Most of my life, I’ve been wrestling.
Now, before that statement gets misinterpreted, I’m not a jacked, throw-‘em-down, and make-them-beg-for-mercy type gal. In fact, I hate contact sports. What I’m talking about is an internal wrestle. It’s a constant pull between two things: the path of life and peace, and the path that leads to death.
I know that sounds extreme, but it’s very true.
As a first grader, I stole rocks from my teacher’s rock collection. I remember sitting in the back of the room with the rock bin thinking I should just get up and walk away, but for some reason, the lure of the Tiger Rock was too strong. I knew stealing was wrong, but the stone was shiny, and I wanted it…
In high school, I snuck out of the house to play a board game with several of my friends. I analyzed which window didn’t have an alarm sensor on it, pulled it open, and climbed out. As I walked to my car, I thought about the consequences and reconsidered my decision, but I kept going. I put the engine in neutral and rolled down the street.
As a young adult, I wrestled with a cute shirt at The Gap. It was $52.00. I didn’t have money for it. I stood there wondering if I could charge it and pay later…I chose to walk away without the shirt.
I think you get my point.
Small and large decisions give us the opportunity to think about the path we want to take. The problem is choosing the right one. For some, walking down ‘the straight and narrow’ is their first choice – their natural bent. Unfortunately, for me, it’s not.
Since I’ve been married, I have come face-to-face with the root of my bad decisions. For a long time, I saw each bad decision or each emotional struggle as something completely separate from all of the others. Today, however, I believe they are all a little more connected than I originally thought.
You see, about five months ago, I hit a rough patch.
I was newly married and transitioning through a lot of change. At the same time, I felt spiritually disconnected, unmotivated to follow Christ, and distracted when it came to the meaning of life. My mind kept fixating on lies, and my actions were beginning to respond to them, as well. I knew I didn’t want to be in the place that I was, but both my heart and my head weren’t ready to move anywhere else. I was frustrated. I felt stuck.
On a flight to Dallas, I opened up a book written by Timothy Keller entitled “Counterfeit Gods,” and I finally took a step forward.
“Idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong…there is something you feel you must have to be happy, something that is more important to your heart than God himself. We would not lie unless we first had something – human approval, reputation, power over others, financial advantage – more important and valuable to our hearts than the grace and favor of God. The secret to change is to identify and dismantle the counterfeit gods of your heart.”
I was in awe.
I put the book down and immediately started reflecting on the sin in my life.
Where do I normally stumble? Where do I typically give in to the desires of my flesh instead of the Spirit? I thought of few things and then asked myself more questions. Why do I stumble in those places? What motivates me to make the bad decisions I make?
It didn’t take me long to identify three reasons. Three idols. Three “counterfeit gods”:
First, there’s adoration and acceptance.
Most of the sin in my life is rooted in the desire to be well liked by others, to fit in, or to be considered as awesome. (Who doesn’t like to be awesome?)
It typically leads to jealousy, competitiveness, or trying to get the attention of others through superficial things. In the past, it led me to find meaning in how much attention I could get from guys or in how ‘fit/skinny’ I was. Today, I find myself saying things I shouldn’t or comparing myself to others in a way that is not glorifying to Christ. I can easily crave the acceptance and praise of others over the acceptance and love of God. (Which I know He provides.)
Secondly, there’s self.
Often times, I just want to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. It’s selfishness at its finest. It’s thinking I’m more important than the other people in my life.
This idol pops up when I’m in line at the grocery store and the woman in front of me won’t stop talking to the cashier when I want to check out. I get frustrated, and it’s obvious. It’s also apparent when my husband wants to go over our finances, and I choose to get distracted with something else. Instead of honoring him and serving him by giving him my full attention, I do what I want. (I don’t like numbers.)
Any time I don’t do the good I know I ought to do, the idol of self is to blame.
Lastly, and quite possibly the most disgusting of them all, is pleasure.
It’s seeking happiness in the moment instead of what’s right.
Eating too much dessert, being lazy instead of being productive, spending too much time on Facebook instead of spending time doing things on my to-do list. Yuck!
Idols are funny. We worship them, but then make bad decisions or experience bondage on their behalf. We are broken people.
Identifying the deep idols in life was huge for me. I began keeping a list of all of times I was swayed by each idol, and I was amazed at how influential they all were. I experienced a lot of freedom through this process as I confessed and asked for God’s help with each one.
I wish I could say that today, after discovering the idols of my heart and confessing them to God, I am idol free, but it’s just not the case. Even though I feel as though the Lord has helped me give certain areas over to Him, which has decreased the power of some of my idols, I still struggle.
Proverbs 14:12 reads like this: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”
Today, I can say that I want freedom from my idols (which was not where I was several months ago), but at the same time, I want all of the things that I think my idols will secure for me. I still want the popularity and praise from those in my life that adoration and acceptance brings. I still want the comfort of selfishness and the temporary happiness and relief I find in pursuing paths for pleasure. At the same time, I know these things lead to death. We were not created to life our lives for ourselves. Sin kills.
Romans 8:6 reads: “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.”
Jesus’ words in Mark 8:35 read: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”
I know that following Christ means abandoning my self and my own order of doing things. God created me and He designed life. He has a way He intended life to be lived, and that design includes Him being my only God. In order to follow Christ, and live a life of peace, I must fall in love with following Him with every area of my heart – even the ones currently possessed by idols. The problem is, it feels scary, and I like comfort. (See idol number 2.)
As I seek to loosen my grip on the idols in my life, and I struggle with the fear involved in doing so, I must remember there’s a solution. I’m not alone in my wrestling, nor am I alone in my attempt to be more like Christ. He made a way for victory.
Let’s go to Numbers 16:41-50. I think it paints the picture well.
In this passage, the Israelites are still wondering through the dessert under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Instead of trusting God with the leaders He appointed (Moses and Aaron), all of the Israelites “grumbled” against them. They grumbled against God. They wanted to do things their own way. They didn’t want to live under the authority of the Lord.
So God chose to give them what they wanted – life apart from Him. God sent a plague.
“Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer and put incense in it, along with fire from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them.’ So Aaron did as Moses said, and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered the incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead, and the plague stopped” (vs. 46-48).
Just like Aaron (the one God appointed to make sacrifices for the sins of the community) stood in between life and death for the Israelites, Christ stood in between life and death for you and me. Christ, through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, bridged the gap for us. For those who genuinely believe in Him, the plague of death has stopped. We have been rescued.
Seeing the sin in your own life and wishing it wasn’t there is hard. Trying to rid your self of it is impossible. It is only accomplished through the work of God himself, and a willing and submissive heart.
As I sit here wrestling with the goodness of God, and the temptation to choose my idols over Him, I am encouraged to not give into death.
“Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:9&10).
He is the giver of life. He gives us abundantly what we need. We can seek to let our idols rule, but in the end, they will only fail us. We can put all of our energy into our idols, but they will only lead to sin, which, if you think about it, is a waste of energy. If we want, we can keep depending upon our “counterfeit gods,” while still claiming that we believe that Christ is enough, but it will only lead to death. There’s no debate about it.
“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and cruses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers…” (Deuteronomy 30:19&20).
May we all abandon our idols, and all of the gods we worship, so that we may choose life with the only God there is.