I joined a group this spring at my church called Redemption. It was 11 weeks of being confronted with the state of my heart as we read through Exodus and the Redemption book by Mike Wilkerson from Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I've decided to share four statements that were game-changers for me in this process, but I will do them in a series so I can digest them fully!
1. Our hearts are idol factories. (John Calvin)
We were created to worship. You can't turn it off; either we are worshipping God each minute, or we are worshipping something or someone else. Worship is not an activity- it is an identity. Whatever is most worthy of your attention and devotion, whatever drives you at the core and flows from the essence of who you are- that's what you worship, that's what you live for. We love to worship; it is part of our basic human wiring. To not worship is to not live- I worship something every day, whether I recognize what it is or not.
Sin corrupts worship. It doesn't cease worship; it just distorts it. We will exalt a substance, an experience, a person, or a dream to the level of a god. We worship idols as one who have the God-like ability to "fill" us with esteem, love, admiration, acceptance, respect, and other psychological desires. They are worshipped because we perceive that they have the power to give us something. We define life by its attainment, and we feel like dying when it eludes us. This is idolatry- something or someone has become bigger than God. Addictions and other issues are not just problems- they are worship disorders. They flow from hearts bent on worshipping created things rather than the Creator. Our sin distorts the distinction between the Creator and the created.
We are both spiritual and physical beings, but many times we believe that the essence of life is found in the physical things. As physical people in a physical world, it is hard for us to keep physical things in their proper place. The result? We end up dealing with spiritual things by indulging in physical cravings. For example, if I have a spiritual need for love, I may seek to find it in the physical affection from another person, or if I have a spiritual desire for acceptance, I may seek to satisfy it through physical comforts or affirmation from people. If I have a spiritual need for security, I may create physical safety by furnishing my home, working harder for a bigger paycheck, and surrounding myself with physical items to fill that void.
What starts as healthy longings, such as love, acceptance, significance, can lead to bondage and slavery. Because of sin's blinding effect, we tend to look at our motives and see only what is pure, just, lovely, and noble, when in fact there is pollution, revenge, perversion, pettiness, and indulgence.
Question: What is your answer to the statement, "When I _______, then I'll be happy," or "There's nothing wrong with wanting __________." Your answer exposes an idol.
My own personal answer to this was, "When I achieve perfection in all areas of my life, then I'll be happy." "There's nothing wrong with wanting excellence in everything I do."
I have a huge idol of perfection. I have bowed down to it and worshipped it for decades. However, I never saw it as anything bad; instead, I've always believed my perfectionism was a strength- it just pushes me to do my best, isn't that noble? But perfection always eludes me: I want the perfect spouse who treats me perfectly, perfect kids who do the right thing all the time, a perfect house with all the best furnishings, the perfect figure so that I can feel good about myself, the perfect wardrobe so I can stay up with the times, perfect relationships where no one gets hurt and there's no conflict, perfect performances where I make no mistakes. On any given day, I am reaching for perfection in some way, shape or form. When I don't achieve perfection, I beat myself up for being imperfect. Even if 95% of my performance was great, I obsess over that 5% that wasn't good. Even if my husband does wonderful things for me, I fixate on the small percentage of his flaws. When listening to my kids play their instruments, I have a hard time recognizing how much they have accomplished and instead focus on how far they have to go before they get to the level that I think they should be. My idol isolates me from the people I love most and hurts them deeply.
Why do I worship perfection? What do I think this idol will give me? I have discovered through this process that what my heart really longs for is true love and acceptance. I want to be loved, to be valued, to be accepted. Deep down, I believe that if I can achieve perfection, I will finally be valuable and lovable. I got this message in subtle and not-so-subtle ways growing up, and it shaped my heart, creating an idol that is core to my being.