At the end of John’s epistle, his first epistle, he wrote a very short verse, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” I want to tell you about a thief that has robbed me this year. As I stand here today, I feel that there is a leanness in my soul. I have to admit that, because there has been a thief that has robbed me of so much. When I stand here and I tell you about this thief, it is not to condemn anyone, but to myself and it’s a warning to me. This thief is an idol, and I didn’t bring this idol into my life intentionally. It kind of crept in and before I knew it had consumed my life, consumed my thoughts, it had taken my time and brought separation between me and my God. Because of it, I neglected the ones I loved the most. Because of it, I even at times neglected God’s people. It’s not easy to admit that, but I feel I must share it.
Before I tell you what this idol is, I’ll just read a few verses that describe this idol in Isaiah 44:17. In the verses preceding this verse, it speaks of a carpenter. It says, “He heweth him down cedars,and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest; he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it. Then shall it be for a man to burn for he will take thereof and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and woshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.”
So this carpenter had a piece of wood. He chops down a tree and he has a piece of wood and the one half of that piece of wood he uses to warm himself. He uses it to bake bread and to roast meat on the fire – something so necessary, something important for his survival. Then he takes the other half of that wood and he makes himself a god, a false god and he worships it, and it’s an abomination to God.
This idol of mine is technology. It’s my phone, it’s my computer, the internet. Really, an idol is anything that we bring into our hearts and lives that takes the place that God deserves, that God wants. It has first place and it becomes our idol. So my idol consumed my life, just like this piece of wood. Technology has become such a necessary part of life, you can hardly survive without it in this modern lifestyle. We use it for work, and for study. We book flights, we work out our taxes. We need it in some ways, but that same technology can become an abomination and it can bring great separation between us and God. It can destroy our faith, and it can rob us of our love, and it can create an appetite for things that are not of eternal value.
I walk around in the world and even in a country like Mozambique where I work, you would think in a poor country like that they wouldn’t have these problems, but they do. You look around you and you see it all over – people staring into glowing screens utterly mesmerised. You can have a home full of people and you can have in that same home one person staring at a smartphone, another one staring at a TV, another one at a computer, the other one with earphones in his ears. It’s a house full of people, but they are separate. They are absolutely alone, and they are so busy with things from faraway lands that they neglect the ones in the room next door, the ones they love the most. It’s a trap and it will destroy you. Sometimes when you stand in a queue, waiting to do something at a shop or wherever, your first impulse is to grab your phone just to kill time. Sometimes we just want to kill time, but you know, killing time it is not murder, it is spiritual suicide. We are killing this life that God has put in us, if we are not careful.
I thought of Jacob. He had many victories: he left Laban’s home, he wrestled with the angel, he met Esau – wonderful victories with the help of God. Only after all those victories, in chapter 35, Jacob had to say to his family, “Get rid of those strange gods among you. Get rid of them.” Through all that time. These strange gods were still there. I believe at that time, he was a godly man and wanted to do what was right. He had victories, but there were still things taking place in his life that brought separation, and he knew he had to get rid of it.
When I was labouring in Brazil, one of the friends in our field, his name was José. José met the truth when he was a young man. He was a devout Catholic, and when he professed, he didn’t immediately get rid of his little figurines – I don’t know what you would call them – I suppose they are idols, and he had pictures on the walls of saints and so on. One of the friends wanted to go to José and say to him, “Look, you’re professing now. You can’t really have these things on the walls and in your house.” He mentioned this to a sister worker, and she said to him, “Just leave José alone.” She said, “When your child grabs a knife and starts playing with it, you don’t immediately grab it from him, because he might hurt himself. What you do is, you offer him something better and then slowly but surely, you take that knife away from him.” That’s how God wants to help us. I’m not saying we need to just throw things out, but God wants to lift up something better for us and He wants to give us something of far greater value, something that gives true joy and satisfaction. As I go from this place, I want to follow John’s advice and keep myself clean of idols, because I know if I can do that, this next year can be the best year of my life. May the Lord help us.