An Idol Present

I’m learning to detect the presence of idols in my heart. I think about this as I read Acts 17:16. We read this: “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.”

I think about Paul and his “provoked spirit” because he saw idols people worshiped instead of Jesus. His spirit wouldn’t tolerate it.

I pray mine won’t tolerate it. May I live with a provoked spirit when an idol begins to grow.

A provoked spirit! The phrase makes me thankful for the Holy Spirit who won’t allow idols to grow in our lives. I pray I won’t tolerate even the smallest little bit of a thing I might run to for life or meaning or joy apart from Jesus. These idols are sneaky and often disguised as good things that we’ve now come to worship, adore, and value as part of the good life, as part of what makes life work for us, and as part of our hopes and dreams.

And if you think you don’t have any idols? Think about John Calvin’s famous quote: “the human heart is a perpetual idol factory” [Institutes I.11.8]. It’s making one now. Right now.

But I’m learning detection skills: When I’m deeply afraid of losing something or not gaining something, it’s quite possible that thing has become an idol. When I believe this or that thing must happen for me (or my family) to feel happy or at peace, it’s quite possible I’m dealing with an idol. When I do things to avoid any feeling of shame or to appear a certain way to others, I’m protecting the idol of self. I’m the idol.

Oh, but there’s more! Fear, jealousy, shame, greed: they help us sniff out the idol so we can cast it aside. If those feelings overcome me, I wonder what thing, person, or experience I’ve set above Jesus. I wonder where I’m running for life apart from the only One who gives it abundantly. When I’m destabilized, it’s because I’m carrying an idol that won’t let me walk without falling.

When I reveal the idol and renounce my allegiance to it, suddenly, peace and joy return to my heart. I’m made to worship Jesus. And for today, I’ve stopped the churning of my idol factory.


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