Recently our church has re-launched its mens small groups. Every two weeks four of us meet for an hour or so on a Saturday morning to discuss a different topic and pray. Recently, the topic was idols of the heart.
We read an article for each topic. For the topic of idols we read, Modern Idolatry: Understanding and Overcoming the Attraction of Your Broken Cisterns by a pastor in New Hampshire, Lou Going of Whitefield Christian Church in Whitefield, New Hampshire. Follow the link if you’d like to read it for yourself or your own small group (it’s not gender-specific).
Quick side note…Pastor Going’s article is from The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Spring 2002. …2002! Curious, I looked up the author to see what he was doing these days. Guess what? He is still faithfully pastoring that small group of believers in Whitefield. How beautiful is that? Also, this is partly why I love the written word: What a joy to have written something that others would be reading and benefitting from almost two decades (or centuries, or millennia) later!
Idol? Nope, None Here
I won’t go into how the Bible defines an “idol.” Read the article; it’s very good. I want to talk about at least one conversation it initiated, the one with my wife.
Of course, as we talk about idols, some idols are concrete (e.g.: food or expensive toys). Some idols are abstract (e.g.: pride or the praise of men). And some idols can be both, like the burning desire to be a glutton on comfort food, or for a particular car or boat or what-have-you. And what is a good, God-honoring desire for one person can be a sinful idol to another.
As I so often do in my flesh, I began reading the article thinking, I know about idols. I’ve studied this in my counseling training, heard sermons, etc. Lemme think….nope, no idols here.
So Much for My Trusty Steed
As I’m reading page 4, the high horse I’m on begins to buckle. Steady… Steady… I regain control and read a couple more pages. But then, three pages later, I read:
Idols can also be in the sinful attitudes of a heart, “that looks to things in this life (job, ministry, marriage, attractive appearance) to make life meaningful and happy (which is unbelief or misplaces belief).”
That thud you just heard was my arrogant mount completely collapsing underneath me.
For me, I could not readily point to some-thing that was the idol. I really didn’t see a glaring (maybe what we could call) “first level” idol/sin. But, ahhh….I began to inspect this one ambition of my heart that, itself, wasn’t particularly idolatrous. I saw that, for me, I was holding onto it to, “make life meaningful and happy,” as Going writes, “which is unbelief or misplaced belief.”
And like a roach that skitters exposed when the lights come on, out it came. Oh…thaaaaat. Ow. Hadn’t noticed that underlying reason before. Eww, yep, sure looks like an idol.
What Do You Think?
That’s when I take my copy of the essay over to my wife’s home office, have a seat, and get a second opinion. Hey Hon, do I have an idol?
And that starts an impromptu 10-minute discussion summarizing the article and sheepishly confessing what I think is an idol I have had for years and didn’t know it.
At first she’s as surprised as I was by it, but the more we talked she also came around to seeing that, if that’s the way I feel about it, then yeah, it’s probably an idol. I didn’t know I had it, but now that I do, I think: Bummer, I really like this thing.
As Christians, it’s good to have others to talk to about things. Sometimes it is our spouse. Sometimes it is our small group. Sometimes both. And it’s always important to pray and ask the Lord directly about a matter.
Having said that, it might surprise you to know that once I saw my sin for what it was (or even what it might be), I did not immediately go to be alone with the Lord to confess and repent of it. Actually, I opened my laptop and wrote this piece.
I wasn’t avoiding it. I wanted to inspect it more closely. I wanted to understand it so I could pray more thoughtfully about it. For me, I do that by reflecting and writing about it.
Reaching for the Hammer
Yes. Now that think about it. That one thing is, for me, an idol I didn’t realize I had. It’s idol because, without it, life for me was neither meaningful nor happy. And since the Lord had kept it from me, that really meant I was angry at Him for not giving me what I wanted and what I determined I need for my life to have meaning and, thus, to be happy.
And with that, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I have Someone I need to talk to.