“An idol is anything that is central in my life, anything that seems to be essential. Anything by which I live or depend.” (D. M. Lloyd-Jones)
Theologian John Calvin said that the heart is a “perpetual factory of idols.” We are constantly looking for things to worship, and making the good things given to us by God into ultimate things. An idol is anything we worship and can take any possible form. Anything we think we must have to be happy, we run to for comfort, or we seek out for affirmation.
In my own life, the idols of comfort are those I find myself continuously running to. While I don’t bow down to worship a statue, I do esteem Netflix as the thing that will provide escape from the pain I experience. I may not praise its name, but in my heart I believe that another tub of ice cream will be the thing to bring lasting joy. While I know my ultimate rest is found in God, I really worship at the throne of sleep — if I don’t get enough I believe my entire day will be rendered worthless.
These good things God has given us to enjoy often replace Him as the focus of our worship. We value the gifts over the Giver. And in my walk with the Lord there is a perpetual cycle of running after things that don’t satisfy, finding them empty, and then returning to the Lord who ultimately satisfies. Why do I find myself running after these things time and again? When will I learn that only Jesus satisfies the longings of my soul?
In Jeremiah 2, the Lord spoke to the Israelites about this very issue. He described the idols they’d run after as “broken cisterns” — wells without water (v. 13). The Israelites went to them for water and dug and dug, and at the bottom of the well they found nothing. Emptiness. When all along, the Lord had offered them living water that would never run out (John 4:13–14).
At the root of my cycle of idolatry is the fact that I have forsaken the true source of life and satisfaction. Every time I go to TV, food, or sleep for comfort, it reveals my belief that God is not enough for me. At the core, I don’t believe He is all I need and that He truly satisfies. The key to breaking this cycle of idolatry in which I consistently find myself is to focus on the character of God. Our hearts will never cease the production of idols until we rightly see and worship the only One worthy of our affections.
FROM WORTHLESS TO WORSHIP
By focusing on the character of God revealed in His Word, I show my heart the worthlessness of the things of the world I’m tempted to worship. When I understand that He is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3–4), I realize the futility of turning to TV or food to comfort me. When I see that He provides me deep, soul rest from my striving (Matthew 11:28–30), it puts the desire for physical rest in its proper place. When I realize that everything good comes from Him, and apart from Him I have nothing (Psalm 16:2, 11), it reminds me that true joy can only be found abiding in Him.
We cannot break the cycle of seeking idols by simply not worshipping them. We must shift our affections to worship the One who is worthy. The One who never leaves us empty or dissatisfied. The antidote to idolatry is gazing on the beauty of God and worshipping Him as more than enough.