserves my full devotion.
Our families are one of the greatest blessings we can experience on Earth because they give us just a glimpse of the love the Father must have for us.
But when our family is our first, our last, and our everything – we leave little space in our hearts for a God who longs to fill its deepest recesses.
The idol of success
Ask any parent what they desire for their children, and somewhere in the lineup of their hopes and dreams, you’ll hear the word “success”. We want them to be successful, happy, responsible adults.
And who really wants boomerang kids living in their basement someday? 😉 Reaching goals and a certain degree of stability is NOT a bad thing at all – for our kids or for ourselves.
God can use our financial success, it’s true. And sometimes he chooses to allow us a successful career or platform that can be used for much greater purposes than just financial gain.
The caution, I think, isn’t against seeking success, but in how we define it.
Here’s a question I think we should consider: if we never “did anything” with our lives but lead other people to Jesus, would that be enough?
Is “Well done, my good and faithful servant” really our highest aim, or do our lives reflect a different picture?
The idol of comfort
If success had a brother, he might be called comfort.
It’s true that financial success can buy a few things that can bring us comfort, at least temporarily.
Being outside our comfort zone is scary, isn’t it? It’s the unknown. But God uses those unconformable situations to show us His sovereignty.
It’s in the conversation you feel compelled to have with the stranger at the gas station. It’s in the kindness you show a co-worker who’s been giving you grief.
It’s harder to hear God whisper, nudging us into those awkward divine appointments if we’re only content to be armchair Christians, living the easy life.
The apostle Paul knew what it meant to be “content in every circumstance”. It wasn’t comfortable being beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked…but comfort was his last concern. He had his eyes fixed on God’s greater plan.
Paul left his creature comforts behind when he chose to follow Jesus. Do we have the courage to do the same?
The idol of autonomy
Anyone with a two-year-old knows how important it is to human nature to be in control of our own destiny; in charge of our choices; free from the control of others.
But submitting to God’s authority means letting go.
Letting go of what’s behind – our old nature, our old wants and desires, is nearly impossible without a radical paradigm shift.
It’s a change that is Spirit-led. It’s God-seeking instead of self-seeking.
Just like a toddler, mature Christians are faced with the reality that while we have freedom to make our own choices, they are best made under His loving guidance.
And better yet – allowing His intimate involvement in our lives always benefits us.
Submission can be painful, and I often find myself trying to drive around the center of God’s will for my decisions. I look for a route that is less direct, one that allows more vain detours.
Even though I know it’s NOT all about me, it can be a hard sell to the flesh to lay down my desire for control.
But slowly, I’m learning that the illusion of being in charge is no match for the freedom gained in laying it down.
From Idolatry to Reality
I love the honesty of the hymnist who penned the famous line, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.”
Indeed, it is God himself who embodies the fount of every blessing our soul craves. How often we forget that He is the source of this living water; any other substitute will leave us parched and wanting.
What I’m reminded of in these desert moments is that in our quest for appreciating the good things – even the really good things of life, we can easily miss out on the best thing that God has already given us: Himself.
So as we pour out our gratitude for every blessing, let us simultaneously hold loosely to their manifestations.
May we have wisdom to set aside these lesser pursuits that capture our hearts – so that our knees can reflexively bend at the foot of the cross alone.
Brandi is a writer, parent educator, wife and mother of four. She has a love/hate relationship with coffee and technology and owns more cardigans than she’ll ever admit. She aims to provide practical encouragement to moms striving to raise kids to pursue a life of faith, truth and integrity.
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