Kyle Idleman, in his wonderful book God’s at War, opens with this illustration:
Imagine a man who has been coughing constantly. This cough keeps him up half of the night and interrupts any conversation he has that lasts more than a minute or two. The cough is so unrelenting that he goes to the doctor.
The doctor runs his tests.
Now imagine the doctor knows how tough the news will be to handle. So he doesn’t tell the patient about the cancer. Instead, he writes a prescription for some strong cough medicine and tells him he should be feeling better soon. The man is delighted with this prognosis. And sure enough, he sleeps much better that night. The cough syrup seemed to have solved his problem.
Meanwhile, very quietly, the cancer is eating away at his body.
As a teacher and church leader, I talk to people every week who in one sense are coughing in that they are:
They come to me and share their struggles.
They unload their frustrations.
They express their discouragement. They display their wounds.
They confess their sins.
When I talk to people, they point to what they believe is the problem. In their minds, they’ve nailed it. They can’t stop coughing. But here’s what I’ve discovered: they’re talking about a symptom rather than the true illness – the true issue – which is always idolatry.
Idolatry is not a word we use much in our modern vocabulary, but a word we can use as a substitute as “addiction.” We can be addicted to a host of things, whether it be wealth, prestige, man’s approval, work, beauty, sex or hobbies.
What we do not realize is that the idols of our heart are generally good things that God intended for our good, and yet we elevate them to the point that they become seeds of destruction in our lives.
Philip Yancey provides some great insight into idolatry – he says that idols are not sinful things, but generally good things that we elevate to ultimate things. He says, “We take something God has intended for good and grant to it a power in our lives it was never meant to have.” In the process, idolatry leads to all types of pain and problems in our lives.
In the work I do, I see how so many men are addicted to the approval of other men, particularly in the business world. It is what most men live for. It is the reason they are driven to succeed.
This also explains why the fear of failure is such a powerful force. It is like a psychological death to most men.
I recently read about the all the prominent men who committed suicide during the recent financial crisis. They all had lost their businesses and the prestige that went with it.
Their entire identity had been wrapped up in their business success, it was the way they validated their lives. Ultimately, it was their God, and when they lost it, they lost their reason for living.
The Bible is clear, God is the ultimate security in life and provides the only true foundation we can build our lives and identities upon. It is essential that He be our center, the source of our joy. We have to let God be the God of our lives, to be that one thing at our core that unifies and guides everything else in our lives.
It is not a coincidence that the first of the 10 Commandments begins with a command against idolatry. The First Commandment is: “I am the Lord your God, you are to have no other Gods but Me, and you shall not make any idols for yourself or serve them.
Martin Luther says the fundamental motivation for breaking God’s law is idolatry. It is the sin below all other sins. So much of our sinfulness is a result of something that is more important and valuable to our hearts than God.
This is why Tim Keller believes that the secret to real change in our life requires identifying and dismantling the counterfeit gods of our heart.