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Slaying Idols

by Mary DeMuth on July 15, 2012 in Book Excerpts

Excerpt from Beautiful Battle, by Mary DeMuth

Little children, keep yourselves from idols.- 1 JOHN 5:21 KJV

In the spirit of boredom, I’ve been a bit of a sloth-girl this past week, forsaking exercise. But this morning the sun shone so brightly I couldn’t resist its invitation. So I ran. Thank God, I ran. I circled a familiar path in the park and saw it: a dead autumn leaf clinging to an up-and-coming green tree. Though the brown leaf didn’t know it, spring would come in a matter of days. And that’s when the Lord spoke to me. “The brown leaf will fall. Life always pushes out death.”

It reminds me of the cure for idolatry that Timothy Keller writes about in his book Counterfeit Gods. We can’t simply forsake our idols (whether they be materialism, achievement, lust, the desire to please, food, porn, reputation, or anything else). Instead, we must worship that which is higher. Repentance must hold hands with rejoicing. That’s how life pushes out the dead leaves in our lives. We rejoice. We embrace the Life Giver and praise His worth. And His life, because of its sheer power and beauty, pushes away death.

I want that kind of life with Jesus. I don’t want to cling to the dead parts of me that I feel are important and valuable—often idols—forsaking the emerging green of spring. I want spring. I want life. I want to run in the freedom of His love. But idols seem to worm their deadly way into my heart. They’re not easily slayed. That’s why I laughed when I heard a televangelist proclaim, “Well, we all know America doesn’t worship idols, so we can skip that verse.”

Really?

An idol is something with which you replace God. It can become a foothold Satan uses to climb his way into your affections. It’s something you fill yourself up with, revere, pay homage to. Tim Keller wrote, “Idolatry is always the reason we ever do anything wrong.”  

With that in mind, the televangelist was wrong: America is full of idols. Maybe we don’t offer incense to a golden statue, but we do offer up our lives, our reputations, our money. In the Old Testament, idolatry is linked to spiritual adultery, and often what people worshiped had a sinister, satanic element. Idols are often interchangeable with demons. Love of idols made people do Satan’s bidding—to steal, kill, destroy. Which is why slaying idols is such an important holy habit.

Consider this sobering passage: “They [the Israelites] worshiped their idols, which led to their downfall. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons. They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters. By sacrificing them to the idols of Canaan, they polluted the land with murder. They defiled themselves by their evil deeds, and their love of idols was adultery in the LORD’s sight” (Psalm 106:36-39).

Again, God equates the Israelites’ idols with demons: “They offered sacrifices to demons, which are not God, to gods they had not known before, to new gods only recently arrived, to gods their ancestors had never feared. You neglected the Rock who had fathered you; you forgot the God who had given you birth” (Deuteronomy 32:17-18).

In the New Testament, we see this same correlation made by Paul—idols and demons. “What am I trying to say? Am I saying that food offered to idols has some significance, or that idols are real gods? No, not at all. I am saying that these sacrifices are offered to demons, not to God. And I don’t want you to participate with demons. You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. You cannot eat at the Lord’s Table and at the table of demons, too. What? Do we dare to rouse the Lord’s jealousy? Do you think we are stronger than he is?” (1 Corinthians 10:19-22).

It’s easy for us to look into the biblical narrative and be like the TV host who proudly proclaimed we are idol-less. As warrior women, though, we must take seriously the idols in our lives.

What is an idol?

There’s more to idolatry than a stone statue. An idol is anything you run to that replaces your need for God. Idolatry is forbidden in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (Exodus 20:4 NIV). In the New Testament, Paul clearly describes idolatry in Romans 1:25: “They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself—who is worthy of eternal praise!” An idol is anything you fashion, whether physically or in your imagination, that becomes an object of worship. Here are some other ways to look at idols. You might have an idol if:

  • You set your heart on something other than God.
  • You need something other than God to be happy.
  • You allow something to capture your imagination more than God.
  • You seek something outside of God that only God can give.
  • You say, “If I have _____________, then my life will have meaning; I will have value; I’ll be significant and secure.”
  • You believe there is something you can’t live without or imagine your life without.
  • To pinpoint your idols, ask yourself:
  • What is operating in the place of Jesus as my salvation or savior?
  • What am I most afraid of    ?
  • What do I run to first when something in my life falls apart?
  • What is the worst thing that could ever happen to me?
  • Where does my mind wander when I’m not thinking of other things? What do I daydream about?
  • What worries keep me up at night?
  • Where do I spend most of my resources (money, time, etc.)?
  • What sparks my most uncontrollable emotions?
  • What must I have at any cost?
  • Fill in the blank: I would be horrified and humiliated if ________________.

Take some time to reread and think through those questions. Ask God to sift your heart, to show you what exactly it is you may be worshiping in place of Him. Journal your thoughts.

A List Of Possible Idols

If you’re struggling to pinpoint your idols, here’s a list of common idols women worship.

