Today, idols are rarely obvious, especially the socially acceptable ones. I certainly didn’t see my idols of busyness and social media until they were already impacting my relationship with God.
During one particularly chaotic season of life, I wore my youngest child as a fashion accessory. On our way to volunteer at church, she cooed while I balanced her car seat with one arm and my diaper bag on the other. She happily kicked her legs from the safe confines of her wrap while I copied papers at my oldest daughter’s elementary school. She listened intently as I read books at my son’s preschool. We rushed from one activity to another as I crossed items off my never-ending list. Most evenings I collapsed on the couch after getting my kids to bed, eager to unwind. I mindlessly scrolled through social media feeds while listening to a television show. My soul craved peace as I tried to find it in the quiet of the night, looking in all the wrong places. As a result, the fix was always temporary. I woke each morning only to begin the crazy cycle again.
My relationship with God suffered at the hands of my unidentified idols. I attempted to sit down on the couch each day with my Bible study but became easily distracted by my phone dinging with notifications. I checked ‘quiet time’ off my list some days but entirely shoved it aside on others when my schedule felt too chaotic. I stopped hearing God, choosing instead to listen to my calendar. It never occurred to me that the constant rushing was causing me to bow down to the idol of busyness.
The wordp ‘idol’ summons a mental picture of a golden calf. I imagined the Israelites bowing down in physical worship to false gods but dismissed the idea that I do the same. I often wondered how the Israelites could continually turn their backs on God after witnessing His miraculous power during the Exodus. And then one day God spoke to me clearly saying, “You do the same thing.” He brought to mind the hours I spent rushing around and playing on my phone. I thought of all the times I was “too busy” to pray or read my Bible. He revealed how deeply entrenched I had become in idolizing social media and my calendar.
God clearly instructs against idolatry. The Holman QuickSource Bible Dictionary defines an idol as a physical or material image or form representing a reality or being considered divine and thus an object of worship (p. 169). God forbade idolatry in the Ten Commandments issued to Moses: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3), yet the Israelites continually struggled with this iniquity throughout the Old Testament. The New Testament also warns us to cast aside idols as John reminds us, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
An idol is anything that is more important than God. Good things become idols when they replace the Good One. In her book No Other Gods, Kelly Minter states, “Basically, we have edged God out. We have left him with little room in our hearts. Our false gods have taken up our most treasured spaces; we leave God no place to show himself strong on our behalf.” In my own life, I realized that busyness and social media held more prominence than God.
Modern idolatry is sneaky. Christians are not practicing the physical act of bowing to graven images like the Israelites, but edge out God in order to focus our energy on other things. Money, electronics, food, marriage, parenting, alcohol, busyness, people, and material possessions are examples of common contemporary idols. None are inherently bad, but as we fill our minds—and our days—with them, we allow them to separate us from the Lord of Life.
FINDING THE HIDDEN IDOL
My daughter enjoys the popular reality show Survivor. Participants on this show vote off a contestant each week and compete to win a monetary prize. One coveted item is the hidden immunity idol. This idol protects the holder from being cast off the island. The contenders spend a lot of time searching for this treasure.
In real life, hidden idols hold no reward. These false gods push aside our one true God and separate us from Him: “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God” (Isaiah 59:2). I did not intend to worship busyness and social media but it happened. Slowly, God became less important than accomplishing everything on my list. The rushed lifestyle of trying to do it all left me exhausted. I justified turning to social media over my Bible because I ‘wanted’ to be able to give God my full attention. Since my mind barely worked by the end of my chaotic days, I turned to a mindless activity instead. The cycle continued as I told myself I’d make more time for God the next day, or in a different season. God did not consistently receive my first fruits; He inconsistently received my leftovers.
Identifying a false god requires introspection and an open mind. The following suggestions might help you uncover any hidden idols in your own life.
