Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God AloneIdols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone
Elyse M. Fitzpatrick
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Are you feeling trapped in a pattern of habitual sin? Fitzpatrick believes that ungodly behaviors stem from a bigger problem---idolatry. Explaining that the Holy Spirit can change your heart, she offers guidance for understanding your weakness, putting Christ first, crushing false gods, avoiding legalism, and giving "undivided adoration" to your heavenly Father. 240 pages, softcover from P&R.
     

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INTRODUCTION

Observing the World's Gods

During the spring of 1998 my husband and I and our cousins had the privilege of touring the Orient, spending about twelve days in China, South Korea, and Japan. Because we were with tour groups, we visited a number of Buddhist temples. We saw the oldest Buddha, the largest Buddha, the most venerated Buddha. We saw a Buddha that had been stolen during a battle and a Buddha that had been damaged by fire and rebuilt. We were asked to donate to a fund set up so that a certain Buddha could be refurbished in gold. We saw the Buddha that belonged to the emperor and the buddha that belonged to the common people. We watched as worshipers lit candles and burned incense, offered prayers and set bowls of food and flowers before their gods. By the time the tour was over, my husband and I had seen enough idols to last us a lifetime. Or had we?
We were glad to return to America, a country with a Christian foundation. Unlike the Asian countries we visited, America doesn't have idols on every corner and days set aside to burn incense or light lanterns to our gods. We don't have large temples where we offer bowls of rice . . . or in our parlance, French fries. In fact, 76 percent of Americans polled "consider themselves completely true to the First Commandment," (1) "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:3). So, when it comes to the first commandment, we're doing a pretty good job, right?
I can imagine that if you're like me, you tend to think about idols in the terms that I've just described. Idols are something outside of us; they're something foreign, something you take pictures of in far-off temples, something you wonder at.

The Gods in Our Heart
For me one of the most chilling commands in all of scripture is in Matthew 22. Let me remind you how a scribe came to Jesus, seeking to find an avenue to accuse Him of heresy. "What is the most important of the commandments?" he asked. Jesus replied,
    "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
    and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is
    the great and foremost commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38)
Perhaps you're like me, and you've read that command so many times it's lost its impact. Go back now and reread it and think deeply with me for a moment. What is our Lord commanding here? Nothing less than our undivided love and worship. Just as soon as I pause to reflect on that principal command, I begin to get uncomfortable. I have to ask myself,
  • Do I love Him with everything that I am, or are there other loves in my heart that clamor for my attention?
  • Do I worship additional gods, or is He always, and in every case, the supreme Ruler who receives my undivided passion and devotion?
When I think this way I begin to see that perhaps idolatry is something more than Buddhist temples, incense, and rice. Idolatry has to do with love - my love for Him, my love for others, my love of the world. When I look at idolatry in these ways, I understand that I'm not so different from those people I observed in temples so far away.

A Life Free from Idols
This book is written for those of you who desire to live a godly life and find yourself in a recurrently disappointing struggle against habitual sin. This book is written for you who find yourself constantly tripping over the same bad habit, the same embarrassing weakness, the same sinful slavery that you hoped to be free of years ago. In this book you'll learn that idolatry lies at the heart of every besetting sin that we struggle with.
When you stop and think of it, the Bible is filled with stories about individuals and even nations falling into idolatry. In fact, it's the most commonly discussed sin in all of Scripture. First Corinthians 10:11 says that the Old Testament stories are an example for us, that "They were written for our instruction."
One of the first stories about diolatry is that of Rachel, Jacob's wife. Because Rachel's problem with idolatry is so prominent in her narrative, we'll be looking into her life frequently in this book - discovering how her failures might instruct us. We'll also see how the stories of others in Scripture, both men and women, enlighten and inform us about our false gods today. You will notice that the beginning of some of the following chapters have vignettes written in italics. These stories are not directly from Scripture, but are my interpretation of what might have happened. They are not to be taken as strictly biblical, and are only illustrative.
Since the Bible is God's Word to His children, children whom He knows thoroughly, there must be a reason why He's inserted so much teaching on this subject . . . even though it may seem to us that idolatry isn't that big of a concern. (Remember that 76 percent of all Americans polled thought they were guiltless in this area!) As you read further, you'll discover that idolatry is just as big of a problem for us today as it was for the Israelites of old. In fact, perhaps it's even bigger - because we've conveniently categorized idolatry as something that exists outside of us (little stone statues) rather than something that lives within our hearts.
In the chapters to come you'll learn the ways in which the focus of your love and the focus of your worship are similar. Whom do you love? And who do you worship? are crucial questions that are linked together. You'll learn to identify the false gods that live in your heart: in your thoughts and your affections. And then you'll learn about God's method of freeing your from your idols by His sanctifying power.
I want you to know that my struggle with sin and idolatry is the same as yours - the same as Rachel's. Like her, we all struggle with putting our hope and trust in something, someone, anything other than the true God. We find ourselves weak, afraid, fretting or angry, bitter and complaining. In the midst of this struggle, I believe that God's voice is calling us; clearly, lovingly bring illumination and liberation.
Although our war with sin will continue until heaven, God has covenanted Himself to our growth in holiness. He wants us to join in this battle with Him, and He's given us weapons to use in this struggle. One of the weapons He's given us is knowledge. Not knowledge that consists in mere lifeless facts, but rather a dynamic awareness of the realities of personal struggle with a sinful idolatry and God's faithfulness to accomplish our deliverance.

 
    Excerpted from Idols of the Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick.
    Presbyterian & Reformed, 2001
    All rights reserved.