**In light of how rapidly the world is changing in the wake of Covid 19, I felt led to share this study that God laid on my heart a couple of years ago. This is a 3 part study. Grab your Bible, journal, and a cup of tea. Take your time to process through what God is speaking to you personally and enjoy the journey! He has so much more for us than what we could possibly imagine. It’s time to allow Him to bring down our idols and lead us into His very best for our lives.
When we think of idols, we often conjure up images of a golden calf or some other relic we have read about in the Old Testament. We read about how the Israelites repeatedly forgot God and turned to idols….and we quickly judge, wondering how they could possibly forget all the God had done for them so easily. But honestly, aren’t we the same way???? During the past few months, God has laid heavy on my heart the idea that I have allowed too many idols into my life without realizing it. And based on conversations with friends, I think it’s safe to say that I am not the only one! We, as Christians, have allowed culture to define what’s important and we have strayed from our First Love. This has great implications for us personally as well as corporately. As long as idols are allowed in our hearts, we will only be a fraction of the Church that God intended us to be. (Side note: When I refer to the Church throughout this site, I’m referring to what I call the “big C” church – the body of Christ. I’m not singling out any specific church or any denomination. I’m referring to Christians as a whole and how we are reflecting Christ to the world around us.)
This study is a work in progress and simply an act of obedience. I do not pretend to be an expert nor do I pretend to have laid down all my idols. But I am in the process of allowing Him access to my whole heart and submitting to His direction as He works to reveal and destroy any idols I’ve let in. So, grab your Bible and your journal. I’m inviting you on this journey with me!
Section 1: Do you have an idol problem?
We don’t have to look very far to realize that we all have idols. An idol is simply anything that we put before God or that keeps us from obeying what he’s instructed us to do. I’ll step on some toes here, but know that as I type these I have been just as guilty of these as you might be. Remember that morning you set the alarm early so you could spend time with God before school/work, but you hit snooze instead? Yep, sleep was your idol. How about that time that you knew God wanted you in church but the weather was beautiful and the beach was calling your name? Yep, your desires were your idol. Remember when didn’t have the time or emotional bandwidth to serve a family in need God put in your path because you had every hour of your day scheduled carpooling kids to sports and activities? Yep, your children were your idol. Remember when you reached for a chocolate bar for comfort before reaching for God’s word to comfort you? Yep, food was your idol. I could keep going, but you get the idea. (Great song suggestion to listen to during this study is “Clear the Stage”. I like Ross King’s version as well as Jimmy Needham’s.)
Mark 12:30-31 (NKJV) And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. (cross reference Deut.10:12 and Deut 30:6)
This isn’t a suggestion. It is a commandment! And when we obey God’s commands, we step into His best for us. So, let’s dig into this verse further in order to see what God is really saying. If you haven’t ever looked back at the original Greek or Hebrew for a verse, this is a great time to start doing that! While there are approximately 15,000 words in the original language the Bible was written in, there are only 5,000 equivalent English words. That means that approximately 2/3 of the original intent can be lost in translation. By taking time to look at the original language when the Spirit prompts you, you can gain a much deeper meaning for His word. My favorite tools for doing this are biblestudytools.com and the Blue Letter Bible app.
Look at the word “love” here. We are called to love God with literally every part of ourselves! Take a moment to journal what that looks like to you.
The word for “love” here is “agapeo.” It means to welcome, entertain, love dearly, be fond of. To “welcome” someone or something implies a readiness of heart, not resenting or holding back, but fully embracing and enjoying! This kind of love is sacrificial and unconditional. God’s desire and command here is to welcome Him whole-heartedly allowing Him full dominion over our physical lives, spiritual lives, feelings, desires, affections, aversions and over our understanding, ability, strength and might. It is all-encompassing!
God is a jealous God! He literally wants ALL of us. (Side note: The greek word for “all” is “holos”….and it simply means ALL!)
Write out Deuteronomy 4:23-24 in your journals. What does this verse mean to you? What does this passage reveal about idols and God’s heart for us? Why would He be jealous? What right does He have to be jealous?
The original word for “jealous” is Qanna’ and it only refers to the type of jealously that God has. One of my favorite study Bibles (the New Spirit-Filled Life Bible) puts it this way: “He desires us in the purest, most relentless way!” Only He has a right to be jealous because only He has perfect love! His jealousy isn’t controlling, it’s freeing. It speaks of His desire for us and His incredible love for us. “His Jealously is an absolute intolerance of anything that would divide our affection (Heb. 12:28-29) and thereby forfeit His best for us.”
