In Jonah’s prayer after being cast into the deep, he prayed first by lamenting his condition and then in remembering the Lord, he made the following observation, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” (Jonah 2:8)
What a profound statement! God desires that all souls turn to him. He provides grace to draw us to him. He gives the Holy Spirit and offers to dwell in us if we invite him to do so. But if we cling to the idols of wealth and fame, career and recognition, the pleasures of sex, food, drink, drugs and the many other self-focused pastimes of life, we forfeit the grace that can be ours.
Jonah was forfeiting the grace available to him by running from God and refusing to obey God’s desire that he take a message of repentance to the city of Nineveh.
In Old Testament times, idols were often thought of as graven images of false Gods, but in our day, an idol can be anything that we worship with our time, resources and attention to the detriment of our worship and service to God and the responsibilities he gives us, including family, work and ministry. The list of potential idols is long.
When our first three children were young, I became enamored with playing golf, wanting to become a respectable player. I would play every Saturday and usually one night during the week after work. On Saturdays, our foursome would pick me up at 6 am since the course was more than 30 minutes away. After playing 18 holes and stopping at the 19th hole for a hot dog and beverage, it was often mid-afternoon before I would get back home. This, coupled with an occasional trip to the driving range resulted in a significant intrusion on the time left for my family.
I was treating golf as an idol, giving it time disproportionate to what was due my other responsibilities, particularly my family. There is nothing inherently sinful about golf just as there is nothing inherently sinful about other sports activities, or gardening, fishing, hiking, running, woodworking, going to the theatre, or the multitude of other activities to which we can devote our time and attention.
What matters is whether these activities encroach on our first responsibility to love and serve God and others. We can make idols out of most anything, even good things such as ministry, family, or work if we let our time and attention become out of balance and disproportionate to its place in God’s will for our lives.
If we sincerely ask God how he wants us to spend our time, he will surely respond to us. Let love be our guide.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:37-40)