Idols of the Heart: When the Good Becomes the Worshiped

I would like to tell you a story. A personal story of heart struggle. This struggle began with a dream, a dream of who my children would look like, how they would behave, what talents they would possess, and how peaceful our home would be. It was a simple and innocent dream, a dream many women possess. Yet, the problem with dreams is that their value can creep steadily upward, little by little, in our hearts. And they very often have a pseudo-heavenly focus. Oh, I thought I was thinking biblically. Perfect, intelligent, calm children must equal godly children, right? As a young 23-year-old mother, my dream was going to be shaken with the arrival of real children. Real children, with real sin natures. But as often happens when our dreams are threatened, I grasped tighter and allowed an idol of the heart to form.  

My flesh wanted easy children, my eyes wanted beautiful children, my pride wanted the praise of others brought by the behavior of my children. I began motherhood wanting my children’s behavior to reflect who I was to the world. Yet, as I struggled with strong wills, sibling squabbles, disinterest in talents I wanted them to possess, and the general realization that they weren’t perfect, I fell under the weight of failure and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. God revealed and stripped my heart of the dream that pretended to be His but only belonged to my pride. As I asked His forgiveness and began to understand His will and purpose for my children, I was able to form a new dream, a dream that aligned to His will. Instead of praying for well-behaved, calm, talented children, my prayer became… “Lord, allow them to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you…” (Micah 6:8). 

Why was my heart so crushed when the dream was shaken? Why was I tempted to lose my temper when they didn’t behave according to my desires? It was because my children or my idea of what my children should become became my idol. I had placed so much value on the fact that they would be good, godly children that I had replaced the worship of the Giver of my children, with my children. Yet, how unfair is it of us to take any good thing given by God (James 1:17—good and perfect gift) and place value and desires on them that only God can fulfill? This is true of anything in our lives that have misaligned values. 

~Husbands– Are they our saviors or is our Savior our Savior? Do we expect behavior and perfection out of that man given to us as a gift that can only be expected of God Himself?

~Children– Do you struggle as I did in that area or with something else pertaining to them (health, schooling, sports)? 

~Financial decisions or desires– What happens in your heart? When the unexpected bills come do you immediately despair and run to fix it somehow, or is that natural human emotion overshadowed by the knowledge that you know the Owner of it all? 

~ Friendship– This is a beautiful gift from God. Yet, do we place more value in our friend’s advice than our God’s Word? Do we sulk at God when He hasn’t given us the friendships we think we need or do we allow Him to be a friend closer than a brother? 

~Comfort– This is a big one. We like comfort and the desire for all things to be peaceful. The “if only” phrase is often our friend when comfort has taken too high a place in our hearts. “If only I could have a bigger house.” “If only I had a better job.” “If only my family helped me around the house.” “If only I could lose weight or look prettier.” When looking at comfort, you see, it is not so much the desire to sit around and watch soap operas and eat bonbons all day that trips us up in this 21st century. It is instead the desire to have our idea of peace met in a tangible, immediate way. We want comfort and peace yet forget the ultimate Comforter and Prince of Peace.

~Dreams– God has created us in His image. As such, we are a creative people. We dream and we strive. Yet, as we look back on those dreams that have failed we often feel a deep sense of disappointment. We look to our dreams and aspirations to fulfill us and meet all our needs (maybe each of these topics we just discussed fits into this category of dreams). 

Now will you agree with me that each one of these parts of our lives are not evil in and of themselves and are often very good gifts? They are! Yet, over and over in my life and as I’ve walked with others, I have seen those good gifts become greater to us than the Giver Himself. The good becomes the worshiped. Why is this? Why do we struggle so much with that terrible imbalance of our hearts? I think we can find the answer in 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life–is not from the Father but is from the world.” You see, sisters, we reside in a sinful, cursed world that is not our true home and reside in bodies that have been marred by sin. And at the center of it all lie our hearts, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life,” (Prov. 4:23).  Ladies, there is a very real and strong battle for our hearts. We are both tempted by our own sinful flesh and stalked after by Satan who wants nothing more than our hearts to miss their target. 

Yet, all the recognition of our sin can do nothing without replacing those wrong heart idols with what is good. To do this well we must understand the intricate nature of the heart. God must have known how much we would struggle with our hearts, because He so clearly explains both the sin nature and saved actions that come from within. Let’s look at just a few of the ways we understand our heart from Scripture:

It is a seat of emotion- Psalm 4:7, “…You have put more joy in my heart.” Psalm 16:9, “…therefore my heart is glad.” Psalm 38:10  “…My heart throbs, my strength fails me.” Psalm 39:3 “My heart became hot within me.” 

It is a place of deceit and sinDeut. 11:16 Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you 

turn aside and serve other gods and worship them.” Jeremiah 17:9. “The heart is deceitful… and desperately sick.” 

It is a place of worshipLk 10:27, “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart.” Deut. 30:17, “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them…”

Our desires flow from our heart- Prov. 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” It is the source of our actions. 

