The new year symbolizes hope and change.
But for the past two years, it seems we've experienced so much change and uncertainty coupled with only a sliver of hope. This new year, we may not even experience renewed hope because we seem to hear and even experience bad news from the very start, with the surge of new COVID-19 cases and the uncertainty of election results.
Experiencing COVID-19 fatigue and the loss of connection with other followers of Jesus Christ may have greatly affected our own relationship with God. We may seem to have lost the passion and zeal we once had for Him. We may shy away from the intimacy we once enjoyed in fellowship with Him.
What has stolen our passion? And how can we regain the love and intimacy we once enjoyed with God?
The answer to these questions hinges on the condition of our hearts. John Calvin said,
“The human heart, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols… Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.”
The Bible also talks about the heart being perverse and wicked:
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)
So, how do we examine the condition of our hearts? And how do we identify the idols that cause us to wander away from being passionate for God?
The Bible has countless stories where God’s people have failed to be passionate for God and for the things of God because something else was more important–something that made them more comfortable, secure, or happy other than God. One of the most familiar stories on this topic was when the Israelites were waiting for Moses to get down from Mount Sinai. Tired of waiting and afraid they were abandoned, they asked Aaron (Moses’ brother) to build an idol that they could worship and give them the safety and security they were looking for. Likely plagued by his own fears or his own desire to please them instead of God, Aaron indulged their request.
Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. (Exodus 32:2-6, NIV)
In today’s culture, an idol is defined as primitive statues or figures that people worship in the manner of ancient times. However, idolatry is an issue of the heart. Idols are everything we have in our lives that we value more than God. These are things that don't require any commitment from us but rather adjust to our own timelines and whims.
An idol isn’t scary. Often, these are things we love to do first thing in the morning. These are the things that satisfy our cravings. Idols are usually things that don’t require us to change. These are the things that don’t scare us.
In C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, when Susan asked Mr. Beaver whether Aslan was safe, Mr. Beaver answered, “Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.” God isn’t safe or cute, but He’s infinitely better than an idol, because He is ultimately good and all-powerful, the king of the universe, and the One who holds all things together. He demands our complete trust and dedication to Him because He desires for us to live life to the full, which can only be a life of intimacy with Him, a life that fulfills His plans and purposes for us, and a life that is a blessing to the world.
What’s interesting with the story of the golden calf is that they didn’t replace Yahweh with the idol. They worshiped the golden calf alongside Yahweh. And this is just the beginning of Israel’s idolatry. They would ally with other nations and practice their beliefs. They would add temples, altars, and statues of other gods in their religious practices and worship Yahweh next to these pagan rituals. As if Yahweh alone isn’t enough.
Israel thought that their alliances with other powerful nations and their worship of these nations' gods would give them security and abundance. Idols are those things that give us false security other than God. They are those that we think would complete us and make us happy. This is why we often get by without prayer or meditating on God’s word because there are other things that give us “security.” And yet when these things are shaken or are removed from us, they are exposed to be the false gods that they are. We cannot put our trust on shaky, temporal things.
When we place other things before God and worship them alongside God, we devalue God and we fail to experience His grace and mercy in Christ, which is our ultimate security. It minimizes the glory of God that can work through every area of our life and mold us into the image of God.
God created us in His likeness. And even after humanity failed to obey Him in Genesis, we still carry that likeness. Love is one of the things that we get from Him. We follow what we love.
D.L. Moody said that
“Whatever you love more than God is your idol.”
What you love more than God is your compass in identifying your idols. Often these are the things you can’t live without. Idols can take many forms, and they aren’t always bad. More often than not, those are the good things we have in life—family, marriage, friendships, provisions, sex, and even ministry. These are good things that help us to love God more, but when they become most central to your life, they become your idols.
The Pharisees also struggled with this when they loved their interpretation of Scriptures more than God.
"You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me (Jesus), yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts." (John 5:39-42, NIV)
The very thing that separates us from other religions is our loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. God knew that for us to be more passionate about Him, we must learn how to love Him with all we have. That’s what God offered us from the beginning of time. He offers us everlasting life through a relationship that will help us live our lives with fulfillment, love, peace, and righteousness.
The pandemic challenged us physically, mentally, financially, and even spiritually. It took a pandemic for some of us to realize that we have idols in our hearts that hinder us from being passionate about God. Often these idols are things that come from Him. God will sometimes allow us to be shaken because we get so attached to what He gives, rather than fix our eyes on the One who gave it in the first place. And it's painful to surrender these areas to Him, but what's even more painful is the thought that "I replaced Him with His gifts."
May the year 2022 be a more promising year because we’re excited to be changed by Yahweh from glory to glory, not anxious or distracted by the sudden changes that may still come, but abiding in His word and being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
For most of us, work will be a significant part of our adult life, covering almost 50 years of it in fact. Most of us will also spend a large part of our day at work. All these mean that deciding on a job and even a career path is not a trifling thing. What is an important consideration in looking for one?
In light of Labor Day, some wrong mindsets we had about work and rest have to be broken. What are some of these wrong mindsets?
Christ’s death saved us from the consequences of our sins and the grip of the enemy over our lives. But how does Christ’s resurrection affect our present reality, where people and relationships are imperfect and where justice and righteousness do not abound?