I have stumbled upon a brilliant writer/pastor/blogger, and his posts have been on my mind. I love the way he challenges me to take a closer look, to reach deeper, think harder. I love the way he writes so beautifully about the things that matter.
One of his recent posts is on modern day idolatry. It is brilliantly written, and gives me much food for thought. I really want to share, but I don't know what the proper etiquette is for this. I don't want to take any credit for his thoughts/words, so I'll offer the link before I copy his post/questions. My answers are in red.
When we read about idols in the Old Testament, we tend to think of ancient people bowing down to carved wooden statues. How silly. How foolish. But most of us are just sophisticated idolaters. And it's no less silly or foolish. I'm convinced that idolatry is our root spiritual problem. Maybe that's why it's the first commandment of ten?
In the beginning, God created us in His image. We've been creating Him in our image ever since. Instead of worshiping the Creator, we settle for something less. We find a substitute god, small g. And here's the tricky thing. Most idols are good things, but those good things become bad things because they take the place of God. Instead of being the Ultimate End, God become a means to an end. We want something more than we want God. And we try to use God to get it.
So how do you identify an idol? Here are four idol identifiers:
1) What consumes your thoughts? Your daydreams are idol clues. If it's something you think about more than God then it may be an idol.
Right now, my daydream is sleep, fleece blankets and rest. I don't think about those more than I think of God, but it's becoming consuming. I'm praying for God to help me think of them a lot less. Especially in the early afternoon when my energy and stamina plummet for the remainder of the day, not to be seen again until after a four hour nap in early evening... Next to that would be my online time, although some convictions last weekend are helping me reassess my priorities and responsibilities.
2) What bad habits do you struggle with? Your addictions are idol clues. An idol is something you cannot control. It controls you.
Bad Habits: My tendency to respond to my children in ways that teach them the wrong way to respond to others... I see it in the way they respond to each other lately, and I recognize it as something that comes from my recent interactions with them, and it breaks my heart. I think that lately, it's been brought out by exhaustion and illness, but it's no excuse, and I want it to change. I need more gentleness and more love in the way I respond to them when I'm tired or not feeling well -- especially when I'm tired or not feeling well. I want patience to be my addiction.
Addictions: Until recently, it was my addiction to being available to others 24/7 and wanting to feel "plugged in" to what was happening in the lives of those around me, especially via the internet. It was my social life of sorts, I guess, since I don't have a local social life. That addiction was beginning to creep into my life at the cost of other priorities. Ouch. I still very much value being there for others, I always will, but I recently noticed while doing my devotions on Sunday afternoon that this addiction was affecting my time with God and family. When the phone rang and my email notifier also chimed, and my initial reaction was to drop my devotions and Bible Study time, and answer the phone as well as check my Inbox. I was willing to let that addiction come between me and God. My time with friends was also coming between me and my family time. Definitely convicting. I'm thankful that God helped me open my eyes to the choices I had been making. My computer's been off more often since, and the phone has gone unanswered a lot more often... and you know what? It feels more balanced.
**Edited to add: It was my own temptation to drop everything when someone tried to get in touch with me -- this wasn't something they expected of me. I love keeping in touch with people, I appreciate the relationships God has given me through this blog or through the internet -- but I still need to keep my priorities in the order that God leads me to. So by all means, write, call, continue to keep in touch -- I'll do my best to keep in touch too, but sometimes, it may take a lil' while :)
There are other 'idols/addictions' that I've dropped along the way. TV is one of them. There's nothing wrong with TV in moderation, but last summer, I began to notice that most of what I was seeing on TV didn't honor God, and neither did my time spent watching those shows. It just became personally empty and meaningless for me. When I stopped watching TV, I suddenly had more time on my hands, and less garbage in my mind. Junk in, junk out. It's one of the reasons I rarely watch movies anymore, or the same reason I rarely read secular literature. I want what I do to feed my soul and nourish my spirit. "Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life".
I honestly think that we can't just drop everything out of our lives all at once... God leads us to do this in His time. Also, what we feel convicted about may not seem like a problem to others. I love that when I step back and take a closer look at where my heart is and whether or not it's in line with where God needs it to be, the Holy Spirit takes over and helps me purge the stuff that doesn't give God glory. It's like those things suddenly taste different to my heart, making it much easier to just let them go.
3) What do you spend too much money on? Your spending habits are idol clues. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also!
I feel released from this more and more. I'm giving more consideration to purchases, and buying things less impulsively than I did years ago. I have always told my children to "sleep on it for 24-48 hours before making a purchase", and these days, I find myself following that advice more and more. I also have gotten into the habit of asking myself some tougher questions before making purchases outside the normal groceries/necessities. Why do I want this? Will I really use it? Is it worth it? What are my motives? Can I do without it? Does buying this fall in line with being good stewards of our finances? Last but not least, I often ask the deal-breaker... What could this amount of money do for the Compassion kids we sponsor? That usually brings it into perspective. It's something I'm still working on, but something close to my heart. I'm not yet where I feel I need to be.
The progress in this area is liberating, though... both for the mind, and for the budget.
As for too much money, would the cost of heating count? :o}
4) What produces your strongest emotions? Your intense emotions are idol clues. If you want to identify an idol, all you have to do is identify your emotional attachments.
God. Love. Faith. Compassion. Thirst for knowledge & wisdom. Giving. Family. Friends. Writing. Photography. Reading. Hugs. Orange Fleece. :o}
Identifying an idol takes a tremendous amount of soul searching. And you have to be brutally honest. But you cannot tear it down until you name it. If you're serious, I highly recommend Tim Keller's book Counterfeit Gods.