The heart is consistently used in the New Testament as an important part of salvation- Rom. 10:9-10, “Because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” 

We can see from all of these references that the heart is not something we can set aside, push under the rug and function without. It is an important part of God’s created purpose for each one of us. However, we know we live in a fallen world. We looked at several passages just now that tell us our heart is a large part of where we feel our fallen state. And because of this our heart, with all of its abilities and effects on our lives, can mess things up. It can misconstrue intentions, mis-align priorities, and miss the mark for our life’s purpose. The gifts that God has given us to enjoy are often the things that become the most mis-aligned in our hearts. Maybe we recognize the heart temptations to swear, hate, become bitter, idolize extreme wealth or lustful living, but it is often, instead, those good things, those precious things to our hearts, where we are deceived.

This is a heavy reality and one that we must face. Yet, we must focus on hope. Not because we can provide that hope in and of our own strength, but because we belong to the One that despite our sin-ravaged hearts has provided clear direction and help in the midst of loud lies and misplaced idols. Stop right now and Read Romans 5:1-8. Let the message of the Gospel soak into your heart. 

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die–but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

Do you recognize the immense love of God? If so, should not the realization of the great love of this ultimate Giver of good things not affect your heart in such a way that all you can do is tie your heart fully to His? Milton Vincent in “A Gospel Primer” encourages this when he says,

“So how can I come to love God with all of my being? The Bible teaches that the love in my heart for God is generated by an awareness of His love for me, and nowhere is the love of God more clearly revealed than in the gospel. Therefore, preaching the gospel to myself is a great way to keep God’s amazing love before my eyes, so that I might experience its power to produce in me a passionate love for Him in return. Captured by His love in this way, my smitten heart increasingly burns to do His will and feasts itself on doing so.” 

As we focus on the gospel and trust in its saving work God brings forth renewal for our hearts. This doesn’t only take place at the moment of salvation but is, according to Romans 12:1-2 a continual work in our lives. It is in this renewal of our hearts that we can choose to have hope. At the end of this article, I have listed a few tools and passages to help bring clarity and renewal to our hearts. 

May the reality of the gospel and the renewal of our hearts drive us to correct understanding and nurture a passionate desire to glorify our Father. 

STEPS TO RENEWAL: 

To Renew, Have Hope 1 Corinthians 4:5 God knows our hearts; 1 John 1:8-9 We must confess and He is faithful to forgive; Isaiah 43:25 God blots out our sins. 

  1. To Renew, Have confidence Hebrews 10:19-25 explains there is confidence in the heart that is assured of faith. 2 Tim. 4:15 calls growing in our faith a “progressive” act. Yes, our heart will fail over and over, but we know that as we seek true forgiveness assurance is found in our relationship with God. 
  2. To Renew, Choose Wisely Be vigilant about what goes into and out of your heart. Matthew 5:30 tells us that it’s better to cut off that part of our life before we let it lead us astray. This can look like limiting or ending sources such as social media, television, shopping, envy, a friend that causes doubts, or extreme desires. Psalm 119:105, is God’s Word truly our lamp? Or have we replaced it with the world’s lamp? What lights up our hearts? 
  3. To Renew, Actively Glorify James 1:17-18. We do not reject what He has given us, but we use them with the intention of glorifying Him. Not letting the gifts become what is worshiped but letting the gifts Worship the Giver.

Heart Xray Statements- Where are my idols? What good things have become the worshiped things? 

    • If only I had _______ I would be happy.

Example- “If only I had a friend that listened” (shows extreme value in friendship)

Example- “If only we had enough money to save for that awesome vacation.”(could reveal an unhealthy level of dreams or finances) 

    • What do I spend most of my time thinking about? __________________

Example- “I’d really like my husband to treat me this certain way.” (Shows a husband/comfort idol)

Example- “How can I work this out to get what I want?” (Idols in dreams/comfort)

Example- “I wish I had a different life.” (Shows an idol of comfort or unhealthy dreams)

    • I have been willing to sin to get _____________. 

Example- “I’ve told a white lie to avoid making my friend upset.” (Idol of friendship)

Example- “I’ve manipulated my husband into doing what I want.” (Idol of my husband and my comfort)

    • I wish that everybody understood that I needed ____________.

Example- “I just need my alone time.” (If too much, this could be idol of personal comfort and pride)

Example- “I only want a nice place to live then everything will feel better.” (Idol of comfort and dreams)

    • I have fear and anxiety when __________ happens. 

Example- “I have anxiety when plans change.” (Idol of comfort)

Example- “I have fear of what might happen if my husband loses his job.” (Focusing on what ifs and lack of control and comfort)

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Sarah Chadbourn

About Sarah Chadbourn

Sarah and her husband, Jonathan, are from third-generational ministry families. Their ministry experiences began in France as church planters. They then moved to a small Illinois town to help strengthen and experience the God-guided growth of a struggling church. Sarah’s husband is the Pastor of Education at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Groveland, Illinois, where she enjoys the busy life of a pastor’s wife. Sarah earned a degree in Nutritional Counseling from Calvary Bible College where she and Jonathan met. She enjoys writing, counseling, and speaking God’s truth to women of all ages. In her free time she enjoys playing piano, jogging, reading out-loud to her five children (ages 5-12), and decorating her house.