The Idol of "if only..."
As we come to the end of this little series on idolatry, let me finish with a particularly tricky and subtle form of idolatry – the idol of “if onlys.” An idol can be a dream or desire for something to be different: “If only I had a better job”; “If only I could find the right life partner”; “If only my parents had loved me more”; “If only my church would live up to my expectations”; “If only my recommendations had been followed.” These wishes can haunt us and dominate our lives. Can we trust God with the way things are today?
Not every dream or desire or memory is idolatry. It is good to plan, to look ahead and strive for continual growth and improvement. It is good to look back on negative experiences and seek to learn from them. We cross the line of idolatry when we look to created things – or imagined things –as our ultimate goal. We must keep temporary things in their place under the worship of our one true God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
We have just celebrated the 10th anniversary of Calvary Grace. That is a good thing! We rejoice in God’s faithfulness to our community of believers and we pray for health and growth for our church in the future. But can something as good as a gospel preaching local church be a source of idolatry?
Many of us know people who say they are finished with the church because the church has hurt or disappointed them. There are bad churches, indeed, but if a person refuses to give another church a try because of past experiences, where are they looking for help and satisfaction? Are they looking to God (who never changes) or are they looking to man (either themselves or other sinful creatures)? Even good churches can always be better. Remember the old warning: If you find a perfect church, don’t join it, you’ll ruin it. Being discontented because our church is not living up to our ideals can be dangerous, and a distraction from spiritual service and benefit.
More frequently, this “if only” idol rears its ugly head in personal relationships. We might seek to redeem our own childhood by living vicariously through our children. We might put unrealistic demands on a spouse by holding them up to our ideals. We can handicap our relationship with our parents if we live in the past. Are we unwilling to forgive and accept these people and trust God with our lives in spite of their failures?
How do we defeat “if only” idols?
First, we must admit them and confess them. These idols often come out at night when our heads hit our pillows. We often don’t admit them because we are embarrassed by them. That suppression can make them more dangerous. Be honest with God in prayer. If you identify with the temptation to fall for these “if only” idols, confess how important these imagined things are to you. God knows all about it anyway. God will give you perspective as you press into him. Confess these imagined idols to someone else. Ask them to pray for you. You’re not alone with your “if onlys.” Enlist help to put them in their place.
Next, press into the goodness and sovereignty of God. Seek God in worship as you read the Word, pray, sing and fellowship with other believers. Enjoy God’s good gifts today with thankfulness. Forget what is behind (Philippians 3:13), and don’t worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34).
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