Idolatry: Worshipping Family instead of God

 

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Do you worship family instead of God? I did.

While my children were growing up, I gave my family priority over everything else. I devoted myself to their health, their safety, and their happiness. Getting up in the morning, my first thoughts revolved around them. What do they need? Where do they have to go today? How do they feel?

Going to bed at night, they were my last thoughts as well. Do they have friends? Is their school safe? Are they getting sick? What activities should we add or cut?

Like many parents, I did my best to raise them right. I volunteered at their school, taught them values, took them interesting places, hosted playdates, read lots of books, and loved them more than anything else.

More than God.

You see, in those days, I knew OF God, but I had yet to KNOW God.

Amidst the busy schedule of youth, we saved a place for God on some Sundays and for a week during summer’s Vacation Bible School. When I look back on those days now, I can see that I treated God as an afterthought. Worshipping him was something I would “try” to fit in. Faith was important, but not as important as my family. I worshipped my family.

When you worship someone or something more than God, the Bible calls it idolatry. Today, it is easy for many things to become idols. Money, achievements, food, fitness, entertainment, relationships, and family are just a few examples of some things we can unintentionally begin to worship. They evolve into gods gradually as we devote more time, energy, and thought to them. Eventually as idols rule over our lives, they become the cause of struggle or sin.

I know, you might be shaking your head saying, “No way, serving family is a good thing. Surely, God is for that!” Love for family is important, but God wants that love to be drawn out of our initial love for him. As the source of all love, God helps us love our families in deeper, better ways.

How do we change the focus of our worship from family to God?

Make God the Centerpiece

You must not have any other god but me. Exodus 20:3 New Living Translation (NLT)

Picture a long table with lots of chairs. Each of those chairs provides a seat for all the important things in life. There are seats for family members, work, vacations, hobbies, dreams, etc. In the center of the table is the most beautiful centerpiece you’ve ever seen. It is extremely long and wide, with fragrant blossoms extending the length of the table, and foliage flowing out to the rim of every place setting.

God does not want us to save him a seat at the table; he wants to be the centerpiece of the table. He wants to be the center of our lives, seen from every place setting and touching every aspect of our days. Becoming the centerpiece means he is involved in everything. And, his love becomes visible to others in everything we do.

When family is the centerpiece of the table instead of God, life can get – well, stinky. Family relationships can start to rule daily life, plans, and emotions. Parents and children both feel pressured to keep the family happy, to live up to expectations, and take care of problems they can’t control. The disappointments cause stress and hurt; they can drive families apart.

When God is the centerpiece of our lives we think of him first. Instead of trying to fix and control things ourselves, we remember to tell him our worries and ask him to guide our family. We listen and watch for his answers. Efforts are made to learn about his ways and his promises. We learn to trust his results rather than our own.

Model God’s Love

We love each other because he loved us first. 1 John 4:19 (NLT)

Putting God in the center of our lives helps us love our families the way he intended. This does not mean we love them less; it means we love them differently. Love for family flows out of our primary devotion to God. We love them using our love for God as a reference.

His love provides reassurances and hope we cannot find on our own. Our prayers direct us to people and ideas we did not consider before. Learning about his love teaches us to love family in healthier, more productive ways.

Modeling God’s love means we stop getting too wrapped up in the happiness of others. It means recognizing that each person we care for is on their own unique journey. We can lovingly offer guidance on this journey, but we cannot lead the way. Through love, God grants us free will and extends grace, so we must work hard at doing the same for our families.

Let Go and Let God Work

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6 New Living Translation (NLT)

In choosing us to be parents, God hands out some tough assignments. First, he entrusts us with the care of our children. Second, he expects us to model his love well to them. And, finally he asks us to stand back and let him work.

God did not intend for us to raise our children without his help. He has the instruction manual for each child, and he doesn’t even have to read it. Because he wrote it. He knows the plan for all of their days – where they will go, what they will feel, and who they will be. He gives them a purpose and all the skills they need to fulfill it. He will never be surprised by their choices or unsure of their destiny. He has already seen it all played out. He created them, loves them, and relentlessly pursues a one-on-one relationship with them.

Just like us, our children will also have trouble worshipping idols. Unhealthy temptations and addictions are difficult for all of us to resist. Other longings, which seem healthy and positive, like success, beauty, fitness, and love can also get out of control.  As children grow, many things get in the way of a relationship with God. We struggle, and so will they.

Ultimately, we cannot control who or what our children will worship. Like us, they are blessed with the freedom to make choices, to learn and grow, and to discover what faith means. We can, however, control our prayer life, and prayer is a very mighty thing. We can pray they come to know God and develop a relationship with him. And then we rest, knowing that our prayers for them will live on even after we are gone.

