How do we turn away from our idols and back to Jesus?
First – you have to see your idols! Heart idols are invisible, like cancerous tumors. All you can see is the effects of those tumors. All I knew was that I was having trouble keeping a good administrative assistant – and I always thought it was her fault. I thought, Why can she not appreciate what a great job this is? It is interesting, you get to minister, travel, get a good pay check, and have a great boss! What’s the matter with these women? I didn’t realize I had a hidden control idol that was driving these women away. We must not be so naïve as to think that idolatry is just worshipping visible things like statues or money.
Second, because heart idols cannot be removed, but only replaced, it is not enough to repent – we must move forward in faith, believing God can meet our need. I had to trust that if I stopped controlling, stopped using guilt, and stopped my side-ways comments, that God would work in my assistant’s life and in my ministry. It’s a continuous cycle or repentance and faith. I am so different today – I am keeping an administrative assistant, my ministry is thriving, and I have a daughter who says, “Mom – you are so much better!”
What are heart idols? How did God help you begin to see your own idols?
Heart idols are a self-salvation strategy. Instead of trusting God to meet our needs, we devise an alternate plan. God helped me to see first, through a strong word from a friend. When I lamented to Jan Silvious about losing my fourth administrative assistant in a ten year period, she said, “Seems to be a pattern in your life, Dee.”
I thought, What? Are you saying this is me? This was the first red flag that there was a cancer in me.
Then God confirmed it through His Word in a sermon by Jim Om entitled “Models of Manipulation.” It was on Martha of Bethany and Om said that she had a heart idol that was causing trouble. He said Martha was a manipulator, and manipulators often use guilt on others. In Luke 10, she storms out of the kitchen to drop a heavy load of guilt on both Jesus and Mary: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”
When Jesus said, “Martha, Martha” he was concerned about her heart idol – for heart idols, like cancer, destroy. Her heart idol could have been control (common among leaders) or affirmation (she really might have been the Martha Stewart of biblical days and this was her chance to shine.)
I began to see. I used guilt. I made side-ways comments. I was anxious and worried about many things. Body language is a clue that hidden heart idols are lurking.
As He said, “Martha, Martha,” now Jesus was saying, “Dee, Dee.”
Explain what you mean when you write about attacking the root problem-recognizing three main categories of deep heart idols.
So often when we are plagued with a problem, we attack the symptom. If we are suffering from over-eating, over-spending, or over-hitting snooze on the alarm, we think, I’ll get a better diet, a better budget, a better alarm clock. In each of these examples, the root problem may be a comfort idol. Attaching the symptom won’t work – for as soon as we restrict the comfort idol with a new diet, budget, or alarm – he WILL FIGHT and he usually WILL WIN. Instead, if we address the root there is hope. In Psalm 42, the psalmist kept asking his soul, “What are you downcast?” And then, he spoke to his soul, “Put your hope in God.” When we substitute food, money, or laziness for God – that is idolatry. Idols cannot be removed – only replaced. So it is a matter of walking in faith, trusting that God will meet you. It isn’t a quick fix – but it is the only one that is efficacious.
I credit Tim Keller with first categorizing the three main heart idols: Comfort/Security, Affirmation/Approval and Power/Control.
You say that God uses a shocking metaphor to awaken us to our hidden heart idols - what is it?
It’s laced all through the prophets, but is particularly bold in Jeremiah and Hosea. God says we are like adulterers and adulteresses – spreading our legs under every tree. (Jeremiah 2:20) We do not trust Him to meet our needs – so we, like Gomer, run after our lovers and forget the Lord (Hosea 2:13) Sin is not just breaking a rule – it’s breaking the heart of God. Idolatry is infidelity. Derek Kidner says, “It is a bold and creative stroke by which God, instead of banning sexual imagery from religion, rescues and raises it to portray the ardent love and fidelity which are the essence of His covenant.”
When the women in my pilot studies saw that they weren’t just breaking a rule, but breaking God’s heart – the were grieved in a way that produced change.
You say only some will be set free from their idols - who will and who will not?
The effects of our idols are painful. They cause strife, depression, anxiety, and rob us of health, joy, and peace. But if you come to God simply to be freed of the destruction of your idols, you will not be set free. You must come to God for Him, and only Him. He knows your heart. He longs to be loved for Himself. And when He truly is, He begins to move. He may not do what You want Him to do (such as giving you an easy marriage) but He will free you from your idols and allow you to experience a new and wonderful intimacy with Him. If your dominant desire is not for God, then ask Him to change your heart.
My control idol has taken a massive blow – but it isn’t gone. It has a frightening ability to regenerate. But I see him now. I am amazed at how many manipulative thoughts spring to my mind. But I also know now that my control idol is not a friend at all. My real Friend, my real Lover, and my real Savior is Jesus.
Dee Brestin is a Bible teacher, speaker and blogger (www.deebrestin.com). She the best-selling author of The Friendships of Women, which has sold more than a million copies to date. Her latest book is Idol Lies: Facing the Truth About our Deepest Desires (Worthy Publishing).