The foundation of reality is that there is one God, and you are not Him. Once that’s established, a choice must be made, and here it is:
I know that there is the Lord God, the master of all creation.
I also know there’s the god of me, the pretender to the throne. Whom will I serve?
In my brokenness, I feel the pull to worship me. I hear the whispered lie that Adam and Eve first heard: “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Why serve? You rule! You have everything you need to be your own god. Every day is a trip to that orchard; every day the snake is waiting. I must face this same choice: Will I worship God, and find my true place in this universe, the perfect place he has arranged for me? Or will I worship me and decide I can somehow come up with a better life than the Creator of all could design?
You’ll confront many of the gods in our lineup at some point in your life. But this is one you’ll grapple with every single day — multiple times per day.
Recognizing the God of Me
There are some symptoms that start to show up when the god of me edges himself onto the throne of my heart.
One symptom is arrogance. I’m always right. My way is the best way. The god of me won’t listen to the wisdom of others.
This last Christmas we had opened presents at my in-laws’ house. I was putting together one of the kids’ toys on the family room floor and my father-in-law was sitting in his recliner watching the hunting channel — the channel that sends the message, “My son-in-law will never be a real man because he doesn’t shoot things or build things.” I don’t know if he was more amused by the TV show or by the sight of me trying to put something together. I could feel the pressure mounting as I tried desperately to screw in a screw. It wouldn’t catch the threading. My father-in-law said, “I think that’s a reverse screw.” I took that to mean that it screws in the other way. I was sure he was making this up in an attempt to further expose my wimpiness in front of my other male relatives. I was not going to be fooled. I knew the saying “righty tighty, lefty loosey.” It’s not “righty loosey, lefty tighty.” I kept turning this screw to the right, certain that there was no such thing as a reverse screw and too proud to take the advice of my father-in-law. (My editor says I need to finish this story. Whatever. I don’t have to if I don’t want to.)
So let me ask you this. When was the last time you made one of the following statements: “I was wrong”; “You were right”; “I should have listened to you”; “I like your idea better”? Even when we don’t realize it, a touch of arrogance may be present.
Another symptom that surfaces when I start to worship the god of me is insecurity. The god of me is consumed with what others think and terrified of trying something and failing. You can’t help but be self-conscious, because when you’re god, it’s all about you.
How about defensiveness? Have you ever found yourself taking the slightest suggestion, the blandest criticism, as a personal attack? What makes people this way? Well, when you’re god, you must be perfect, and no one else could possibly be in a position to criticize you.
The god of me will make you lonely, because you can’t handle equals. You certainly can’t handle authority. You need people who constantly reaffirm that it’s all about you.
Listen to what God says: “In the pride of your heart you say, ‘I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god’ … But you are a mere mortal and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god” (Ezekiel 28:2). The god of me is the most relentless idol of them all.
Gods at war? It’s really me versus God. It’s the flesh versus the spirit. All the other gods, in one way or another, take God off the throne and put me in his place.
It’s an inescapable conclusion: worshiping the god of me is not in my best interests. The god of me takes many forms, but none of them satisfy. There is an image that is used in Scripture that captures what happens when I put myself on the throne of my heart instead of God.
In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah God speaks through the prophet Jeremiah and makes his case against his people. “‘Therefore I bring charges against you again,’ declares the Lord.. . . ‘My people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror,’ declares the Lord. ‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water’” (Jeremiah 2:9, Jeremiah 2:11-13).
He summarizes their rebellion into two sins: they have rejected him and have instead turned to worthless idols. He explains to the people that when we put ourselves on the throne instead of God, it’s like insisting on digging our own broken cisterns to drink out of when there is a spring of fresh, living water flowing right beside us.
Cisterns were an important part of everyday life in Israel during Jeremiah’s time. In fact, thousands of them have been uncovered by archaeologists. Rain was infrequent and scarce about half the year, so the people in those days would dig their cisterns and then line them with bricks and plaster to hold the water. But cisterns were always breaking and losing water. Even when they didn’t break, the water would often become stagnant or the supply would be inadequate.
The people would have thought of Jeremiah’s metaphor as ridiculous. No one would ever choose a cistern as their water source when a spring of crystal clear water was available. But that captures the ridiculousness of idolatry. We choose a broken well with stagnant water, instead of the spring of fresh water.
We look to something or someone to do for us what God was meant to do for us.
Instead of looking to God as a source of comfort, we turn to food or mindless entertainment.
Instead of looking to God as our source of significance, we turn to our careers and our accomplishments.
Instead of looking to God as a source of security, we look to money and our investments.
Instead of looking to God as our source of joy, we look to our spouse and children.
Instead of looking to God as our source of hope, we look to politicians and legislation.
Instead of looking to God as our source of truth, we look to popular opinion and academic consensus.
Those things we look to for help aren’t necessarily bad or evil in and of themselves. In fact God may use them to accomplish his purpose, but the question is, Have they become broken cisterns that we turn to instead of the living water? Am I putting my hope in something that doesn’t hold water?
Watch the Video for Gods at War
Excerpted with permission from Gods at War: Defeating The Idols That Battle For Your Heart by Kyle Idleman, copyright Zondervan.
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Every single one of us has to battle the god of me, perhaps especially at Christmas when so much of our focus is on consumerism. Where do you see the battle waging in your life? What’s not holding water in your own heart? Come share with us on our blog! We want to hear from you!