Exodus 20:3 (New International Version)
‘You shall have no other gods before me.’
There you have it. It doesn’t get any clearer than that. As created beings, we all bow down to something or to someone. We are all motivated by something, influenced by someone, grasping for whatever makes us feel worthwhile. Sometimes the things we reach for are overtly destructive: drugs, alcohol, binge eating, uncontrolled gambling. Sometimes the things we use to replace God are good gifts: career, education, children, spouse (or the desire for one of the aforementioned), sex, prosperity – even ministry.
I was once confronted with my preoccupation with catalogs. I imagine your surprise. “Catalogs?” You might ask, “God doesn’t approve of catalogs?” To which I respond, in and of themselves catalogs are neutral. But my problem was this: I was not happy with the amount of income I was making at the time. I wasn’t living the life I wanted for myself. So I would pour through the pages of William Sonoma Home, Pottery Barn, Ballard’s Designs, and Horchow, aching for the items proffered on their pages. “Oh! That bedroom set is perfect!” I’d croon to no one in particular. “But I can’t afford it.” >Sigh!<
Did you catch that? >Sigh!< I suspect sighing is the universal indicator of discontentment. During a rough financial season in my life, my focus really needed to be on the Lord – not on the goods I could not purchase, promising me a life I could not have. I was mature enough to know that those goods could not make my life better, but the in life I desired (read: lusted after) they would easily be affordable. So instead of turning to God in prayer and reading his word to renew my mind, refresh my spirit, and build up my inner man, I turned to my catalogs for “inspiration.” But as with everything else we seek in God’s place, all they offered was disappointment and ultimately discouragement. They made me hate my life even more by showing me in beautiful compositions what I could not have. I resented my situation. And if I’d been honest with myself, I resented God.
The stage was set for the enemy to come in and raid my thoughts.
“Why are you guys always struggling?” he’d whisper.
“Yeah!” I’d respond.
“You deserve better than this,” he’d proffer.
“I do! I do!”
“Look at him (Mykel) just sitting there. He should be working harder,” he’d whisper.
“Umm Hmm,” I’d be looking at Mykel sideways.
“Is this the best that God will do? Is this all you get for following Jesus? Kimberly (not her real name), who cheated on her husband last year and married that rich doctor is doing way better than you. She’s got a new car, a house in the O.C., beach front property…Are you sure God loves you?”
Do you see that slippery slope? For me the catalog wasn’t the problem per se. The problem (as always) was my heart. I had been faithfully walking with the Lord for years. I was married with three children at the time. I had been in the habit of studying the bible and praying regularly. Yet in my heart I had replaced God with “The Good Life.” I truly believed my life would be complete if I could just get to – watch this – “the next level.” As surely as the cross represents the sacrifice my Savior made for me, those catalogs represented the life I lusted after. And I would sit and commune with them daily. They were the first thing I’d reach for in the morning (before my bible) and the last thing I’d read before I closed my eyes. Sometimes I even fell asleep reading them. How is that for worship?
And what were my three children learning from my example? I was modeling ingratitude and misery. I gave them a real life example of what it looks like to put a man made thing ahead of God. They might not have understood the depth of my idolatry. But they certainly experienced the fruit of it – my impatience, my complaining, my lack of peace. Make no mistake – they as well as my husband were affected.
My point in sharing this with you is to show you that anything can become an idol in our lives. Anything that we think about most of the time, whether it’s a problem to solve, the spouse that we want, the children we have or can’t have, or the ministry in which we serve is in danger of replacing God in our hearts. God delights in giving us good gifts to be enjoyed. His desire is for us to be complete and fulfilled. He knows that any other substitute will always fail to deliver the joy, pleasure, and peace we truly desire. Yet he is patient with us while we insist on trying out every other option.
Prayerfully and honestly answer this next question before the Lord. Resist giving the “right” answer – y’know, the one you share at bible study where you want to sound spiritual. Be naked with God. Give the REAL answer. The question is this:
What competes with God for the ownership of your heart?
Don’t brush over this. Don’t run past it on the way to the next thing. Stop, spend some time here, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to you, to lead you into Truth. If nothing comes to mind, keep this question tucked away as you go about your day. Notice the things or people that if they were to be taken from you would leave you in despair – not sadness, but despair. What things would you be unable or unwilling to give up.
Should you discover something, confess it to God first and then to someone you can trust for the sake of accountability. Be brutally honest with yourself. Begin the journey of letting “gifts be gifts and God be God.”*
Oh – and about my catalog problem. I did eventually overcome it. But only after confessing it to God, my husband, my bible study group and removing my catalogs from the house. As I determined to focus on God, I began to see the many blessings for which I owed him my gratitude. As I worship him, he continues to heal my heart and leads me to experience my contentment in him. I am learning to be grateful for his gifts and to enjoy them while continuing to worship only him.
Be blessed, Family!
* Morph Curriculum: Love God Module by Rick Shurtz of Gateway Community Church