How can we tell if we love something too much? I love drinking coffee. Coffee is a gift from God to be enjoyed. It defibrillates my body into working properly each morning. My workday orbits around coffee breaks. Sometimes I daydream about the coffee I’m going to drink after dinner. Sometimes I dream about brownies too. Big, fat, chocolate brownies that are still slightly warm. Coffee plus brownies almost equals heaven. Not really, but you know what I mean.
Do I love coffee too much? Am I a coffee idolater? How can I know if I love coffee or brownies or work or children or anything too much?
Here are several symptoms of idolatry:
- You’re crushed when you don’t get what you want.
- You stake your happiness on getting what you want.
- You grumble and complain when you don’t have what you want.
We know we’ve become idolaters when a good thing has become a supreme thing. And the result of idol worship is always discontentment.
- You demand what you want.
Idols are terrible masters. They demand our love, thoughts, affections, time, dreams, and desires. But they never satisfy, never deliver as promised. Idols always leave us in a state of dizzy discontentment.
In 1 John 5:21 we read, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Most of us don’t do a jig of excitement when we read those words. Frankly, we’ve gotten a bit attached to our idols. We make sure they’re well fed and get plenty of attention. The thought of giving up our pet idol isn’t so appealing. We may not be able to have what we want, but at least we can dream, and that gives us some pleasure.
But playing with idols is like playing with boa constrictors. The longer an idol is left unchecked, the stronger its grip on our heart becomes. The idol crushes our heart until our love for God is almost extinguished. Idolatrous desires must be destroyed.
But how do you destroy an idol? Should you stop wanting to get married altogether? Should you toss all hopes of an end-of-year bonus out the door? No.
The solution is to put off idolatrous desires. In Ephesians 4:22 we are commanded to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.” The old self represents the way we lived before we came to know Christ.
Before we knew Christ we worshiped everything but God. We loved sex, money, movies, jobs, and politics more than Jesus. We were idolaters. But now that we are in Christ we must put off idolatry. It belongs to our former way of life and is totally incompatible with our new life in Christ. Now Christ demands our supreme affection, and everything else is a distant second. Jesus is very jealous. Nothing is allowed to compete with him for our love.
We put off idolatrous desires by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Idols can only be destroyed by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. We need the Spirit to help us identify our idols. We need the Spirit to give us a holy hatred and distaste for our idols. We need the Holy Spirit to give us a deep love for God that drives out all lesser loves. We need the Spirit to give us power over our idolatrous desires. When we become aware of an idol lurking in the shadows of our heart, we need to immediately ask the Holy Spirit for fresh power, and then we need to take action.
The First Step Toward Contentment
Contentment and idolatry don’t mix well. Putting off idolatrous desires is the first step toward contentment. It’s impossible to be content in God and worship something other than God at the same time. It just can’t happen. And so the first step in finding joy is to kill the things that are killing you. It’s never easy and is usually excruciating.But the sweet fruit of contentment can only blossom after you’ve ripped out the weeds.
This excerpt was adapted from The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence by Stephen Altrogge.