Pedestals of the Heart

Considering how great a threat idolatry was in the past, a continual problem throughout ancient Israel’s entire history, would it not be naïve to think this greatest of dragons has simply vanished? Or would it be wiser to consider that perhaps idolatry has simply changed its appearance? We fail to recognize that, as we have become more sophisticated, so has idolatry, and whereas before it was an obvious act of devotion, today many of us are ignorant of our folly.

“And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, these [elders of Israel] have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of inquity before their [own] face: should I be enquired of at all by them?” (Ezek. 14:2-3).

We shake our heads at the ignorant who prostrated themselves before idols of stone or wood hundreds of years ago. In the Near East, and even in the nation of Israel on many occasions, people were tempted to serve various gods because they believed that those gods could provide for them. How foolish! How silly! How blind! But as we ridicule their short-sightedness, we prostrate ourselves before the many vehicles of wealth, social contacts, security, work, power, possessions and knowledge because many of us similarly believe these paths will protect and provide for us.

Keep in mind that idolatry does not necessarily mean that one has totally abandoned devotion to God. At times, ancient Israel attempted to cover all of its bases by worshipping both God and idols. But God said, “Should they now come to me to fill their needs when I, the Creator of all that is, am no more than one of their many sources?” God has always rejected such worship. The question is: do we approach Christianity in the same way?

In our age of prosperity, it would appear that there is a direct correlation between affluence and the diminished level of desire, trust and sincerity with which we seek after God. We do not necessarily have to go back to the days of the Church at Laodicea for an example. (Rev. 3:14-22). Simply examine your own life on a daily basis for confirmation. Though there may be a few exceptions, the vast majority of people – godly and ungodly alike – are negatively affected by the society we live in as it pertains to our relationship with what is most important. Never before has life been so ‘good’ for so many. And yet, the question must be asked: at what cost?

Dethroned?

The truth is that the Lord Jesus Christ has been dethroned from the highest pedestal in many of our lives. And with this, we have also lost out on the peace, sense of purpose, and simplicity that only He can offer. That is not to say that He no longer has a role in our lives or that we have completely backslidden, but like the elders in the days of Ezekiel, something has happened. Though we lift Him up in song and eloquent speech, it seems that somewhere along the line other things and other priorities have crept ahead of God and His principles to occupy the highest places in our hearts.

All of us have pedestals in our lives. A pedestal is something on which you place things of importance. All of these pedestals are of differing heights – the highest representing our top priority, the lowest representing what we consider least important or of little effect in our lives. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with appreciating many of the things we have been given. After all, even the Lord Jesus said, “for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” (Matt. 6:32).

Your spouse, children, friends, family, job and your own self ought to be important to you. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33). But how difficult this is in our day when it appears that everyone is trying to build their own kingdom!

We are so busy focusing our attention on those things that have immediate consequences if they are ignored while the more important, lasting, character-developing things are put on hold for another day. We are so busy putting out ‘fires’ – overdue bills, mortgage and credit card payments – that it’s hard to really progress in God. We’re in the pounding surf, barely able to get our next breath before the next wave crashes down on us.

Like the thorny ground, we are being choked by the cares of this life. But take a closer look and you will see that in many cases we get into these predicaments because of our refusal to live within our means. Just like the ungodly, we want everything we see, even if we can’t afford it. Credit card debt is at an all-time high in North America as many set their hearts upon unattainable wealth. But an unrestrained desire to accumulate possessions runs contrary to the very heart of the Christian ethic.

The Right Balance

Life is very strenuous and mentally taxing in present day North America. So what do we do to grow in God? Do we lock ourselves in a room and pray all day? Do we throw out everything in our lives except the Lord? Do we retreat to the woods to live out our lives in isolation from a world gone mad? Absolutely not. We are to overcome. It is not sinful to cherish certain things, as long as the Lord maintains His place on the throne in our lives. In fact, to let family relationships deteriorate and properties collapse would be a direct affront to God’s word. We ought to work hard, treasure people, and take care of what the Lord has blessed us with as long as He maintains His place on the top pedestal, acknowledged as our provider and our very reason for being. (Prov. 3:6). Never let us be guilty of serving the creation more than the Creator. The concept is simple, but the reality is that it is easier said that done.

When we place the “stumblingblock of [our own] iniquity before [our face]” and “cometh to the prophet [or pastor or church to lament over our current state and frustration]”, the Lord says, “I the Lord will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols…” (Ezek. 14:4). Committing spiritual idolatry will lead to torment, unease and a bad conscience that cannot be quelled until the Lord is reinstated to the top pedestal: guiding our lives, served out of appreciation and joy, and sought after whole heartedly.

Half-hearted?