This image makes me think of my own children. Oh how I want the best for them!! We all do, right?? We want to see them grow into the amazing people they were designed to be. We want them to live lives full of purpose. We want them to love well and to be loved. We want them to make an impact on the world around them. We want the very best for them!! And sometimes that means putting parameters on them that may seem limiting at first but are ultimately freeing. These limits help teach them how to pursue God’s best for them, help keep them safe as they explore and grow, and teach them to set healthy boundaries themselves. We do this because there are things we know that they simply don’t know yet. And the same is true for God! He loves us so much and wants His best for our lives! He sees the whole puzzle picture when we only see one small piece. His direction is trustworthy and His love is pure. We are truly blessed to be His children!
As we wrap up this section, take a minute to list some things that have become idols in today’s culture or in your personal life. Anything…yes anything….that we put before God is an idol. Here are a few ideas to get you started: career, husband, children, volunteering, food, control, beauty/image, sports, sleep……..and the list goes on. At the end of this entry, feel free to comment on idols that you struggle with. Some of my biggest idols that God is working on right now are food and comfort/convenience. If you want to hear personal struggles and triumphs as God grows me, check out the “Reflections” section of this website. Some of these entries will be on idols and some will just be random things that God has led me to write about. Maybe they’ll speak to you too!
Section 2: If everyone has idols, then what’s the big deal?
As God began to lay this study on my heart, one of the main things that struck me about idols is how readily we embrace them and how easily we excuse them. However, when I began to dig into God’s word on this topic, honestly I was surprised by how many times it is addressed and what a strong opinion He has on it. In fact, He goes as far as to compare idolatry to adultery in Hosea (and other chapters too that I can’t remember off the top of my head right now). Why does He have such harsh words about idolatry if it’s something so many of us struggle with? What if our idols are really “only hurting ourselves”? What’s the big deal?
The big deal is that He has commanded that we have no idols before Him, and that He wants so much more for us – in fact, He wants only the very best for us!!! As our Creator, we can trust Him to know what is actually best for us much better than we do!!
Jeremiah 2:13 For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns – broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Bear with me for a minute while I “geek out” on word meanings with you. (You’ll see that this is one of my favorite things to do.) When we look at the original language in this verse, we see an incredible depth to what God was saying through the prophet Jeremiah! I’m listing these out for you here, but I encourage you to take the time to look at them yourself. It’s incredible how full the verse becomes. Here are some of the word meanings:
Committed – ‘asah: made
Evils – ra’: bad, evil, distress, calamity, malignant
Forsaken – ‘azab: to depart, leave or abandon
Fountain – maqowr: spring, fountain, source of life, joy, purification
Living – chay: living, alive, flowing, fresh
Waters – mayim: waters, refreshment
Hewn – chatsab: to dig, cut out, or make
Cisterns – bo’r: pit or well
No – lo’: absolute prohibition
Note: this verse is addressed to “my people.” God’s people!!! This verse is not addressing non-Christians; it’s referring to His Church!! Now, let’s put this all together.
God is warning His people about two things they have done: 1. Forsaken God, and 2. Made their own cisterns. These things that they (we) have made are malignant! Just like a malignant tumor, they take hold of us and grow and destroy all that God has for us!!! We have forsaken God. We have left behind our true source of life, refreshment, joy and purification. We have made our own cisterns. We have dug out and clung to our own ideas, ways, etc that are actually pits that we have become enslaved to. And these idols that we cherish so much – these idols hold zero, nada, nothing of true value or refreshment for our souls. Yet, many of these idols we cling to because we truly think they refresh us!
As a Church – as His people – we’ve allowed culture to infiltrate our lives with the message that we not only deserve these idols, but we need them! But God, our perfect creator and designer knows otherwise. He knows we have bought this lie, and it is stealing all He has for us!
Revelation 2:1-5 To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
Idolatry takes root when we leave our first love (God) and allow something or someone else to take precedence. One of my favorite pastors sums up verse 5 by saying , “Remember, repent, and repeat.” When you find your heart in a place where God is no longer your first love, remember what it was like when He was. Then repent – turn around. The root word in repent is actually the same root as the word for pinnacle – a high place. Repenting is actually turning around and returning to the High Place. I love this!! And then repeat – go back to giving God first place in your life and repeat the things you did when He was truly your first love, abiding and obeying all He speaks to you. He is a loving Father and is waiting for us to return to Him and enjoy the fullness of life with Him on the throne.
