“Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared. Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good. How I long for your precepts! Preserve my life in your righteousness” (Psalm 119:33-40).
Little Idols Everywhere
“Turn my heart toward your statues and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things” (v. 37).
A Greek myth is told by Ovid (Metamorphosis, Book 3) of Echo, a nymph who falls in love with a handsome young man named Narcissus. When he was sixteen, every girl in town was in love with him. But Narcissus was haughty and vain and turned every girl down—no one was good enough. One day Narcissus went hunting; Echo followed him through the woods, longing to talk to him, but too shy to speak first. When Narcissus heard footsteps, he called out “Who’s there?”
Echo answered, “Who’s there?”
The conversation went on like this until Echo finally became brave and rushed out of the woods to embrace him. Narcissus pulled away from the nymph and told her to leave him alone. He left Echo heartbroken and she spent the rest of her life in the forest, mourning for the love she never knew, until only her voice remained.
One of the gods, Nemesis, heard of Echo’s pain and sent Narcissus his punishment. On another hunting trip, he stopped at a deep pool in the woods to take a drink. As he did, he saw his reflection for the first time in his life. The face he saw staring up at him from the water was so beautiful that Narcissus fell in love, not realizing it was himself. He loved the image so much that he could not leave it or look away. There he died, enslaved by his own image.
This story came to mind as I read Psalm 119:37, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things.” How we spend our time and what we think about matters to God. What we obsess over counts.
In Mark 12, we read an interesting conversation between one of the teachers of the law and Jesus. “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” the man asks Jesus. “‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:28–31).
All the laws of Moses fall into these two categories: Love God, Love Others. And because we know that God looks at the heart, not at the outward actions of a person, these two commands cannot be faked. When God says in Exodus 20:4–5 “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” he is serious. Do not worship anything or anyone except Him and Him alone!
In reading this verse, I used to get hung up on the word jealous. God is jealous? God is the Creator of all things, what could He possibly be jealous of? Also, jealousy isn’t a good trait. If God is good, then how can He be jealous? I looked up the word jealous in the dictionary: “intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness.” A light bulb flickered over my head. God isn’t like a spoiled child on the playground who wants your toys; He is the bridegroom awaiting the bride He loves heart and soul.
Unfaithfulness destroys a marriage. A person can’t be just a little unfaithful—there is no such measure. A person is either committed to his or her spouse or not at all. The same is true with our relationship with God. He loves us more deeply than any human on earth, and it breaks His heart when we play with love: giving a little here and a little there, not really caring where that love goes. He alone is what our hearts are made to love and worship. But, as sin-filled humans we constantly seek something or someone to worship. We worship ourselves—spending huge amounts of time and money on our personal happiness. We worship our “stuff”—accumulating more and more, then spending all of our time with our stuff until it breaks or something new comes out. We worship our families—placing their happiness and their needs above spending time with God. We worship our jobs—basing our purpose and our identity on success in the workplace.
Anything that steps between you and God is an idol. Anything. Sports, friends, work, school, comfort and ease, even family can become little idols. And God is not ok with that. He wants your whole heart—not just the leftovers.
So what is the cure? Does God want us to move to a monastery and live like monks, speaking to no one and praying 24/7? Are we supposed to ignore our family and friends? No. God has placed people in our lives so that we can love them and learn from them, grow with them. We can’t ignore the culture around us and pretend that it doesn’t exist, but it is important that we guard our hearts. How do we do that? Start by asking God to set your priorities. Put Him in charge of your daily to-do lists.
Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright that we might gain a heart of wisdom.” Asking God to direct your day—then trusting in and submitting to His plan—states clearly: Lord, You come first. Following what He says is a step of obedience.
The second step is looking at your life honestly and prayerfully. What do you spend your money on? What or whom do you spend all of your time with? What do you think about the most? Where you spend your money and time, the things you dwell on, those are the key influencers in your life. Ask God to reveal anything that has taken up too much room in your life. Pray that He would help you to make wise decisions when you see that something has become an idol. Some of those decisions are difficult. It may mean spending less over-time at work or not going out with those friends who aren’t a good influence. It may mean turning the channel when a certain show comes on. It may mean putting the phone down. Whatever God lays on your heart, He does so because He wants a lifelong love-relationship with you. Trusting in His love is the first step towards that relationship.
Read Mark 12:28–34. In your own words, what are the greatest commandments?
Does your life reflect these two commandments?
Turn over to 1 John 2:1–11
John tells us that we are to walk as Jesus did. Jesus, in coming to earth, was bound by the same commands you and I as believers are bound by—loving God and loving others. In what ways did His life show these commands?
Can a person walk as Jesus did in word or deed only?
Are we able to obey as Jesus did–on a heart level–on our own?
In a church culture, it’s easy to look good—say the right words, wear the right clothes, do the right things and you appear to be following Jesus just fine. No idols here! But You and I need the Holy Spirit in our lives to help us to obey in truth, on a heart level, and to uproot the idols that steal our attention. This Holy Spirit power means radical change from the inside out!
Read verses 15–17. List the actions in verse 16 that we are warned against:
Note, lust is not always associated with sexual desire. Anything that you or I want to extreme is lust. A person can lust after a person as much as after a job or a car.
What is the promise in verse 17?
How does this help to realign your priorities?
Question for personal consideration: What idols are in my life? What do I need to lay down?