Most of us haven’t faced the temptation to bow to a golden image. I grew up taking the first and second commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me” and “You shall not make for yourself a carved image” (Ex. 20:3–4), for granted. Like every good Sunday school classroom in the ‘90s, diagrams and recreations of idols hung on the walls as we learned about Israel’s struggle with idolatry. Looking around the wood paneling of my little classroom, I knew those golden idols weren't things that I would ever see.
As I grew up, I learned that idols can take many forms. We may not collect our gold to shape into bulls, but we bow our heads before our phones, worshiping the things of this world, paying homage to our own lives and self-images. As I learned that idols aren’t just golden statues but anything in our lives that we treasure more than God, I became acutely aware of the evils that could sneak into my heart through earthly pleasures. And I sought to give these things over to the Lord.
But there remain some things, caught in my white-knuckled grip, that I refuse to drop at the feet of the King. Things that I tell myself could never be idols, yet I refuse to lay them down. My life goals. My dreams. The list of things that I’ve set for myself to accomplish before going to heaven: Graduation. Marriage. Motherhood. The list continues, painting the image I’ve created of a perfect, full life.
Idolatry Forms Right Before Our Eyes
While I’ve checked many things off my list, motherhood still eludes me. Each month, I take a test and set the timer for two minutes, a tradition that takes more from me each time I do it. For a moment, I consider not hitting record this time, anticipating another crestfallen face. The ache inside me deepens, sinking into the marrow of my bones as I wait to see those two little lines. The camera records my tears as another negative test is thrown into the trash.
The heartbreak that I feel is not selfish. The desire for children is not evil. We have been called to be fruitful and multiply since the beginning of this world. So I set my sights on it, waiting every month for a small plastic stick to tell me all my dreams are coming true. But every month is a reminder that my ideal future has become more important to me than my faith in God. Before I even realized it, the baby that I so desperately want has become my idol, and this empty womb is its temple.
Idolatry Slowly Chips Away at Our Relationship with God
The list of good things stacks up in our minds: wanting a healthy marriage, desiring for our children to be saved, seeking to be closer to our local church body. Slowly, fixation on these good things unravels our relationship with the Lord, pulling at the threads until it’s unrecognizable.
The idolatry of good things devalues our relationship with God by exalting something of this world to his place in our hearts. Each month of waiting for it takes us deeper into our own kingdoms, away from the One who put the desire in our hearts. At some point, the Lord became lesser and our futures became greater. Our lives feel incomplete without this good thing, and we feel deep despair when thinking about never having it. Slowly, it rises higher in our minds until it becomes the thing we think we can’t live without.
The idolatry of good things neglects our relationship with God because it steals our time. Quiet time in the Word is slowly replaced with personal time. We spend more time thinking about our own desires than things of the Lord. We warp this good and beautiful thing that we so desperately want into something that consumes our days and our every thought.
The idolatry of good things creates bitterness toward God. Since we know that every good and perfect gift comes from the Lord (James 1:17), we can fall to the assumption that anything good that’s missing in our lives is being withheld from us. We look at what we lack and view it as punishment or neglect rather than as providence or a season of waiting.
Idolatry Falls Short Before the Throne of the King
The psalmist wrote in Psalm 42, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (vv. 1–2a). God is the source of living water (John 4), the One you can go to for ultimate life, satisfaction, and fulfillment. When you try to replace the living water he offers with good but lesser streams, you are left dry and thirsty, scrambling in a spiritually-dehydrated life. The stream of fertility, of success, of marriage, or of anything else in this world will not fuel your soul.
Still, as I write this, my keyboard catches my tears. Wanting children, Christian friends, a ministry position, or a marriage is a beautiful desire. But God has called us to want him more. Giving over good things that have become idols is painful. It’s not as simple as dismantling an altar or reducing your screen time; it’s the reshaping of the heart’s desires. The process is gut wrenching, but it sanctifies and refines. Choosing God above all else, above every good and tangible thing on this earth, places him back in his rightful place: King of your life and your desires. The Lord fulfills our every need and works in his perfect timing, so find your comfort and hope in the living water he offers, in the One who truly satisfies.
Meet the Author
Sarah Valentour is the Fulfillment Specialist for Well-Watered Women, shipping out gospel-driven happy mail daily. Living in the metro-Atlanta area with her husband, she is passionate about writing on the Lord’s immense faithfulness, snuggles with her nieces and nephew, and discovering those unique intricacies that make certain words tick.