Pull out your journals for this part: Go back to the list of idols that you made in section one of this study. Circle the ones you see as the most prevalent that society has bought into. What destruction do we see in society as a result of these idols? Now make it personal: put a star by the idols that YOU have bought into. What destruction have you seen as a result of these idols in your life? Do not gloss over this activity. Take time with it and allow God to speak to your heart on areas that He wants to grow you in. (If you want to read about an example from my own life, check out the August 22nd post under “Reflections” on this website. ) Remember, when we give these items idol status, we are looking to them for refreshment and joy. Yet He tells us that they bring NONE! How have you seen this to be true?
As we begin to allow God access to dig out our idols, there is good news for us to hold onto. Psalm 36:9 says, “For with you is the fountain of life, in your light we see light.” And John 4:14 says, “But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
And that’s where the true refreshment for our life lies – in Him and Him alone. Oh how He loves us and desires to be our first love. Take time today to ask God how He wants you to respond to what you’ve studied today. Sit at His feet and enjoy the presence of the one who created you, who knows you best, and who loves you dearly!!
Suggestion: Begin praying Psalm 51:10-12 and allowing God access to all of your heart.
Section 3: A Clean Heart – Clearing Out the Idols
As many of you know, writing this study on idols is purely an act of obedience for me. Honestly, the delay of writing this next section was purely an act of disobedience. This summer I embarked on taking my Wednesday Warriors through this idol study with God crafting it each step of the way. “Comically” (but not really), this section was the one that gave us most pause. To kick this section off, we set out to memorize and pray Psalm 51:10-13. These were the same instructions I left you with at the end of section 2. It was crazy how difficult almost everyone in the group found it to memorize and pray this scripture!!!! It wasn’t that their heart wasn’t in it. I truly believe it was a spiritual attack because the enemy knew the power that praying this verse and stepping into it would have for each of us. And I believe my delay in writing this was a spiritual attack too. Every time I sat down to write it, something else came up, distractions abounded, and I willingly chose the “urgent” over the “important.” But not today!! As I sat down this morning in my prayer time with God, He clearly said it was time to drop my to-do list. Mind you, I’m leaving on a flight for Florida to see my sisters in a few hours and haven’t finished packing yet, have a teacher’s conference before then, and several other things to prep around the house, lol! This is a perfect example of how we can always find ample distractions to keep us from doing what God is calling us to do, but it takes intentionality to listen and obey right away. I’m learning this, anyway – not great at it yet obviously – but learning!
So what’s this passage that holds so much power for our overcoming idols?? Psalm 51:10-13. Let’s revisit that now, as it will be the foundation for today’s study.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will be converted to You.
Journal: Before digging into the meaning of this passage, take some time to respond to what you feel God is saying to you personally in this passage. I will share my insights, but it’s always important to remember that God’s word is active, alive, and personal. In Heb 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” His word can and will speak to you personally. Take time to record those thoughts before I share mine.
Now, let’s have some fun with words again, starting with verse 10:
Create: bara’ – to create, shape, form, fashion, to cut down, or cut out.
Create!! I love this word!! It implies so many things about our relationship with our Creator! We have this heart for Him, but we need Him to shape and form it according to His purpose. We need Him to cut down our idols and fashion our hearts to be exactly what He desires. As we pray this, we are asking Him to create. This means that as His creation, we need to be fully submitted to the Creator – like a piece of clay submitted to the potter (Isaiah 64:8).
Clean: tahowr – pure, clean (physically, morally, and ethically)
God desires full submission as He purifies us. Often we are intimidated by the word “pure”, knowing that we can never get there on our own. The enemy loves to fill our hearts and minds with lies that we are not and will never be good enough. And truthfully, we are not (and will not be) pure on our own!! But God is!!! He loves to purify us and make us more like Him!! Honestly, I think the other problem we have with this verse is simply that as a culture we do not value purity. It’s intimidating and the idea often threatens what we think we want out of life. But think about this for a moment…..things that are pure are of highest value!! Pure gold, pure water, pure anything is most useful. Likewise, when we allow God to continually purify us, we become most useful and effective for His purposes.
So, what is it He wants to purify? Our hearts!!
Heart: leb – inner man; will; heart; understanding; thinking; reflection; seat of appetites, emotions and passions!
Oh how I love this part!!! As I submit fully to Him, He will purify my thoughts, desires and actions. He will align my will, emotions, appetites and passions with HIS!! My heart desires this so much – that I would walk so closely with Him and give Him such full access and dominion over my life that my natural responses and desires would be exactly what He has purposed them to be!! And He wants this too!!!!
