As some of you may know, I pick a verse or a short passage to memorize each month for my own personal growth. Some are ministry oriented and others are more life oriented. These verses usually come out of my daily scripture reading.
One of my memory verses that I continue praying over, meditating on and applying to my life and ministry is Deuteronomy 11:16:
“Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them.” (ESV)
The book of Deuteronomy is loaded with encouragement for the Israelites to remember all that the Lord had done for them from the time they left Egypt and to never turn away from him and serve the gods that the nations they were disposing were worshipping.
Idolatry was a problem for them and it is a problem for us today…for Christians in general and for leaders in particular.
It was John Calvin who noted that, “Our hearts are idol factories.”
When I was a fairly young leader in The Navigators, I had it pointed out to me by Tommy Adkins that ministry had replaced Jesus in the center of my affections. As time went on, it was a temptation to allow lots of other things to replace Jesus. Here are a few that I have identified and struggled with:
- Popularity-being well liked and respected
- Production-being fruitful and successful
- Power-letting positional power and authority to go to my head
- Prestige-Reputation, acclaim, applause and accolades
- Position-Having an organizational position with something cool on my business card
If you are a leader you have perhaps discovered, as I have, that it is tempting and easy to make leadership about everything other than Jesus and his kingdom. The biggest mistake of all is to make leadership about me: what I’m accomplishing, how I’m being appreciated, how I’m being rewarded, how I’m being quoted. Well, you get the idea.
The verse that hits me square in the face is 1 John 5:21 in the Living Bible, “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.” It doesn’t get any plainer/simpler than that. What takes over the central place in my heart has become an idol.
Staying in 1 John for a few more thoughts: chapter 2:15-16 in The Message, “Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.”
For me personally, at this point in my life, the world’s ways are more of an idol than the world’s goods. Popularity, production, power, prestige & position are more sinfully appealing to me than more stuff in my office, in my closet, or in my garage.
I would guess that for each Christian, and each leader, the idols are different…and different at different points along our journey with Jesus.
A few things are the same though, based on Deuteronomy 11:16:
- We need to be very careful and watchful over our hearts
- Our enemy is out to deceive us into believing that we are doing just fine
- We can easily turn aside to both serve and worship these idols
I recall from a study I did a number of years ago on Hebrews 12:1,2 that the word looking, as in “Looking to Jesus,” actually means to intentionally and deliberately turn our eyes/attention from one thing (idol) and fix them on Jesus.
So, what is the antidote to our hearts being idol factories? Trust the grace of our Lord Jesus to keep us looking at him…being continually enthralled and enamored with his love, his beauty, his mercy, his forgiveness, his atoning death and resurrection.
There is a song I learned early on as a Christian.
"Turn your eyes upon Jesus
look full in his wonderful face
and the things of earth will grow
strangely dim in the lighty of his
glory and grace."