Where's Your Heart At?
Wherever Paul traveled, he challenged his hearers on their idolatry. “Our hearts are idol-making factories,” said one theologian, and that’s been true of everyone since the fall. Paul confronted the idolatry of Athens; he confronted the silversmiths, magicians, and Artemis-worshipers in Ephesus; he even confronted the idolatry of Jews who elevated the written word above the God who spoke that word. Idolatry tempted the Israelites after they were rescued from Egypt, it tempted the Israelite priests, it tempted the Kings. We would be kidding ourselves if we thought that we had somehow escaped its temptation. True—most of us don’t build shrines in our homes and bow to statues, but our money, behavior, and attention all reveal that our hearts are not always focused on the true and good God.
John Wesley instructed Methodists to meet regularly in a small group of a few individuals. One of the questions they were supposed to ask and discuss with each other was, “How is it with your soul?” Sometimes our soul feels weary, sometimes grateful, sometimes excited, sometimes content. I wonder if we added another question, if we might be able to explain why it sometimes feels that way.
Where’s My Heart At?
What has happened this week that caused me to react emotionally? What has happened this week that sent my head spinning with reasons and arguments? What has happened this week that has made me act and respond with practical work?
Did I lash out with my words when someone challenged me? Did I fume over a thoughtless action? Did I busy myself with housecleaning or extended errand running?
What is it that most frequently causes my emotions to bubble up? What is the one thing about which I think, “As long as I have that, everything will be okay”? What is the one thing that when I wake up in the morning, I try to make sure is taken care of?
C.S. Lewis teaches us that the things we most recognize as sinful are usually the least deceptive. We aren’t likely to begin worshiping them. Most Christians believe that adultery is sin, but few Christians are deceived into worshiping sex. Usually adultery is a symptom of something going on deeper in the heart. So someone who has fallen in sexual sin should revisit the questions above: do I shut down emotionally when my spouse corrects me? Do I rationalize why all the good things I do should ‘count for something’? Do I pour hours into work so that I have something to show for all my time? Perhaps your fall in sexual sin shows that you’ve exchanged God for an idol of affirmation. Sex on your terms doesn’t expect you to be better than you are. It doesn’t require you to learn and grow. It doesn’t keep track of the ways you’ve neglected to live up. Affirmation is a common idol.
Most idols start as good things. The problem is that we make a good thing the ultimate thing, the best thing, the necessary thing. The desire for affirmation is a desire to belong, to be welcomed and loved. And that’s a God-given desire—one that he promises to meet! But when God doesn’t give us the kind of affirmation we’re expecting in the timeframe that we want, then we’re tempted like the Israelites to say, “Make us an idol to worship; as for this Moses fellow, we have no idea where he’s gone.”
Take stock of the best good things in your life: job, finances, family, spouse, hobbies, friendships, health, country. And take stock of the things you want: relaxation, comfort, security, affirmation, love, understanding, beauty. Then ask yourself… have I made any of these things the ultimate thing? You can usually tell because you try to control it... to make it act and be the way you want it to.
A Difficult Test
You may answer “No, none of these are ultimate.” And that may be true, so let’s ask a more difficult question… If God took one of these away from you, would you still be able to say “God is good”?
Manny Boston is Family Pastor at Hope Hull United Methodist Church. In that role, he leads our ministry with children and youth so that they grow into the love and knowledge of Christ.