Today I continue this series on joy. Psalm 16 continues, ‘The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply…’ It is important for us to reason that the reverse is also true. If you seek God you will have joy but if you seek idols you will have sorrow. In a way, it is the same point but in reverse that we started answering the question “where do we get joy?” with.
God calls us to flee idols and there is a joy in fleeing idols. Worship has such a place in our hearts that we will worship anything we can. An idol is anything you cannot live without. Sometimes it will be frank sin. Other times, it will be something that of itself it may be quite good; perhaps the latest iPhone gadget you might enjoy. No harm in enjoying it but I would ask you this, can you lay that aside? Some of us would find that harder to lay aside than food. Disciplining yourself by going on an internet or gadget fast can be as good for you spiritually as a food fast.
An idol is anything you believe will provide you with real joy in. God calls us not to seek our joy in stuff. CS Lewis says:
‘…it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.’
So an idol is anything you cannot live without. It is anything you seek ultimate pleasure in when pleasure can only really be found in God. If you “prefer anything above Christ” that is the very essence of sin according to John Piper and we must fight that. Perhaps the most common idol today is not some stone god but is our own pleasures. We are impatient people, unwilling to take short-term pain for long-term gain. You see the truth is this, no one ever sinned out of a sense of duty. You do not wake up one morning and think, I really ought to sin today. The truth is we sin because we think it is going to give us pleasure. And in the short-term it does, otherwise no one would do it.
But notice what it says: ‘The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply…’ Actually, the more you pursue sin, the more miserable you are. There is an old phrase that I would love to see revised which is: ‘As miserable as sin’. It is miserable, especially in its end, in its results.
Idols are thought of as sources of our salvation but they never save us. Advertising shows us that we are in some predicament or other, and the product can deliver us. When we run after an idol it will always let us down. It never satisfies. Many times we have unrealistic expectations. We see the promise our idol makes to us and we think, that’s great, we will run after that, it will solve everything for us. But those unrealistic expectations are often one of the biggest causes of depression when they are not met. It is interesting that in war time when everyone’s expectations drops, it would seem that depression often drops as well.
There is an antidote to all this yearning after stuff, after fulfillment, and that is contentment.
In Philippians 3 it says: ‘…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…. And my God will supply every need…’ Not every want, not every desire, but every need. So to the single person, I urge you to understand this, something far better than being married has happened to you. You have been saved. If you will get that, if you will really let that sink into your heart so that your frustration and your hunger will fade. When you allow such desires, such yearning to die, God will often bountifully bring that to you as well. He calls us sometimes to put a knife into our dream in order that He can then raise that dream again.
If we seek God first, He gives us everything that we truly need. He really does. The Scripture says, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). How many Christians get this the wrong way round and come to God to seek things not to seek HIM! He is not a heavenly slot machine! He is our sole delight!