  • Love, romance
  • Sex
  • Pets
  • An unhealthy tie to someone who doesn’t share your faith (someone to whom you are unequally yoked)
  • An obsessive relationship
  • Chaos (Some of us prefer chaos over order because it’s what’s familiar to us.)
  • Morality, perfectionism, virtue, personal piety
  • Invincibility, risk-taking, thrill-seeking
  • Something tangible that shows worth: a building, a ministry, a house, a car, a promotion, a successful hobby, an empire, a business, a perfect family
  • Allowing yourself to be exploited (having a victim mentality)
  • Appearing or being better than someone else, having an insatiable need to be right
  • Peer approval, people-pleasing, reputation, critical acclaim, achievement
  • Money, prosperity (conversely: austerity, poverty)
  • Work, workaholism
  • Looks, body image, beauty, getting or being in shape, being thin
  • Avoidance (of enemies, criticism, uncomfortable situations)
  • Control (your children, your world, your life, your job, your relationships)
  • Stability, safety, security, lack of change, lack of suffering
  • Peace, lack of conflict
  • Harmony in relationships at any cost
  • Children (having your identity fully wrapped up in them)
  • Favorable political climate (your party in power, the laws you like passed)
  • Success (in work, ministry, parenting, relationships, sports, etc.)
  • Knowledge, education, competence, skill
  • Discontentment and a constant comparison to others, what they have
  • Addictions (porn, shopping, alcohol, food, drugs, video games, approval)
  • Art, creative expression, music
  • Entertainment, recreation, vacation
  • Sloth, lethargy

What Now?

It’s not enough to identify our idols. It’s not simply repenting. It’s repenting connected to rejoicing, as Timothy Keller expounds in Counterfeit Gods. You must worship the One who is greater. You must place God at the center of your life. Anything short of that is idolatry.

I write this with trepidation, with fear. Because I know myself. I know how much I “need” approval from others. How I long to feel pretty to experience deep satisfaction. How I equate my output with my worth. I have worshiped idols. Given my life for them on many levels. And I’ve experienced the emptiness that comes from such worship. I’ve been reading through Jeremiah and Isaiah as I’ve researched idolatry. God’s wrath seems to be especially reserved for those who worship idols. That had always been an abstract concept to me until I visited Malaysia one summer and saw actual idols housed in little shadow boxes outside of people’s homes. Incense and fresh fruit graced the idol boxes, even while the occupants inside the home went without food.

So that made sense. God hates idols.

Idols = Control

In working through that list of idols, I’ve tried to discern what’s beneath our worship of them. In doing so, I revisit those idols in Malaysia, what they represented. Worshiping little gods meant having some sort of control. If I pay homage to the god of rain, maybe, just maybe, it will finally rain. It’s their way of feeling like they possess some sort of control over the chaotic world.

That hits too close to home. The underlying need for control is alive and well in my life. Is that true for you? Has God become convenient for us, like a Starbucks on every corner? Have we minimized Him to the god of what we want, when we want it, and how we should receive it?

We may not offer fruit or incense to stave off its hunger, but we do jump through all sorts of hoops to get what we want. And sometimes we mistake the God of the Bible with the god of control. We tell God we want a, b, and c, and when we get what we want, we tout it as an answer to our prayers. If you’re like me, you’re weary of hearing stories about how God made someone’s circumstances perfect or easy. Just as many folks could come back and say God didn’t choose to make their circumstances perfect or easy. And how is that any less of His plan than lining our lives up perfectly, just the way we want them? How much holiness do we achieve in our hearts if we are spoiled brats, getting every single thing we want at the very moment we want it? What parent who deeply loves his child would do such a thing? Would allow such a counterfeit?

The question becomes: Why do we serve God?

To get what we want?

To have control over our environment?

Has God become convenient for us, like a Starbucks on every corner? Have we minimized Him to the god of what we want, when we want it, and how we should receive it? I’m shouting these things to myself. I wonder how much I’ve trivialized God. I wonder how much I’ve served a god of control, preferring a life that fits my own expectations to a scary, faith-filled life that ruins my preconceived paradigms.

Richard J. Foster illuminates an interesting irony about control and giving it up:

In prison, Alexander Solzhenitsyn discovered that whenever he tried to maintain a measure of power over his own life by acquiring food or clothing, he was at the mercy of his captors. But when he accepted and even embraced his own vulnerability, his jailers had no power over him. In a sense, he had become the powerful, they the powerless. 

When we allow our need for control to reign over our need for Jesus, we give Satan a foothold in our lives. We place ourselves on the throne of our lives, desperately trying to fill our needs and wants. Eventually we become enslaved to lesser things. I wonder how much we worship idols, putting our pennies and treasures into a holy bank in hopes that God would work everything out right, to our specifications—only to find out that kind of lifestyle shirks God’s renown in our lives. I wonder if our perspective would change if we truly equated idols with demons. Would that shock us from our idolatry? How has worshiping idols, including our need for control, hindered our walk as warrior women?

I’m ending this chapter with those questions—to stir you, to welcome you to reread the lists and prayerfully consider where you may have worshiped something other than God. Ask God to search your heart, to highlight your idols. And as He illuminates them, may you lay them at His feet as an offering of worship.

Mind if I pray for you?

God, help us. Help us to see it’s all about You. It’s not about us. Nor is it about Satan’s enticements to worship that which is lesser than You. Help us embrace You whether You send convenience or inconvenience. Help us to trust You in the storms that test and try our faith. Help us to forsake the god of what we want for the God of the universe, who is not so easily understood or captured. Amen and amen.

Taken from: Beautiful Battle. Copyright © 2012 by Mary E. DeMuth. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR. Used by Permission.

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