Renew: chadash – to be new, renew, REPAIR
Steadfast: – kuwn – to be firm, stable, established, secure, fixed, prepared, settled, ready, fashioned, restored! (note: when we are secure/fixed/established, nothing can knock us over or out of the game!)
Spirit: ruwach – wind, breath, mind, spirit, animation, vivacity, vigor, courage, disposition, desire.
I LOVE how the word for renew can also be translated as “repair.” We are broken. Sometimes we get distracted, hurt, discouraged, et cetera. But He can repair what the world and spiritual battles have damaged. It’s an ongoing process (day by day, moment by moment) because the battles we face are also ongoing which means the wounds are too! We need Him to constantly repair our spirits and to renew and refresh us.
As I pray this section of the verse, this is what I pray:
Repair my Spirit God. You know every “chink” that needs to be renewed. Thank you for the power of your renewing love. Thank you for knowing my heart so well that you can perfectly repair it each and every time. Let everything in me become firmly established, settled, and ready for all you will call me to do or face today. Fix/secure my mind, my desires, my life on you as I live out your purposes.
I love how in verse 10, these two things are put together: 1. Him creating a pure heart in us, and 2. this resulting in us being firmly established in His purposes!
Phew! And that was only verse 10! On to verse 11.
For times sake, I’m not going to dig into the word meanings in verse 11, but I encourage you to do that on your own. For me, this verse is a beautiful prayer of humility recognizing that we don’t deserve to be the dwelling place of His Holy Spirit, but God in all His wisdom and compassion has chosen us to be the Spirit’s dwelling place. This is an amazing gift not to be taken lightly! Here are a couple of other verses speaking of the responsibility of being the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit:
1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body [a]and in your spirit, which are God’s.
2 Corinthians 6:16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you[c]are the temple of the living God. As God has said :“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.I will be their God,And they shall be My people.”
Journal: Take a moment to write the above verse in your journal. What do the verses tell us about the place of idols in our life?
Let’s look at verse 12 now: 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
Restore: chadsh – renew, repair
Joy: sasown – gladness, joy, exultation
Salvation: yesha’ – deliverance, salvation rescue, safety, welfare, victory, prosperity
Sustain: camak – to lean, lay, rest, support, refresh, revive
Willing: n@diybah – nobility, honor
Spirit: ruwach – wind, breath, mind, spirit, courage, etc (see earlier translation)
Here are my journaling thoughts as I respond to this verse:
God, repair my joy and gladness, helping me to see that I am constantly delivered by you. Thank you for this ongoing process. I know I am saved once and for all, but repaired, sustained, and refreshed on a daily, moment by moment basis. Help me to find joy in this process and full appreciation for it! God, never let me take for granted your salvation, your desire to renew, refresh, purify and sustain me. I know that this is part of why a daily, hourly, moment by moment walk with you is such a necessity! Thank you that with each “ding” that life issues, you are waiting to repair, renew and restore us!
Hang in there a few more minutes. We are in the home stretch and at one of my favorite parts of this passage!! So often when we hear this passage quoted, we only hear verse 10-12. But verse 13!!! WOW!!!!!!!!
Psalm 51:13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You.
Do you see it???? Then!!! All of this has such great purpose!!! As we submit our hearts to Him and He renews, repairs and purifies us, we become more like Him! As we become more like Him, we more clearly reflect His heart and love to a lost and broken world!! Kingdom purposes are at stake here. It’s time for us to go ALL IN!! After all the disciples saw and learned from Jesus, they couldn’t help but live life differently and share His love and truth wherever they went. As my pastor says, “Twelve men all in changed the world.” The Church is God’s plan for reaching the lost. He left us with the message and the Holy Spirit to empower us to carry it out!! But it starts with our hearts and a simple willingness to sit at His feet daily, allowing Him to speak, purify, move, repair, instruct guide, and love us! As we do, He will show us how to proceed, one step at a time, revealing areas of our hearts that need to be refined and knocking down our idols. We just abide, obey, love, repeat.
Journal: As God creates in us a clean heart, He will reveal idols that we need to allow Him to dethrone. What areas do you feel Him prompting you to submit? Remember, this is a process and will take time. It’s important to stay with it until God completes the work. I encourage you to look up as many verses as possible regarding your particular idol and ask God what He has to say about it. Read the passages these verses are found in and look for root causes and repercussions of keeping them as an idol. Journal what you are hearing from God and any steps He may be asking you to take. Feel free to contact me if you want some help looking for verses or working through this process – believe me when I say, He is busily knocking down many idols in my life too. But oh how thankful I am that He is!!