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DAY 34 | Prayer Extinguishers – Idolatry

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”
Exodus 20:2-3

“What the prohibition of idolatry in the second commandment implies is that God’s people should be positively and passionately devoted to his person, his cause and his honor.”
J.I. Packer – Theologian

When “things” and/or personal gratification become our highest priority, there is a good chance we are heading for idolatry. Take money for example. Money is obviously a necessary part of our everyday lives. But when we make money the thing we live for – always needing more and never having enough – it becomes a higher priority than it ought to be. When this happens with money – or anything else – it turns into an idol.

For the past few days we’ve been looking at numerous ways in which our prayers can be extinguished because of various sins in our lives. Today we look at another prayer extinguisher – idolatry (or false gods). Many people might think, “Well I don’t worship idols (or false gods). The reality is, anytime we replace God (the Creator) with something He has made (the creation), we are worshiping an idol. And anytime we are worshiping an idol, our prayer lives are drastically hindered. God explicitly says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

Ask Your “New” God for Help

You might be surprised at how upset God gets when we replace Him with an idol. Look at what He says, “I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them. The towns of Judah and the people of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they burn incense, but they will not help them at all when disaster strikes. You have as many gods as you have towns, O Judah; and the altars you have set up to burn incense to that shameful god Baal are as many as the streets of Jerusalem. Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.” (Jeremiah 11:11) God says don’t bother asking Me for help when things fall apart, ask your new gods to save you.

Idols are not a new problem

In the Old Testament and the New Testament, there were many false gods that were worshipped. There was Baal, Asherah, Baal-peor, Kimosh, Dagon, Diana and Molech. The people would take a block of wood and carve an idol to worship. There’s nothing wrong with the block of wood. God made the tree. But the people made something evil out of something good. Today’s idols may look a little different, but we do the same thing. 

Tim Keller writes, “To contemporary people the word idolatry conjures up pictures of primitive people bowing down before statues…but our contemporary society is not fundamentally different from these ancient ones. Each one has its own shrines – whether office towers, spas and gyms, studios, or stadiums – where sacrifices must be made in order to procure blessings of the good life and ward off disaster. What are the gods of beauty, power, money, and achievement but these same things that have assumed mythic proportions in our individual lives and in our society?”1 

Question: Where can idols be found today?

We take things that aren’t bad, maybe even necessary, but we can turn those things into gods. What is the definition of a false god? Anything that we trust to meet our needs and bring us happiness, security, prosperity and quality of life. Sometimes people can become false gods in our lives. It can be children, your spouse, a friend, or a group of friends. It might even be your parents from whom you’ve never really cut loose the apron strings. Those people can all be primary sources of security to you, when God should be your primary source of security. 

Sometimes worldly possessions become our gods. It might be a boat, a car, a house, a bank account, maybe a job, IRA, money market account, mutual funds, gold, jewelry, an inheritance, a trust, some property, or maybe a settlement you hope to get. No matter what form, the worship of worldly possessions can bring us down. Jesus put it this way, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) 

A rich man once asked Jesus what he needed to do to have eternal life. Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21-22) Jesus said you have to choose either Me or your stuff. The Bible says he walked away sad. He chose his possessions over Jesus. Since money was his god, he chose to trust and obey it rather than Jesus. 

Dethroning the Idol

Idols come in many forms – possessions, sexual immorality, reputation, good looks, leisure, sports. We can make an idol out of almost anything. What do we do to deal with these current day idols? How do you de-throne a false god? 

Again, Tim Keller is helpful in suggesting an answer, “Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol. That is what will replace your counterfeit gods. If you uproot the idol and fail to ‘plant’ the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.”2  Thus Keller asserts that replacing idols involves both repentance and rejoicing. We must both turn away from our idols and turn towards God. This usually involves fellowship, prayer, service, study, giving, as well as obedience.

You need to put Jesus on the throne of your life. When He is your God, your Trust, your Source of security, the One you know will meet your needs, these other false idols are going to fade away. 

1. Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, xii.
2. Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, 172.

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