The danger of the subtle idol

You would think that a Christian shouldn’t struggle with idol worship, but the battle with the desires in my own heart tells me otherwise. The Bible describes the heart as the dwelling of our thoughts, emotions, and choices. There is a daily battle there, as to whether we will worship the true and living God or the gods of our making.

In his book Worship Matters Bob Kauflin explains,

Throughout the Scripture, idolatry is the greatest snare the people of God encounter. God condemns idolatry repeatedly in his Word. He hates it when we pursue, serve, or are emotionally drawn to other gods, which are not really gods at all. Idols enslave us and put us to shame (Isaiah 45:16; Psalm 106:36). Idols are powerless to help us and end up making us into their image (Psalm 115:8).

When some of us hear the word idolatry, we picture primitive tribesman bowing down to statues of wood, metal or stone. . . But idol worship is a daily ritual in America. too. Only it’s more subtle and therefore more dangerous. Idols are all around us. Can you spot them? They come in different forms. Material comforts. Financial security. Sensual pleasures. . . Things like reputation, power, and control.

As Christians we’re sometimes like the people described in 2 Kings 17:33: “they feared the Lord but also served other gods.” We fear the Lord externally, doing all the right things on Sunday morning–singing, strumming a guitar, lifting our hands–yet actively serve false gods throughout the week. We profess to love the true God but actually love false idols. It’s a condition that God, in his mercy, is committed to changing (p. 21,22).

The subtle idols are often invisible to the human eye, but the worship of them is not. When you feel your anger rising because you didn’t get what you wanted, you are worshipping the idol of your expectations. If you can’t exercise Spirit-given self-control over your sexual desires, you are worshipping at the idol of your sensual pleasures. If you are characterized by worry and anxiety, you are worshipping at the altar of your security.

The heart is the alarm mechanism for keeping God worshippers from becoming idol worshippers. Whenever you are willing to sin in order to get something you want you are worshipping an idol.

Getting victory over anxiety – Part 4

This final principle may be the most essential of all when it comes to gaining victory over anxiety. I like to call Psalm 37 the “don’t worry Psalm.” Three times in Psalm 37 we are told not to worry (37:1, 7, 8).

The New Living Translation captures the opening verses well.

Don’t worry about the wicked or envy those who do wrong. For like grass they soon fade away. Like spring flowers they soon wither. Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires (Psalm 37:1-4).

The approach of this Psalm to anxiety is different from any of the passages we had studied previously. The apostle Peter reminded us to focus on the Word not our feelings (1 Peter 5:7). The apostle Paul told us to give greater efforts to how we pray and think (Phil. 4:6, 8). In this Psalm, King David combats worry with one’s ever increasing delight in the Lord (Psa. 37:4).

When we delight in something it consumes our thinking. We find joy simply letting our mind dwell on that person. Yet, the worrier finds that his thoughts and actions are consumed with what he is worrying about, and they don’t bring him joy. He needs something else to delight in.

I have found that most worriers really don’t want to be that way. In fact, often they desire relief from the anxiety. So much so that relief from the anxiety starts to consume their thinking and their conversations; distracting them further from delighting in the Lord.

I articulate this final principle in this way: Desire God more than you desire relief from the anxiety. Don’t simply try to get rid of the anxiety, give your greater effort to loving God well. Delight in him!

The Bible teaches that if we desire anything more than God we are an idolater (Ex. 20:3-4). Perhaps you thought that you needed a figure made of silver and gold to be an idolater. But King Belshazzar didn’t need figurines; he just flat-out worshipped the silver and gold (Dan. 5:4). Ezekiel the prophet pointed out that you didn’t need carved images in your living room to be an idol worshipper; you could actually have idols in your heart (Eze. 14:1-5). Think about that, a hidden desire, tucked away where no one could see it, but God. According to the Bible all you need to be an idolater is a strong desire for something other than God.

If our all-consuming desire has become “relief from anxiety” then it signals an idolatry problem. And the best way to combat an idolatry problem is to delight oneself in the true and living God.

Start with a list of the qualities of God (https://philmoser.com/2012/03/23/the-character-of-god-from-a-to-z/). Study them. Mediate upon them. Delight in them.

You will discover that it’s difficult to truly dwell upon the goodness of God, while at the same time giving your mind to the things you worry about. Something will have to go. Which will it be?