The other day a friend was telling me about a circumstance in which he was desperate for some clarity from God. He wanted an answer but was frustrated with silence in response.
Then he said something pretty profound.
“I’m so desperate for clarity sometimes. It’s like an idol for me.”
Yup. Me too, buddy. Well said.
It got me thinking about idols. Now, normally we associate idols with stuff or things. We let someone or something take the place of Jesus. And that’s an idol.
But there are more ambiguous idols that at first glance don’t seem like bad things at all. Idols that are more emotionally and mentally driven, as opposed to physical ones.
Here are a few I have seen in myself and that often come up in conversations I have with people. These things aren’t always bad, they’re not evil in and of themselves. But they can quickly become idols when we pursue them instead of Jesus. I’ll start with the one my friend brought up.
Big idol #1: Clarity
We’re so desperate for an answer. We want to be sure about where we’re going and what we’re doing. So much so that we often trust ourselves before God. When we don’t hear from God on something, so we try to clear up the picture on our own. It never works, and usually we end up muddying the picture even further for ourselves. When clarity becomes an idol, at best, we sacrifice the great for the OK.
God has stuff he wants to do in your life. Let him do it. But when we strive for clarity in our life more than we strive for Jesus, whatever the circumstance, we miss out on the grace God has for us in surrendering to the journey he’s called us to. Don’t start digging dirt roads next to finished highways. Clarity will come with consistent surrender.
Big idol #2: Security
We trust God the most when our bank account is full, when everyone is healthy, when the car is running great and when everyone likes us. That’s when we really love Jesus. Suddenly, something goes wrong and we lose our safety net and our happy, secure little world. We believe God has abandoned us and Jesus couldn’t possibly understand what we’re dealing with. Where did we ever get the notion that following Jesus would provide us security? I think of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, when Susan and Lucy are talking to Mr. Beaver:
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
We call ourselves Jesus followers, but look at Jesus’ life. How often were things secure for him? How safe was he?
When security becomes an idol, we miss out on experiencing God’s goodness and seeing his sovereignty at work. We think barricading ourselves and our family from the world Jesus immersed himself in and died for will somehow be better. Don’t place your security and safety above the work God has asked you to partner in to build his kingdom. Don’t wait until everything falls into place before you take a step.
Big idol #3: Contentment
OK, wait a second, Jon. This one is in the Bible. I’m supposed to be content. Relax. I know. We’re talking about idols, and how good things develop into dangerous things. Contentment is good. But if we’re always content, then where do we end up? Nowhere.
In my small group, we’re using RightNow Media to work our way through Matt Chandler’s series on Philippians. It’s so good, and Matt touches on this idea and urges that instead of contentment, we have a holy discontentment. Paul speaks on this in Philippians 3:
“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”(Phi. 3:13-14).”
Does that sound like someone who is content to stay put? Forgetting what’s behind. Straining forward. Not staying put. Have you been in the same place, doing the same things with the same people for too long, and you’re OK with it? Contentment is your idol.
Again, all of these things aren’t bad. It’s OK to desire clarity. It’s admirable to want safety and security for your family. God even calls us to be content with the seasons he has us in. But keep them where they belong. Trust in God’s grace and sovereignty when you don’t have a clear path. Lean into the Holy Spirit when the numbers don’t add up and you feel God is asking you to put all the things you hold dear at risk. Don’t stay in one place. Venture into the unknown. Be a little unclear. Be a little unsure. Hang out in the middle. Take a risk. Be uncomfortable. Be dissatisfied. Trust Jesus, and be transformed by his Spirit.
Jonathan Nance, Associate pastor of Prairie Lakes Church
Jonathan Nance is associate pastor of Prairie Lakes Church, Grinnell campus, Iowa.