We must not worship something that's not even worth it
Clear the stage, make some space for the one who deserves it
Anything I put before my God is an idol
Anything I want with all my heart is an idol
Anything I can't stop thinking of is an idol
Anything that I give all my love is an idol
Most days this is what I see when I look out my downtown Richmond office window. Often, while looking out across the city skyline, I wonder if anyone is looking back at me through one of the thousands of other windows fighting for my attention. And I wonder if there's anyone standing in front of those windows, mesmerized by just how big and tall and never ending this world really is.
It's certainly an easy world to get lost in. Physically lost in the maze of buildings that stand guard over one way streets and hidden alleys, and spiritually lost in the temptations that sneak up on us as we forge our way through them.
Last week I had the pleasure of talking to a group of young people. (It's frightening how many groups these days qualify as a group of young people to me). I had the chance to share a period of my life - long ago when I was young like them - when those mazes and temptations swallowed me whole. I described it as a decade of my life when I had a love affair with alcohol. That love affair branched out into various other love affairs with countless other temptations, all working together in attempt to destroy me and every relationship I had at the time.
There were two points to sharing this with them.
One, in the end, which is today for the purpose of that talk and this article, God used the ugliest period of my life, the period when I was swallowed whole and lapped repeatedly with darkness, a darkness every bit as deep as Jonah faced inside the mouth of a giant sea creature, as the foundation of what he's doing in my life today. He continues to use my distant and selfishly aimless love affair to share his very targeted affection for his children.
On no level should that surprise me. God assures us throughout the bible that he can and will use all things to the good of those who love him. There are days I hate reflecting on my own Jonah story. No amount of forgiveness and understanding fully heals regret. But, through it, God's love for using those days - a radiant reflection of his power - always shines through. I love sharing that part of the story, no matter how young the audience is.
But here is point two. It's a much harder point to accept because it relies far more on me demonstrating my power and less on God's. I shared with the group that once you see God work a miracle in your life, it's very easy to kick back and assume no matter what we do, God will continue to drag our garbage back from the curb and make a six course, 5-star dinner out of it. But the reality is this: as great as God can be in the kitchen, he wants us to cook once in awhile.
I highlighted this with a passage from the book A Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. The passage goes like this:
“When you fully comprehend that there is more to life than just here and now, and you realize that life is just preparation for eternity, you will begin to live differently. You will start living in the light of eternity, and that will color how you handle every relationship, task, and circumstance… The closer you live to God the smaller everything else appears.”
I've found that once you get a convincing glimpse of just how big God is, you can't help but draw closer to him. At least I can't. And that does require you to live differently. I told the group the world has plenty of titles for the challenges I was facing in my life: substance abuse, alcoholism, and on and on they go. There are too-many-too-count clinical and cultural titles to describe many other challenges people face. Many of them quite necessary to properly help them. In God's eyes, though, it all boils down to this. He doesn't want us to engage in any love affairs that are stronger than our love affair with him. Not one.
Christians and non-Christians alike are quick to throw around the love your neighbor command Jesus set forth as part of his "big two." What you don't hear often, though, is the command that preceded that one when Jesus said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and will all thy mind. This is the first great commandment."
You might find this surprising, but the one word I find to be the most powerful in that great commandment, repeated three times, is "all". God wants all of our love. It's not a selfish request on his part. He simply understands that until we completely love him, we have no idea how to love our neighbors. Until we completely love him, we are inadequately equipped to say NO to the various other love affairs that come our way through temptation.
I've been through periods in my life, and I still battle them, when I try to acknowledge I place importance on things in my life that aren't that important. I try to re-prioritize and shrink the big city around me. Some days that takes a lot of work and discipline. Moreover, it's a strategy that fails to completely recognize that in loving God with ALL I have, in recognizing just how big he is, everything else around me eventually shrinks all on its own.
It begs the question. Are my energies better spent trying to love things I shouldn't be less, or loving the one thing I need to be more?
I heard a song recently while I was exercising that stopped me dead in my tracks. I haven't stopped thinking about it since. If ever a song has beat me up and comforted me all at the same time it's this one. After reading this article I think you'll understand why.