“You shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:3
My first experience with idolatry overseas was on my first mission trip to China in 2009. In need of something “cultural” for my sister, I bought her a tiny Buddha statue. I asked my Chinese friend to help me barter for this trinket and ended up paying a fair price. However, my Chinese friend was a Christian and later told me she was worried my sister would worship the statue. She kindly asked me to get rid of the small Buddha and even provided a replacement gift for my sister. At first I was confused…I knew there was no way my sister would ever bow down to this statue in worship. Later though, my pastor explained that when someone in China becomes a Christian, if they are Buddhist they have to destroy any man-made idol they own. Often times to the disapproval of their families.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God….” – Exodus 20:4-5
In the trips following, it was easy for me to judge these unbelievers that I saw in Asian countries bowing down to idols…”How could they ever think this object would fulfill them?…How could they place their hope in something that clearly will not provide for them?…How could they ever entrust their eternity in something other than God?” These were common thoughts I would have as I visited pagodas around Asia and witnessed various forms of worship. “There is no way,” I thought, “that I could ever worship an idol.” …at least that’s what I thought before seven months ago.
“I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.” – Isaiah 42:8
“My glory I will not give to another.” – Isaiah 48:11
Seven months ago I was dumped by the man I thought I was supposed to marry. The breakup blindsided me and I was completely crushed. For three years I was convinced that this was the man God placed in my life to be my husband. I had a ring chosen and virtually our entire future mapped out…at least by me. For three years, I longed to be his helper and one day his partner on the foreign mission field. As dramatic as it sounds, my world literally collapsed around me when he told me we should break up. One day when venting to woman much wiser than I am, I expressed that I had no hope. The words struck her…”No hope?” I replied that I just feel so hopeless with where I am in life—I had been counting on him to marry me and the dream was taken from me. She retorted, “Emily…if it feels like anything is robbing you of your hope, chances are that thing is an idol.” I wish I could say that I immediately repented and thanked her for pointing out my sin…but no. Instead, I got defensive — “He is NOT an idol to me…marriage is not an idol to me!” After about ten minutes, I finally admitted what I’d been lying to myself about for nearly three years: I was an idolator. I found my fulfillment, self-worth, and joy in a created thing rather than the Creator.
“The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him. It begins in the mind and may be present where no overt act of worship has taken place.” – A.W. Tozer
The seven months since the realization have been rough, but also freeing. I felt like I had been enchained for three years (not by him or the relationship, but by the sin of idolatry) and I could finally breath and see God for who He is. I could also begin to see myself for who He made me to be. This has been a rough journey and there is still so much on the road ahead. Everyday I have to ask God to point out the idols in my life, and then, like the Chinese Christians, I have to turn them over to be destroyed. A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” My hope is that I will get to a place where people pale in comparison to what comes to my mind when I think about God. My prayer is that He continues to reveal more of Himself to me each day.
“Do I trust at all in the flesh? Or have I learned to go beyond all confidence in myself and other people of God? Do I trust in books and prayers or other joys in my life? Or have I placed my confidence in God Himself, not in His blessings? ‘I am Almighty God…’ – El-Shaddai, the All-Powerful God (Genesis 17:1). The reason we are still being disciplined is that we will know that God is real. As soon as God becomes real to us, people pale in comparison, becoming shadows of reality. Nothing that other saints do or say can ever upset the one who is built on God.” – Oswald Chambers