Modern Day Idols (Part 2)
“Many of us have given Jesus Christ the ‘title deed’ to our lives, but we are banking on something or someone else (even ourselves) to provide what we need, to hold our trust, or give us what we desire.”
Last week I started to explain the concept of idolatry in today’s modern world. If you missed it, check it out here: Getting Rid of Modern Day Idols, Part 1. This week, I’ll show you how idolatry is alive and well today, especially in those who claim to be God-followers. I would have to say this is one of those blog posts that might hurt a little; but don’t worry, I’m feeling a lot of “ouches” here, myself! To clarify what an idol is, it is anything that captures your attention, thoughts, and worship more than God. Remember, he wants to be #1 in your life, and he is very clear about this in Scripture.
My guess is that if you were to ask any Christian woman if she has an idol in her life, she would say, “No! Of course not!” That was my answer before a week ago. The hard truth is that many of us have given Jesus Christ the “title deed” to our lives, but we are banking on something or someone else (even ourselves) to provide what we need, to hold our trust, or give us what we desire. We allow idols to guide our actions, decisions about what activities to participate in or not (for us and our children), the way we treat other people, how we think, what we do with our money and possessions, how we treat our bodies, what we do with God, and so on. The result? Our journey and relationship with God is hindered and we are not able to experience his activity and fullness in our lives.
The Bible says that our own motivations and desires actually fuels our idol making, enticing us toward failure (James 1:13-15). Let’s take a look at a few of the “idols” that tend to rule in us, causing us to take our eyes off of God’s full provision. As I outline each one, I’ll ask a few leading questions that will hopefully cause you to reflect internally—to get you to take a good look at your own motivations. Just so you know, several of these screamed loudly at me, so don’t feel like there is something wrong with you if you find some that sound familiar.
Does gaining the approval of other people, such as your husband, boss, co-workers, family members, friends, or even acquaintances and strangers cause you to do things you might otherwise not do? Approval-winning leads right into codependency, which occurs when we allow our whole lives to become wrapped up in the problems and needs of another person. It consists of making a lot of sacrifices for someone with the hope that our help will please them. If we seek approval from others, then when we don’t get anything back for our sacrifices, it leaves us feeling empty, used, trapped, and dissatisfied. Plus, we can inadvertently compromise our integrity or morals to get approval, so watch out!
Do you revel in gaining honor or attention from other people? When you are working or serving, does the hope of recognition linger in the back of your head? When accolades becomes an idol, it leads to a dissatisfaction with activities, and you complain or grow bitter. Your joy and good attitude depends on others, rather than from a place of knowing you’re doing a great job as you serve and help others. If people appreciate you and give you a pat on the back, then you’re on cloud nine, “This is the best ever; I’m really enjoying this.” But if you don’t, you’re left feeling unappreciated, and complaining and criticism flow freely. What you do matters and can bring about joy in your life, unless you give in to the idol or recognition or accolades.
Do expect perfection in yourself and others, strongly desiring a perfect family or marriage (or appearance of one), the perfect car, house, body, yard, job, and so on? Do you feel embarrassed or disappointed when others in your life make mistakes or fall short of your expectations? This particular idol is usually rooted in insecurity, a general mistrust of who God made you to be—like he made a mistake or something and it’s up to you to fix it. Perfectionism can lead to feeling like you have to control everything yourself, particularly the people in your life, who you feel reflect badly on you if they mess up. The problem is that people aren’t perfect and cannot withstand your standards, so when your husband or kids decide they don’t want to cooperate with your perfect dream and they walk out or rebel, your world crumbles. The truth is that the pursuit of perfection can lead many families down a path toward financial ruin, divorce, and brokenness. Only God is perfect and can handle our standards.
Maybe you’re motivated to achieve, or you’re driven by a lofty dream or goal—you have a need to feel important or successful so others will think highly of you. The goal itself isn’t an idol unless things like your family, the stability of your household, and your relationships with God or others are sacrificed. Good plans become ugly and you’ll find the thing you once wanted so badly doesn’t satisfy for long. You’re left with broken relationships and confusion. Extreme busyness is a symptom that this idol is lurking, because you’re bent on putting everything you have towards success! The by-product is exhaustion, frayed nerves, unbalanced living, neglect of important relationships, poor health, etc. If this describes you, ask yourself “What is behind my busyness?” “If I don’t achieve my goal, will I be ok?” Keep dreaming and setting goals, but keep God by your side every step of the way; your focus set squarely on his plan for your life.