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A Prayer for your Week

Dear God,

Blessed be your name above all earthly things. Thank you for the family you have given me and for the intense love I feel for them. Help me as I strive to make you the centerpiece of my life, and guard my heart from worshipping anything but you.

Make me aware of the opportunities you provide each day to model your love. Keep me humble as I display you as the source of this love. Letting go and trusting my children in your care is hard. Reassure me of your plans for them, and strengthen my trust in your care as they walk with you.

I know you are at work in the lives of everyone I love, enlightening them to your plans. I pray that they come to know you in spite of the world’s distractions and whatever else competes for the devotion of their hearts. May they find faith to worship you alone.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Additional References:

For more on the various idols that compete for our hearts, I highly recommend the book Gods at War by Kyle Idleman on Amazon here.

For more on letting children go, read the previous post A Hand to Hold

For more on coping with family transitions, read the previous post Hot from Life’s Kitchen – Platefuls of Transition

 

Hot from Life’s Kitchen – Platefuls of Transition

Short Order Cook

Life’s kitchen serves up some surprising dishes, don’t you think? Sometimes we get something completely different than what we ordered, and there’s no sending it back. Sometimes it’s what we ordered, but man, it’s just so disappointing. Fortunately, at times, we are also unexpectedly delighted by what we receive.

Whatever the case may be, we are loyal patrons. We like the people, the ambiance, and the adventure of dining here. We show up and try to ready ourselves for whatever we get; we know Life’s “specials” often bring difficult transitions.

Lately, I’ve been working my way through a large special order. This fall I became an empty nester. Then, a few months later, without a lot of planning, my husband and I purchased a townhome. Suddenly, it was Christmas and I was getting ready to sell our home. We will be moving soon, and the layout of the new place has required us to get rid of many possessions and replace a few others.

This past weekend we decided to sell our kitchen table. It was a surprisingly difficult transaction for me. “It’s just a table,” you might be thinking.

Well, yeah, but it’s so much more than that. My husband and I scraped together the cash to buy it when our first baby was barely a year old. She was graduating from a high chair into a toddler seat, and the prospect of future family dinners and conversations was exciting. We envisioned our future together at this table, and it delivered.

The table became a hub of all life’s activity for our family. My kids grew up leaning on it – eating, doing homework, laughing and making crafty messes. They used it while conquering each other in Monopoly, piecing together puzzles, blowing out birthday candles, and applying to colleges.

As a family we circled around it to make difficult decisions about jobs, finances, moving across the country, and seeking medical help. A solid platform for whatever came its way, day in and day out, the table supported it’s share of celebration and heartache.

So, yes it’s just a table, but you see how it represents so much more? Believe me, as I thought about this, I was tempted to be sad.

But, then it occurred to me letting go of this table had just as much significance as purchasing it.

Our family is not only moving houses, but moving into a new phase of life. My kids are young adults, with fresh beginnings of their own. A different table not only fits our space better, but represents the next phase in our family’s life.

While you may not be facing the same circumstances I am, there’s a good chance you are in the midst of your own transition. All sorts of “specials” come out of the kitchen in a lifetime – getting a driver’s license, going to college, heartbreak, living on your own, getting married, buying a home, moving, having kids, letting kids go, getting a job, changing jobs, retirement, aging, losses…

Thinking about these transitions made me realize that most of them require us to let go of something or someone, and that can be hard. I have been through a lot of transitions, but this week was the first time I researched what the Bible had to say about them. Here are few Scriptures to help make sense of transitions and letting go:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19 New International Version (NIV)

Change tempts us to look back on what is familiar with longing. The life we knew offers security. We learned to predict our problems, and we knew how to go about solving them. A transition leads to unexpected issues which may require us to reach out to different people, learn new skills, and live a different way. That scares us! But, this Scripture tells us to focus on the new things God is doing in our lives and to stop dwelling on the past. If we set our sights on the new, we will come to see he is making a path for us where we could not see one before. He will make a way. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)

Often when we are in the midst of a difficult transition we are blind to any possible good that can come of it. God did not promise happiness every day, but he did promise to work every day for the good of those who love him. Our short term satisfaction is not nearly as important to him as the long term learning taking place in ourselves and those around us. Living in this world shatters our hearts at times, but faith in God’s purposes and his ultimate promise can carry us through. His ways are good. 