REFLECT ON YOUR QUIET TIME
We naturally gravitate toward things or people we love. If we truly love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, then we will find ourselves spending consistent, quality time with Him. Quiet time in such a relationship is non-negotiable. The deeper our relationship with God grows, the more we crave Him and His Word. He breathes life into the weary soul! Ask yourself the following questions and answer honestly:
- Do I consistently spend time with God?
- Is my quiet time quality- or quantity-based?
- Do I hear God?
- How often am I distracted during my quiet time?
LOOK AT YOUR CALENDAR
Jesus taught, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). We spend time doing what we love most. Your calendar often reveals what is important in your life. I know this because I lived it. If you have inconsistent or nonexistent quiet time with God because your schedule is full, consider whether God is truly a priority in your life. Ask yourself the following questions and answer honestly:
- What activities require the most time?
- When I find myself with an extra 30 minutes, to what do I turn?
- Do I set aside my quiet time with God in order to accomplish other tasks?
James states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). God is eager to show us the way when we’ve strayed. Carve out time in your schedule to sit at His feet and seek His wisdom. Be aware that you may not like His answer. The revelation of any idols in your life will likely make you uncomfortable and your urge will be to dismiss it.
One Sunday before Lent, I sat in church talking to God about what I should sacrifice for Him. The words “social media and television” came to mind before I even finished my sentence! I pushed back with multiple excuses for why that was not the answer. I squirmed in my seat when God continued to put these words on my heart but reluctantly agreed. The desire to argue with God revealed that my heart was too entangled with these particular habits.
As you sit with Him in reflection, ask God the following questions and listen to His response:
- Is there an idol present in my life of which I am unaware?
- What is one thing I could sacrifice in order to grow closer to You?
FREEDOM IN SURRENDER
Jesus came to break our chains and wash away our sins. He wants us to “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). When we live enslaved to idols, we are captive to feelings of exhaustion, overexertion, anxiety, and fear, and we disconnect. Pursuing things of this world will never lead to abundant life, no matter how “good” they seem. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).
The first step in breaking the chain of idolatry is acknowledging its existence and repenting. Thanks to the blood of Jesus, all our sins are forgiven when we ask. Peter called on all people to “Repent, therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19-20). My soul yearned to be rejuvenated during the busy season I worshiped my idols of a full calendar and social media. Take it from me, the Lord will fully restore you when you repent and turn back to Him.
A difficult, yet necessary reality is that the rhythm of your day may need an overhaul to intentionally place God back in His rightful place of highest priority. This looks different for each of us. Perhaps you commit to getting up earlier and spending your first 15-30 minutes in God’s Word each day. You might begin each day with a prayer before you get out of bed, then spend quality time with God during lunch. Make time for God each day rather than trying to find the time. Guard this appointment with all your heart, knowing that it is by far the most important one.
There is also freedom in the word ‘no.’ Social media is an idol I frequently battle. In order to reset my heart and refocus my life on God, I fasted from social media for an entire month. I found myself filled with peace and energy through God’s Word instead of wasting time scrolling my newsfeed. Removing this idol in my life lifted a weight off my shoulders and allowed me to hear God again. You may feel compelled to do a similar fast, or God may challenge you to start saying ‘no’ to certain requests and activities.
Beware: The enemy will not like your recommitment to God. Peter warns us: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). John states, “The enemy is a thief who seeks to steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). The plans God has in mind for you are better than you could ever imagine, and the enemy knows this. Where God wants you to succeed, the enemy wants you to fail. The enemy will tempt you to return to your old habits and behaviors, providing justifications for doing so. It is important to be aware of this so you can fight back and stand firm in your commitment to God.
Defeating the idols in my life takes work, but it is worthwhile. I continually fight the urge to please people by saying ‘yes‘ and overcommitting. I seek to resist the temptation to spend hours with virtual friends instead of the Lord. In doing so, peace replaces anxiety. God refreshes my soul. I am learning to hear His voice above the sound of the world and go where He guides me. I encourage you to consider these suggestions and join me in asking ourselves the tough questions. God will reveal the idols and lead us to restoration. May we let go, and live free.
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