Fame and Fortune
Is being really good at something, like music, art, business, writing, speaking, or sports important to you? In this country, we worship and place incredible value on those who are exceptional in their area of expertise. We attach a lot of value on famous people and the wealthy, do we not? We look at the rich and famous and think, “That’s what I want!” And yet, if you asked them, they would say it’s still not enough—they want more. The truth is that people and things are not meant to be worshipped. They crumble and fall apart under the weight of expectations placed on them; the fame is too much! That’s why you should be concerned when you see a young kid or friend start to become famous—they need to be coached to maintain humility and give thanks to God for everything that comes their way. It’s okay to appreciate excellence, but recognize that our abilities, gifts, and talents really come from the source of all good things, God.
Do you have an image you’ve set up for yourself that drives what you do, how you think, and act? Do you pursue happiness or a particular image at all costs? If you don’t get want you want, do you get angry, throw fits, and explode all over people? We can become our own idol when we allow our selfish desires and needs to drive and control other people to get what we want. The problem is that when we fail to get what we want, we can’t handle it. Oftentimes, our foundation is shaken and we can sink down into feelings of worthlessness or depression, suicidal thoughts, and so on. The key to killing the idol of self is to have an others-centered approach to life with God at the helm. “God, what would you like me to do today? How can I care for __________ today?” Trust that God loves and cares for you, and he delights in giving you the desires of your heart when he is #1. (Ps. 37:4)
I’ll leave you with an excerpt from a book I’m reading called, Gospel Treason by Brad Bigney. Where I live, I see this happening with families everywhere, the worship of sports and activities that feed off of the idols of success, fame, and fortune. Take a look:
“You see it with families – even Christians – driving their kids all over God’s green earth, because “my child’s really good. He’s in a special league,” which basically means that the family gets to miss church three out of four Sundays so that the kid can kick a ball, jump off a balance beam, or ride a horse. And that child, while being carted from one sporting event to the next in a cute little outfit, is thinking, “This is what it’s all about. This is so important to Mom and Dad that our entire home revolves around it. I live for this.”
He goes on to say that as Christ-followers, we are to be set apart from the same spirit of the rest of our country that idolizes sports and activities. It’s not that we can’t participate, we just need to be careful not to compromise the important things that matter to God, like church. When we do, we send a strong message that the things that matter to God is not a big deal—we’ve replaced God with the thing. (2 Kings 17:15, 2 Kings 17:40-41)
I hope that you’ll start to identify the idols in your own heart and put God back in his proper place in your life. When you do, God will fulfill those needs and desires that you previously enlisted your idols to meet. You’ll experience what it’s like to have a deep and peaceful satisfaction with your life, no matter the circumstances. You’ll learn that what really matters is what he thinks about you, not what others think—and I’m here to tell you that he thinks you are a beautiful woman, warts and all. You’ll settle in to your own skin, no longer a slave to perfectionism. You’ll start to accept the things you can’t change and celebrate God’s victories in your life. As your focus on God becomes healthier, you’ll be able to trust God with your marriage and kids because you’ll understand that he knows what is best for all of you. You’ll be able to confidently and courageously say “no” to sports or activities that take place during church hours, trusting in God for your child’s success in life, not some coach. You’ll say “yes” to dreams and goals placed in your heart by God himself, trusting that he will uniquely bless you and do something amazing for the good of others through you. That is, as long as you aren’t motivated by fame, fortune, or self-glory…
God can do it—just take a look at Psalm 40:1-5.
He knows that we struggle, he knows our desires, and he knows our hearts. And guess what. He loves us despite all of that! Our part in his plan is to give over all of our idols—eagerly, wholeheartedly, and with anticipation that he will do something amazing instead. My prayer for you is that you’ll turn away from any idol you’ve set up accidentally or on purpose, and replace it with the only One who is worthy of, and able to handle, your worship—Jesus, to Him be the glory forever and ever, Amen.
Thanks for reading and hanging in there with me. I would love to hear from you about what you think some of your idols are. I’ll go first.
“I must have something meaningful to do after the kids go to college—the idol of feeling important.” Your turn, GO!