I recently started reading Friendish: Reclaiming real friendship in a culture of confusion by Kelly Needham. So far, she has talked a lot about how we seek in friendships what we can find only in Jesus. She says that when a friend begins to be my “savior, mediator, shepherd, satisfaction, judge, or boast,” I know that they have become an idol. When I realize I have an idol, something or someone I am putting before God, I need to give God back his proper spot as the complete Lord of my life.
When I think of idols, there is one story that sticks out in my mind above all of the others: the famous story of the golden calf. Exodus 32:1-8 says:
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
When I was younger and learned about this story in Sunday school, I thought the Israelites were out of their minds. The God of the universe has chosen them as his people. He has taken care of them over and over again, and he wants to be in relationship with them. How could they turn away from him so quickly? Why are they worshipping an object that is completely powerless?
I think you know where I am going with this. God has shown me that I am just like the Israelites. God wants to be the first in my life, and so many times I have wickedly replaced him. It may not have been with a golden calf, but idols have sneakily arisen nonetheless. School was definitely an idol in my life. As I said at the beginning, friends have taken the place of God before. Most recently, God has been showing me that even ministry can creep up as an idol.
Ministry? How in the world can serving others be an idol? This is something that is good and that the Lord so clearly calls me to do in his word. I didn’t think it was possible, but I am learning that anything, even wonderful things like school, friendships, and ministry can take the place of God.
I think the best way to analyze if ministry is taking God’s place is to look at where my motivations lie. If I am putting myself first, I may serve others for personal glory. While my mouth says it is for the Lord, my heart longs for people to tell me how awesome I am. On the other hand, if I am truly putting God before all else in my life, I will want only him to receive the glory. My ministry will be an outpouring of the love I have for God because he is the most important in my life.
The crazy thing is that both of these scenarios probably look the exact same on the outside. They look like someone serving the Lord. However, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b).
The more I read my Bible, pray, and spend time with other believers, the Lord reveals things in my life that are taking his place. I want to have the proper response in which I work to change that, in light of God’s amazing grace. I want to be on guard for other idols that may show up without me even noticing. Praise the Lord that he welcomes me with open arms when I acknowledge that I have been building a golden calf like the Israelites. Praise him that he will joyfully become number one in my life, once again.
I wanna seek You
I wanna keep You
More than anything I want, I want You