I read a quote this morning that explains a certain human struggle very well:
“[An idol is] anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. [It] is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living…An idol is whatever you look at and say in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’” –Tim Keller
I’m not going to waste time or words getting into it: we all have temptations toward idols in our lives. Chances are really good that you thought of something specific in your life when you read that quote. I know that I certainly did.
Is it ok if I am honest for a minute? Well, I’m going to assume it is. There is one area of my life that has always been a struggle for me, and it has been the area of relationships.
If there has ever been a “thing” that has sought to define how I see my value, it would be my “relationship status”. Being 27 and still single might be easy for someone out there, but it has not been for me…pretty much since the time I was 14 and still single. It’s not easy watching other people – including close friends “live the dream”. Hollywood and pop culture don’t help much either. It’s almost the unwritten code that if you are single (especially older and single), then something must be wrong with you. Or maybe that’s just what we’re tempted to think about ourselves.
And then there are the people who hear me say these things and say, “Oh you’re so young!” Enter respectful pause. I love you. I really do. But please stop talking. You just missed the whole point of what I was just trying to say. I’m not saying I’m hopeless. I’m not saying that I’m old. I am saying that the desire of my heart to love someone else and to be loved has not yet been met, and it is a real struggle for me.
That, in and of itself, IS TOTALLY OK. It’s ok to not have every longing met and desire satisfied. In fact, it is actually a healthy thing. The problem (or rather the sin) enters when we begin to internalize what is lacking to mean something much more significant. We begin to believe lies about ourselves and our situations. We determine our worth and happiness based on whether or not these desires are fulfilled. We begin to develop unrealistic expectations of things and people that they were never meant to carry, and we ultimately look for satisfaction from them that can only be given by God.
If you struggle with the temptation to determine your worth or value from something or someone other than God, I want to tell you something: that means you’re human. I also want to tell you that temptation is not sin. Sin comes in when we respond wrongly to that temptation. In some ways, I think the struggle is ok, when faced in the power of Christ, because it has the potential of making us sharper in our walk with Him. However, when we recognize that we have this area of struggle, our spiritual ears need to perk and our spiritual eyes need to focus. Alarms need to sound and action needs to be taken. Temptation should be that red flag and flashing warning light that causes us to run with all we’ve got in just one direction: away from the temptation and toward Jesus.
I can’t speak into every kind of “idol” here, so I will address my own particular area of struggle: the desire to love someone else and be loved; the desire to be in relationship.
We were created for relationship, and we were created with desires toward romantic relationships. This is not wrong. It is also not wrong to be in a romantic relationship. So at what point is this a problem? The problem is when I want a man’s heart more than I want God’s heart. The problem is when I think about falling in love with a man more often and more deeply than I think about falling in love with God. The problem is when the adventure of romance excites me more than the Great Adventure with God. The problem is when the lack of love from a human makes me feel depleted and rejected. Red flashing light – WARNING – my perspective is off. When I realize that this is happening, there is only one proper response that I could have: I must run to Jesus. I must immerse myself in His embrace. I must ask Him to once again inspire me with the vision of His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. I must pray, Lord, focus my eyes.
I have met a lot of amazing guys in my life; guys that love Jesus with all their hearts and long to serve Him. THAT is attractive. THAT catches my eye. However, Dr. Juli Slattery puts it well: “A good thing that becomes the primary thing immediately becomes an immoral thing.” My standard for marriage can be wrapped up in one simple statement: If I run after Jesus with all my heart and he runs after Jesus with all his heart, do we find ourselves running in the same direction? If the answer is no, then he is not right for me. Period. He can be a great guy. He can have a great heart. However, I have determined that I would rather be single than live my life in any other way than 110% sold out for Jesus. Life is too short and eternity too important to waste a moment looking to the right or to the left. My motto? I want to be like an arrow aimed straight at the heart of Jesus. An arrow doesn’t take detours. An arrow doesn’t rethink the plan. It simply flies, launched toward its target and it doesn’t stop until it gets there.
What is God convicting you of today? What have you desired more than Christ? What loves need to be refocused in your life today? Take the time. It really is the most important thing.