Why does the Lord desire to be first in our lives? Because He loves us. He doesn’t want us governed by fear, insecurity, distress, frustration, but rather by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance… (Gal. 5:22-23).

Let’s consider a man that has four pedestals in his heart. Though he would reply otherwise if you asked him, the reality is that his job takes up 60% of his heart, his wife 20%, his hobbies 15% and God only 5%. It may not always have been this way, but after years of watching the “prosperity of the wicked” he felt he owed it to himself to get a piece of the pie as well. “After all,” he consoles himself, “a man has to live.”

His discontentment and the constant exposure to the philosophy of this world caused him to submit to where he draws little strength from the very Fountain of Life itself. Now, if his wife leaves him because she feels ignored, he then loses his job because of the stress of the break-up, and now can’t afford his hobbies, what kind of man will he be? 95% of his life has crumbled. Because the Lord played such a minor role, this man must now look under the rocks, not unto the hills, from whence cometh his help. If the Lord responds to Him in line with the position God was placed in his life he might as well give up. But God is merciful.

Now take the same man and change the percentages around. The Lord, who directs his steps, whom he serves by serving his fellow man, whose word he hungers for and whom he leans on for strength, now occupies the majority of his heart. Everything, though not perfect, seems to fall into place. The very capacity of his heart, where God now sits supreme, overflows into every other area.

Can you begin to envision the inner joy this man begins to experience? The bottom line is that when God is placed first in our lives, purpose is established, and it is purpose, in line with God’s will, that ultimately gives peace. Like the Lord Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and the cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 11, he has found the true path. Even if all else collapses around him, though he will sorrow, fall and stumble, yet will he stand again in the strength of His Lord. For God sustains, feeds and nourishes his soul like nothing else can, even in the midst of the storm.

“I have set the Lord always before me,” he says, “because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved… Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy…” (Ps. 16:8, 11). This is the peace that Christ spoke of when He said the world cannot give it or take it away.

Our Present State

The time has come that God must be placed back on the throne, governing and directing our lives with His word in our home, at work, at school, in the car, through trials, among the Church…every aspect. The time has come for lip service and focus on performance to end. The time has come to stop playing religion and to become sober. “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with [immoderate indulgence], and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.” (Luke 21:34).

In the days of Haggai, Israel was content to ‘play church.’ Even though they were frustrated by their harvests and finances they did not make the connection that God had a role to play in their lives. Instead, “This people say, the time is not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built.” (Hag. 1:2). Why? Because they were too busy with their own “cieled houses” while the work of God lay in waste. (Hag. 1:4).

Look at verse 9, but substitute ourselves in place of Israel. The Lord says, “You looked for a great move of God in your local churches and conventions, and, lo, though it was noisy and vibrant, it had little effect. Don’t you know that it is only the surface that responds to noise and agitation? Yet you were satisfied…And because you were not really affected in a deep way when my Word went forth, the slightest trial I bring along your path knocks you down, and you respond no different from the ungodly. Why? saith the Lord of hosts. Because you don’t really seek me in sincerity. I have become a weight in your life rather than a joy. Do you know how I know? Because my work lies in waste, and ye run every man and woman unto his own house.”

May God have mercy and anoint our eyes with salve that we might see. This age of prosperity has done more damage than any age of persecution. We are all so busy with worldly achievements and entangled with the affairs of this life. Because the Lord is not pivotal, we make light of our calling and go our way, regardless of the word of God, “one to his farm, another to his merchandise.” (Matt. 22:5). The fact remains, try as we might we cannot successfully serve two masters. Our Lord Jesus did not say, “It is hard,” or “I find it difficult striking a balance between serving two masters.” His declaration was bold and unswerving for every age: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other…” (Matt. 6:24).

We must live in this world, but as children of God, we must not subscribe to the same philosophy of life our society is captive to. We must not respond to crises and fads in the same way that people with no hope do. Our Lord Jesus Christ came and gave Himself willingly for one reason: “that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.” (Gal. 1:4). Have you really been delivered from this present evil world? Have you really been ‘saved’ from it? The world and God are at odds, driving in completely different directions, eyes focused on entirely different goals. While one seeks only the temporal, the other looks forward to the eternal. It is the “will of God” that we be delivered from this present evil age.

And so, if we do find that we have pedestals in our lives that are above the Lord, let us take comfort in the fact that we still have the opportunity to work on elevating Him to the pivotal point on which all else hangs. Let us not only read our Bibles and attend services, but open our hearts to the word, seek after God in prayer, go out of our way for others, establishing love, selflessness and purpose. In short, let us serve God with an even greater fervency than the world pursues its ends. Eventually all the other pedestals will fade. Then on what will we stand? Remember, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”