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How We Bow Down to False Gods

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If you're anything like me, your life is filled with idols, but there's scripture for that!

If it does not please you to serve the Lord, choose today whom you will serve, the gods your ancestors served beyond the river or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.—Joshua 24:15

Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace.—Acts 20:24

It’s amazing to me how many people think the first commandment is an easy one. “Have no other gods?” they think. “No problem. I’ve never even been to a different church, let alone a pagan temple.” And maybe we’re not bowing down before any idols, but most of us have a pantheon of false gods. We burn incense at the altar of success and beauty and popularity. We bow down before soccer and standardized tests and sleepover parties while our Sunday obligation lies forgotten in the background. Maybe it’s the gods your parents worshipped or the gods of the culture you live in, but if you’re anything like me, your life is filled with idols.

Even those of us who are really good at checking off the required boxes may need to take a step back and ask ourselves: What am I worshipping by my life? How am I using my time? How am I using my money? What makes me lose my peace?

For Paul, the answer is clear. The things of the past matter nothing to him, neither the esteem of the Pharisees nor the satisfaction of perfection according to the Law. And the promises of the future offer no temptation. Not even life itself matters in the face of the incredible task of serving Christ and preaching his Gospel.

I wonder what my life would look like if I lived like Paul, if bearing witness to the Gospel were the only thing that truly mattered to me. Would I spend a dull conversation looking for a way to make an exit or looking for a way to proclaim the name of Jesus? Would I gossip or complain or waste two hours on Buzzfeed? Or would I live differently because of the God I serve?

I’m not saying most of us will ever manage to spend every moment directly thinking about the Lord or even that it’s possible. We need leisure and boundaries and all that. But most of us aren’t giving our lives to God and allowing ourselves some down time on occasion, we’re giving our lives to this world and giving God what’s left over.

The trouble is that we’re trying to live a life of compromise. We want to serve the gods that give us pleasure and throw a little Jesus in to make us feel good about ourselves. But Joshua knows this isn’t an option. You either serve God with everything you are or you serve some other master. By your life, you either worship the God of truth and virtue and selfless love or you worship the gods of beauty or money or sex or academia or Instagram followers.

Most of us bounce back and forth, falling short of our ideals again and again. What matters, though, is that we have those ideals. We recognize our weakness and we ask daily for God to be Lord of every aspect of our lives. It’s the striving that marks the difference between Joshua’s household and so many of the others. Joshua chooses the Lord. And the next week, when the gods of the Amorites begin to tempt him and he finds himself intrigued by their rituals and power, he chooses again: I am the Lord’s. When the harvest fails and he thinks back to the gods of Egypt, wondering if they might not have blessed him, he chooses again: I am the Lord’s.

This week, let’s just keep our eyes open to see where our priorities lie. And each time we find ourselves bowing to the gods of this world, let’s choose once more: I am the Lord’s.

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Meg Hunter-Kilmer writes for her blog, Held by His Pierced Hands, and travels around the country speaking to youth and adults and leading retreats and parish missions.

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