“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” It’s the first of the 10 commandments – and one we often give ourselves a pass on. No other gods – check. No Buddha, no Baal, no golden calf. We’re good.
But just because we don’t bow down to graven images doesn’t mean we don’t have idols.
I was reading my friend and former principal’s recent post about Breaking Up With Doing Good, and it brought me right back to my own break-up experience with teaching. When I found out I was expecting a baby, my husband and I were overjoyed. I knew this meant I would need to take a break from teaching, and I had planned on this. But I found myself unexpectedly upset about this. And maybe it was partly due to the pregnancy hormones, but I think it was more than that – teaching had become an idol to me.
Can Good Things Be Idols?
I came to this realization during a staff devotional by Bill. I found myself tearing up as the truth of why I’d been upset hit me. I had put so much of my identity, passion, and desire into teaching to the point that I had neglected to keep it in its proper perspective. I had made it the end in itself instead of keeping it in its rightful place – a way to glorify God. God wanted me to change the way I was to glorify Him, and if teaching weren’t an idol, that would have been just fine. But I had put my passion into teaching about God instead of my relationship with God.
When Bill recommended Counterfeit Gods, I knew I had to read it, and the truths were truly transformative. I came to recognized two idols – teaching and my husband. My “husband idol” was a little different. This one was something I was terrified to place in God’s hands. My biggest fear was losing Tim (my husband). I found myself thinking “I could endure any hardship as long as I have Tim with me” when I should instead think “I could endure any hardship as long as I have Christ with me.”
We’ve all heard that anything you “put before God” is an idol. But this vague definition allows us lots of wiggle room. I teach because this is God’s call on my life. or I’m trying to raise my children to love God. I’m definitely not putting that before Him.
But even something we do for God can start to take the place of God in our lives.
And when that happens, we have an idol.
Something could be an idol if you….
- Find your identity in it. We are not supposed to be defined by what we do or what we enjoy. We, instead, are to find our identity in Christ. I felt like I would be lost if I wasn’t a teacher because that had become such a part of my identity.
- Won’t let God have it. If you have something or someone you cannot image living without, that is probably an idol. Now of course no one would ever want to endure the tragedy of losing a spouse, child, or close family member, but does the very though terrorize us with fear? It used to for me until I started making the conscious decision to surrender my husband and son to God. They are His. He gave and He can take away. I don’t pretend to think that I wouldn’t be absolutely hysterical if I ever lost one of them, but the conscious choice of giving them back to God helps me keep things in perspective and keeps them from becoming my idols.
- Desire it with all your heart. If there’s something you want with all your heart, something you just can’t wait to have or experience, it’s probably an idol. Yes, it is good to anticipate and look forward to the future, but if we want something so desperately that it’s consuming our thoughts and passions, we are putting that up on a pedestal and turning it into an idol. God should be our heart’s greatest desire – nothing else. When I was in college I couldn’t wait to be a teacher – I longed for the day when I stood in front of my first class way more than I longed to be closer to God. Maybe the seeds of an idol were already being born back then.
Identifying idols takes a close examination of the heart and rooting them out is not simple. To keep this post from being eternally long, I’ll just quickly list what helped me dethrone them:
- Identify them for what they are – idols.
- Consciously choose to no longer allow them to be idols. I decided I would not find my identity in being a teacher and that I would surrender my fear of losing my husband to God.
- Choose to find fulfillment and joy in Christ.
The whole problem with idols is that they replace the role Christ is supposed to take. He is supposed to be our fulfillment, our joy, our passion, and our strength. When we allow Him to fulfill His rightful roles, the need for our idols quickly diminishes. It doesn’t mean we don’t still value these things (see my post on When Life’s Changes Bring Mixed Emotions), but everything is back in the proper perspective.
Coming face-to-face with my own idols was a sobering experience, but the clarity and growth it brought was incredible. I challenge you to examine your own heart and find your own idols. Releasing them will bring you great joy, peace, and contentment.
Start your journey with Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller.
And with this incredible song from Jimmy Needham:
Have you found idols in your life? What helped you identify them as idols? How did you dethrone them? Share your journey with a comment.
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