Preventing Idols – Yeah, Even the Good Ones

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it…

It is amazing to me no matter how long I live or how many years I’ve had a relationship with Jesus, these song lyrics ring true in my life. It doesn’t matter how many times I have drank deep from the polluted wells of this world that leave me empty and dissatisfied. Even though I’ve experienced the goodness, mercy, grace, love and blessings of God I still choose to chase after idols.

The phrase, “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side” is cute whenever it’s applied to trivial matters. But sometimes a war rages in our hearts. The temptation is hard to resist. Perhaps one of the hardest things for a Christ-follower to do is stay committed to a relationship with Jesus. To live a life where He has the preeminence (fancy word for being #1). Though we have died to sin and are no longer controlled by it, on occasion we are tempted by the sin of idolatry.

Perhaps the most tempting form of idolatry is not the evil, sinister kind of idol that is obviously ‘not God’. But rather the idols in our lives that we consider ‘not that bad’. Or maybe the worst kind of all, whenever we turn a blessing from God into a idol that knocks Him off the throne of our hearts.

Enter the Israelites. Exodus is an incredible story – yes the Book really is better than the movie (no offense, Mr. Heston).  The part of the story that stands out to me and hits me right where it hurts begins near the end of their oppression and just before their freedom. Plague after plague had hit Pharaoh and the Egyptians. No matter what happened, Pharaoh would not relent and he would not let God’s people go. This hard-heartedness was even to the chagrin of his own people. Finally, after the tenth and final plague, Pharaoh let God’s people go, giving them their freedom. Then, in verses 35-36 of Exodus 12 we learn the LORD gave the Israelites such favor that they plundered the Egyptians. This was a biblical mic drop-moment. Not only are we being set free, but we’re going to take some of y’all’s stuff on our way out the door! This scene always makes me think of my dad shopping at Sam’s. If there is a free sample to be had, he’s going to ask for seconds – no shame – we can’t take him anywhere!

Then fast forward a few chapters later. Exodus 32 records a people who have become impatient and indignant. Suddenly God was not doing for them or blessing them in the ways they wanted. Under Aaron’s passive leadership, God’s people convince themselves they need a new idol – a new god to worship. In verses 2-3 Aaron instructs the Israelites to take the gold jewelry that they were wearing and contribute it to a golden calf that would be the new idol of their worship.

The very thing God gave them as a blessing they would make into an idol!!!

 I shouldn’t be so alarmed or disappointed. This is the very thing I know I am guilty of with frequency. So how then do we fight the temptation to worship idols? Especially the idols that come from our blessings. Especially the idols that could be categorized as “good things”.

Raise Your Gaze Many times we fuel our idols by obsessing about them 24/7. Granted, it is extremely hard to stop but it is a simple, physical concept. The Bible teaches us in Colossians 3:2 that we should stop focusing on the things we can see, but instead set our sights on things above.

  • Stop fueling your idolatry by what you look at or read (about the idol). Instead, make a conscious effort to replace obsessing over the idol by reading or learning more about the Gospel.

Think Holy Thoughts Even if you remove every possible temptation to obsess over an idol our minds can still be our biggest challenge. The Bible teaches us in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that we can proactively replace thoughts about an idol.

  • Whenever you catch yourself daydreaming or consumed by an idol, stop and re-center your mind on Christ. Take a moment to pray and even talk to yourself out loud rather than allowing yourself to be consumed.

Confide in Comrades The Bible teaches us there is strength in numbers. Galatians 6:2 reminds us to bear one another’s burdens. It is one thing to have the maturity to see when you are tempted by an idol, it is true humility to invite someone(s) to keep you in check.

  • Open up your life to someone you know and trust. Ask this person to pray with you and hold you accountable. A timely text or conversation over lunch will go a long way toward keeping your heart and mind reasonable.