“When you work on your book proposal, stop reading.”
These words of wisdom were spoken to me by an author I admire during a coaching call. A coaching call that I had prayed about as the scheduled date grew near. A coaching call that I was so excited for that I struggled to fall asleep the night before. A coaching call that melted away my fears about writing my first book and caused faith to well up inside of me. I felt like my life was changing in that hour and I was ready to take all her words and run with them. At least, I thought I was. But amidst all of the wonderful things I didn’t expect her to say, she said the thing I really didn’t expect her to say: “When you work on your book proposal, stop reading.”
I panicked. What?!? Stop reading? What am I going to do? How am I going to make it through a season of high pressure writing if I can’t find rest in my books? I don’t know if I can do it! I need my books!
And that’s when I realized that my books weren’t just objects I loved; they had become an idol.
Books are good. They allow me a chance to be taught by great minds. They give me an outlet to rest and use my imagination. They help me grow as a communicator, artist, and Christian. Books make me a better person.
But at times, I allow them to take too much of my time (and money). I’ve been guilty of turning to a book for help before bringing my problems to God. It’s so easy for me to find my rest in books in place of being still in the presence of the Refuge Himself. And for a brief moment during my coaching call, books were more important to me than being obedient to God’s call on my life.
In the Ten Commandments, it’s not an accident that the first command, “You shall have no other gods before me,” is immediately followed by the command forbidding idols. God is to be first and most in our lives, but we have a knack for turning literally anything into something that dethrones Him from first place.
Where I am living now (a small city in Midwest, USA), carved idols aren’t paraded on the streets like other places I’ve lived. Our idols are more subtle, subjective, personal. Idols can be anything.
“…we do not usually make little statuettes of gold and silver and then worship them. But idolatry knows no cultural or temporal barriers. We have four-wheeled idols whose worshipers spend all their effort and money polishing them and driving them faster and faster. We have three-bedroomed idols, whose devotees have to keep them spotlessly clean in case visitors should come. We have square idols with silver screens. Some of us have well-bound idols with pages and dust jackets.”
(N. T. Wright, Small Faith, Great God)
“We love so many things more than we love our holy and fearful God. We love sports, our stuff, our churches, and our rules. We love our friends, our kids, and our reputations. We love creativity, our homes, and our opinions more than we love God. Ladies, I’ll give it to you straight. Some days I feel like the candles in my house get more praise and devotion and thankfulness than my God gets.”
(Jess Connolly, Wild and Free)
Like my books, it’s so easy to justify our idols, to use their usefulness for good to conceal what we have allowed them to become. But when we peel away the mask, their ugliness comes to light and we see why God would be hard on His people when it comes to idolatry. There is so much God wants for us, but idols get in the way.
Idols are unable to redeem people and situations, to turn mourning into dancing, to make dry bones walk. They keep us from being able to fully experience the Giver of Life and from experiencing the abundant life He intended for us.
Idols cannot answer our prayers, cannot be with us everywhere we go the way God can. God hears and listens to us when we cry out to Him. Even when He is silent and works in ways that confound us, He is still with us, still listening.
The devotion we give to idols robs us of opportunities to hear the voice of God in our daily lives, reminders of how He loves us, divine whispers of ways we can show His love to others.
The things or people we turn into idols are too small to be worshipped. Only the One, Living God is worthy of worship because He created the universe and everything in it; He keeps the Earth, sun, moon, and stars in motion; and He is the One who holds all things together. He cares so much about us that He knows the number of hairs on our heads, keeps count of our tossings, and puts our tears in His bottle. And He loves us so much that even though He knew our hearts would be prone to wander far from Him, He shaped the narrative of the world so that at the perfect time and place in history, He could redeem us. And His history shaping work is nowhere near done. We still have yet to go further up and further in!
When we look at who God is and what He has done, it seems ludicrous to treat Him like He is anything less, to give Him any other place in our lives than first.
So how do we tear down our modern-day idols? By spending more and more time gazing upon the wonderfulness of God.