“Why am I reacting like this?”
The previous few weeks had been a rollercoaster of crazy emotions—despair, anger, uncontrollable tears… Yes, life was changing faster than I could process with my family moving out of state. Yes, one of my jobs fell through. Yes, I was facing uncertainty, but none of this seemed to explain such deep struggle.
Again on the verge of tears, I asked myself what was causing such abnormal, and often sinful emotion to spill out. The Lord’s answer was sudden and clear: Idolatry. “Lord, you’ve got to show me how to root this out,” I prayed.
The next morning, driving to work, I started praying again. “Lord, I’m seeing there’s a root issue of idolatry in my heart. I’ve been blind to it this entire time, blaming my reactions on other circumstances and people. Show me what I’m supposed to do.”
That was when my phone dinged. It was a friend who had casually mentioned a sermon series the week before that had helped her while discipling girls. At the time, I had casually agreed it sounded beneficial, but it was just at the moment I was praying that she remembered to send it. It’s called Gospel Treason: What Happens When We Give Our Hearts to Idols. I’ll give full disclosure, I think his preaching comes off as a little shallow and sometimes crass, but his principles are solid. The Lord knew in this season, it was exactly what I needed to hear.
I’m realizing extreme emotions are not merely a sin I need to tackle in and of themselves but rather an indicator light that my heart is off. Instead of treasuring Christ and the gospel, I’ve placed my hopes in other things to satisfy. When circumstances are looking good, I’m happy. When they’re not, I’m devastated. As Brad Bigney explains in the series, idols create high highs and low lows, causing us to be crushed when our hopes don’t fulfill us.
What’s more, when I started to identify the specific idols my heart had created, I realized these were the roots of other sins that I had been trying to fight in vain. As I fought to fulfill my plans and dreams, I was hurting others in my life, trying to control circumstances, and wrecking my own joy and ability to minister to others.
Don’t get me wrong, my desires were for good, God-given gifts. But those good desires had become a ruling, “monster” desire (in the words of Paul David Tripp). Just like James says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? … You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:1-3).
When the Lord opened my eyes to the sin that was slowly capturing my heart, it brought sudden freedom. Jeremiah 2:13 is such a true picture: “My people have committed two evils, they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and have hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Christ is a well of deep, all-satisfying water well suited to our souls’ constant thirst. To drink from anything else is foolishness, for I have constant supply in Him. And yet, the things of this life often seem so real—more real—than the reality of what I have in Christ. My desires for the things of this life, even good desires that have gotten out of hand, promise a happiness, but it is a shallow, short-lived feeling rather than the soul-deep joy that Christ brings.
The realization also shed new light on my prayer life. I suddenly woke up to how much time I was spending begging God to give me my idols. If I am chasing idols, the Lord will not answer those prayers. But if I am seeking and delighting in him with my whole heart, he will go to the ends of the earth to provide what is best for me. My prayers should be no less bold, but they must come out of a heart that desires Christ above and in everything else.
I wish the battle against idols of the heart could be fought in a day. But I realize that the Lord opening my eyes to their parasitical existence in my soul is just the first step in the campaign for their eradication. I have to be on constant guard against them. But ultimately, the fight is more a positive one than a negative, an offensive rather than defensive. My heart was made for worship, and the moment I cease worshipping Christ, other things automatically fill that space in my heart. I have to daily drink so deeply of him that my hope isn’t tied so tightly to the ups and downs of life. Yes, I will face trials and disappointments as well as joys. But clinging to Christ brings a stability nothing else can, because my happiness is no longer tied to these things.
When I taste of the fountain far deeper and more satisfying than anything this world can offer, how can I go back to the muddy swamps I thought I wanted most?
Have I ceased to desire and pray for God’s gifts? No, instead, I’m finding on this journey that surrendering them gives me a new freedom to enjoy the gifts God has given today. As I delight myself in him, he gives me new delight in relationships and opportunities he has given me. It frees me to truly love, for I can’t love those I’m using to serve myself and my desires. He must take first place in my heart.
Few have experienced such delight in Christ as Rutherford: “This soul of ours hath love, and cannot but love some fair one. And oh what a fair One, what an only One, what an excellent, lovely ravishing One is Jesus! Put the beauty of ten thousand thousands worlds of paradises, like the garden of Eden in one, put all trees, all flowers, all smells, all colors, all tastes, all joys, all sweetness, all loveliness, in one: oh, what a fair and excellent thing would that be! And yet it would be less to that fair and dearest Well-beloved Christ, than one drop of rain to the whole seas, rivers, lakes, and fountains of ten thousand earths. Oh, but Christ is heaven’s wonder and earth’s wonder!”
If that’s how my hearts sings of Christ, everything else will fall into place. For in the end, we only have Him.
 Samuel Rutherford, The Loveliness of Christ.