Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones defined an idol as “…anything in our lives that occupies the place that should be occupied by God alone. Anything that is central in my life, anything that seems to me essential. An idol is anything by which I live and on which I depend, anything that holds such a controlling position in my life that it moves, rouses and attracts too much of my time, attention, energy and money.” Many might associate the term idol with concrete objects made by human hands, i.e., wooden carvings, gold carvings, or images, as was common in the past. However, the idols of today are no different.
The desire for these idols becomes more evident when we face hardships such as job loss, conflict, financial instability, business losses, debt, loneliness, sickness, etc. Some of the possible idols of our hearts can be seemingly harmless, good things even; think relationships, careers, food, sleep, children, clothes, shopping, human approval, hobbies, etc. The more treacherous categories of idols include pornography, drunkenness, cigarette smoking, illicit drugs, the occult, witchcraft, and sexual immorality. These we often exalt to the place of God in our hearts, especially during crises. The troubles of this life have a way of bringing out the worst in us when we have built our houses (faith) on the sand (idols), as opposed to the rock that is Christ (Matthew 7:24-27).
Why Idols Are More Appealing During Crisis
The reason why we are more susceptible to idolizing things, even good things, during times of trouble is because we are fallen beings. It all began when Adam and Eve disobeyed in Eden. In them, all of humanity sinned (Romans 5:12-17) and became slaves to sin (John 8:34). For this reason, the default setting of our hearts became inclined to evil so that we naturally exalt idols above the Creator.
Desire for Instant Comfort
Due to our indwelling sin, our flesh is generally sin-loving, even for those who are being renewed. Because of this tendency, we easily succumb to spiritual amnesia and short-sightedness. We lose sight of the bigger picture, that is, God’s good plan for us: our sanctification (James 1:2-4). Instead of patiently rejoicing through our trials, we behave like lost people in the dark, stretching out our hands to grasp anything we can hold on to. As such, we end up relying on temporary ‘comforts’ in a bid to pacify our troubled souls. We cling to lesser things, idols to satisfy the desire for instant comfort, leaving us even more empty and lost.
Making Much of Our Crises
Another reason why we run to idols is that we turn our focus in the wrong direction (Numbers 21:9). Due to our lostness, we imagine our problems are so big, and there is no hope. We coil inward and wallow in self-pity. This downward spiral is what leads many to seek refuge in lesser things. We will quickly dash for anything that will distract us from the magnitude of our troubles, albeit for a short time. Without intervention, this dreadful pattern can escalate to toxic levels, drowning us into deeper iniquity and farther from hope, more into the hands of our idols.
By the Lord’s mercy, there is actually hope. There is a way much better than wallowing in self-pity or clinging to worthless things (Jonah 2:8).
Consider Job, the man who went through great suffering. Despite everything he faced, Scripture records, after the first wave of suffering, that Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:22). How could Job withstand such affliction and not sin against God? Job gives an answer in Job 19:25-27:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” [emphasis added].
Such a reassuring expression of worship to the Lord from a man going through such suffering is the most unusual thing. Normally, when in distress, we grumble or even curse God, as Job’s wife advised him at some point (Job 2:9). Not so with Job, who instead turned his eyes to the Lord in worship rather than with spite, even though he knew it was God who smote him (Job 13:15). He opted to fix his gaze upon his Redeemer and not any other idol, hard as his heart may have fainted (Job 19:27).
Whether Job’s heart faints due to the weight of his distress or because he longs to see his Saviour, we may not ascertain. But one thing is for sure: that Job’s heart was in the right place. His trials only served to push him closer to his God rather than leaning on idols in crisis.
So what practical things can we do to foster Job’s kind of heart posture when in crisis? Here are a few suggestions.
Practical Steps to Behold Christ During Crisis and Not Another
Preparing in Advance
A wise way of helping our hearts steer away from idols when trials come is by preparing early. We are all bound to face hardship on this side of eternity. Therefore, how about fortifying our hearts with all the strength they will require when those blows hit?
The only place to find God-given armor against all the schemes of darkness is in the Word of God. Ephesians 6:13-18 puts it excellently:
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the Gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
What a befitting illustration! This is precisely what we need to picture ourselves having when the devil and his pesky schemes come knocking. In summary, our armor should consist of the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of readiness given by the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. This illustration of the armor of God is nothing more than putting on Jesus. Jesus is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), he is our truth (John 14:6), he is our peace (Ephesians 2:14), and he is the author of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2). Therefore put on Jesus constantly, dwell on him think of how he’s made you righteous, given you truth, given you peace, and given you faith. This will help you find joy in him during crisis as opposed to leaning on idols.
Other forms of Christ-exalting content we can consume to prepare our souls include good books and music, podcasts, blog articles (Kuzaapp.com provides some helpful ones), and gospel-centered sermons. We can still apply this strategy even when in crisis.
Preaching the Gospel to Ourselves
Another way to refocus our gaze from the troubles we experience and to the Saviour we love is by preaching the Gospel to ourselves. As believers, we must have a firm grasp of the Gospel throughout our journey of faith. This can prove especially helpful when we are going through a crisis since it will be easy to remind ourselves whose we are and where we are ultimately headed. Such truth should stabilize a redeemed yet distraught heart as opposed to your idols.
Hear how David encouraged himself when he faced adversity thanks to his son Absalom:
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvationand my God. (Psalm 42:5–6).
Another portion of Scripture where David seeks to reorient his soul is Psalm 103:1-5:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Get used to speaking to yourself. It is not crazy at all. 🙂
Maintaining Wise Friends
Proverbs 13:20 provides sober counsel, especially to those going through a crisis:
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
This proverb pretty much highlights the significance of keeping wise company. The wise being talked about here are not born of worldly wisdom but those who fear the Lord. When going through hard trials, we will have the upper hand when we have friends with whom we can converse honestly about biblical truths. It is better to have a friend who will rebuke me and steer me back to the way of salvation than one who will push me farther into the well of self-pity. Do yourself a favor and keep Gospel-loving friends around you. Better yet, be that Christ-loving, wise friend to others.
Grant Castleberry sums it up superbly:
Once you’ve tasted the goodness and beauty of God, you realize that everything else is a sorry substitute for true joy. Christ is the substance. Everything else is but a shadow. Therefore, savour the goodness of God as opposed to leaning on idols during a crisis.