We are hard-wired for worship. Often we are misled into seeking out false idols to fill that need for worship. Our idols may not be images of silver and gold, but may be silver, gold, wealth.
Any object, person or idea that we put before our God is a false idol. How do we recognize this? Psalm 115 gives us a clue.
Another hymn of the Hallel, Psalm 115, along with 116-118, was used each year for Passover celebrations. Chances are it was one of the hymns sung by the apostles at the last supper. It starts with an affirmation of God’s authority. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” (1) The psalmist recognizes that all we have comes from God and so all glory and honor belongs to God.
The writer goes on to address the nature of idols. “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths but do not speak; eyes but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.” (4-8) In other words, they lack substance. They are but empty shells. They give the appearance of substance, but only the appearance.
The psalm then implores the Israelites to put their trust in the Lord, recounting God’s blessings. “O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, put your trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us.” (9-12a)
The psalm ends with a blessing prayer: “May the Lord give you increase, you and your children! May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” (14-15)
So many of the idols we chase after give the appearance of substance but when embraced, they are found to be empty shells.
Anything can become an idol. I love to write, but writing can become an idol if I pursue it simply to make money or become well known. If I do, my writing will lose substance and value. I write because I believe that is what God wants of me. The substance behind my writing comes from God, not me. And so I say with the writer of this psalm, not to me, give praise, but to God. Anything worthy that I write comes from God. The unworthy stuff I own to be mine! 🙂
We love our families. But if we place our families before our God, we risk losing them or smothering them with false love, not real love. God helps us let go of that which needs to be let go, and to hang in there when that is required. God helps us love with an unselfish love. This doesn’t mean we abandon our families out of some false sense of loyalty to God, perhaps by volunteering at our church or other organizations. No, if we do so, we are creating another false idol. God has placed us in our families for a reason.
Love of God, putting God first, doesn’t take us out of our families, but helps us engage with them on a deeper level.
So, how do you recognize the idols in your life? This can be tricky. At times it requires outside help from a trusted friend or spiritual adviser. But if whatever you are doing leaves you feeling empty and lacks substance, chances are there is a false idol involved.
What are we to do? Put our trust in God. As for me, I’ve decided to add to my daily prayers the petition that I write what God wants me to write this day as a safeguard against turning my writing into a false idol.
What about you? What are the false idols in your life?