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. Psalm 130:5 (NIV)

Have you noticed how transitions rarely proceed according to plan? We think everything is under control, and then it all starts unraveling before our eyes. Worry pounds on the door, and sometimes our doubting hearts throw it open, welcoming the visit. We can choose to bolt the door shut on worry, and visit with God instead.

Remember that he has a plan, but he needs our patient trust to complete it. He knows fear and doubt will come. Rather than succumbing to these emotions, we can use them to build a better relationship with him. He is not afraid of our honest ranting – he welcomes the closeness it brings. If we search for answers grounded in his Word, the result will be hope, not despair. His Word is our patient guide. 

C’mon, pull up a chair at Life’s table. Don’t worry about what you see on your plate. Don’t think about how much better yesterday’s serving looked, or what kind of “special” your neighbor has. Have a little faith in the dining experience.

No worries. If that first bite gives you the willies, then chew it slowly. Smiling your sly smile, look around the table. Because God will never let you dine alone. He’s already there. “ORDER UP!”

Prayer for the Week

Dear Lord,

Thank you for this great experience called life – for it’s easy moments and it’s hard times. While I may wish for an easier path at times, I am grateful for the good you are working in and through me. Lead me into what’s new with confidence by placing skills and people in my path that can help me. Then, show me how to use my transition experiences to help others in similar situations. When I get sad and frustrated, let your Word remind me that you are sitting right beside me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Inspiring Resources:

“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher

The powerful song “Already There” by Casting Crowns right here.

 

A Hand to Hold (letting children go)

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Dropped my sweet boy curbside at the airport yesterday. He headed back to college to start the second semester of his freshman year. He gives those kind of hugs that hang on a little longer than you expect them to…the kind that leave you teetering on the brink of not holding it together.

As he pulled his suitcase through the airport doors, I glanced down at his hands, and I was hit by a wave of nostalgia. I flashed back to younger years when his small hand mindlessly found my own as we walked side by side. Whether it was to school, to the movies, to the library, on family trips, or countless other excursions, he always sought out the comfort and security found hand in hand with mom or dad.

Traveling this life on his own now, he maneuvers his way through airports, deals with travel uncertainties, and arranges rides from Uber. All these things send a slight shudder down the spine of any protective mother. It’s strange, this concoction of pride and sadness that wells up in my throat, making it so difficult to swallow.

Letting go of my children was not something I could properly prepare for. I read many books and tried to plan for their departures. But, with years of practice I have learned that there’s just no way to predict what lies ahead on their unique paths, or how my heart will handle the inevitable twists and turns. That’s where God comes in.

God knows how to pull the “un” off of uncertain, and stand me upright again. His Word reminds me of his sovereign plans and great love for us all.

Pulling the car away from the airport curb this week I knew I would need to hold onto Scriptures which steady my feet on parenting’s ever shifting terrain. Maybe these words can help you or parents you know find surer footing as well.

  • “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 New Living Translation (NLT)

God has great plans for your son or daughter. He wants only what is best for them, and encourages them to move ahead toward a future full of hope. They are meant to encounter people and experiences for both learning and contribution. While they are not guaranteed a life free of pain or hardship, they are promised a steadfast companion who offers enduring peace and eternal life.

  • “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

Yes, these children will stumble and sometimes fall into deep, deep holes. You will watch it happen, seemingly in slow motion, and gasp as you frantically try to rescue them. The college years are especially treacherous as our children seek to discover who they are and what they believe. These gusty winds, and even hurricanes in life, do not surprise God. He is ready for the storms, and is willing and able to help your family through them. Seek him, trust him, and be incredibly patient with his timing. Keep moving along the path as best you can and pray that one day his answer will come to you.

  • “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.” Psalm 127:3 (NLT)

Letting our children go in a healthy, positive way is probably the most grown-up thing God will ever ask us to do. Assuring them of your love while ushering them toward the unknown is a daunting task. Along the way of childhood days, of little league games, and dance competitions, we forget that they really won’t belong to us forever…that they never really did. They belong to God. He generously entrusts us with their care for a little while, seeking to make us faithful servants and reliable stewards of his most precious creations.

I like to visualize God as a strong, calming presence strolling along the path in front of my son. God’s gaze is set forward, watching for obstacles while his steady right hand stretches back behind him, waiting for my son to catch up. The palm of my man-boy connects with the palm of his Maker, and I just know in my heart, they can take it from here.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God, Thank you for trusting me to guard and cherish these children as they find their way through life. Hold me steady as I walk the fine line between pulling them back and letting them go. Strengthen my faith as your plans unfold in their life. I pray for your comfort and guidance when trouble arrives. And, I praise you for all you have done. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.