Posted by: John Adams | April 20, 2008

The Small Idolatries of Everyday Living

“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” -1 John 5:21

I was a preacher’s kid growing up, so it was inevitable that I would spend a lot of time in church. I went to church four times a week, getting saturated by Bible teaching and worship. I quickly learned what God demanded of His worshipers – wholehearted obedience, worship in spirit and truth, taking up your cross, deciding to follow Jesus with no turning back.

To do this was always my basic desire as a child. I wanted to be a good Christian! I wanted to read my Bible every day and pray. I wanted to be a prayer warrior. I wanted to change the world, get on fire for Jesus, put away my sin, apathy, and such and take up the cross. The problem, of course, has always been that I am, as John Calvin would put it, an “idol factory.” From childhood, I have been seeking, finding, and cherishing God-rivals. I have always had a place in my heart for God, but the world was all around me, and inside of me, too! God was real enough in church, but I kept him like an embarrassing secret in front of my friends. To a Christian kid, Jesus can be like the embarrassing friend nobody else likes – you like hanging out with her, but you don’t want anybody else to know it. So when you’re by yourselves, you’re best friends. But in front of anyone else, you shrug your shoulders, act cool, and pretend that you have no idea who that geek is. You’re a snake and a traitor and a lousy friend, and you know it, but your pride won’t let you admit it.

This has been the story of my life. I’ll go to church, have an experience in worship that makes me long for God, but when I get home it fades faster than magic ink. My resolve to read the Bible more evaporates the first time the alarm clock sounds. My desire to pray and seek God’s face are destroyed by the first time my prayer is greeted with silence on the other end. Ferocious desires to be an agent of change in the world crumple under the weight of an unbelieving co-worker’s furrowed brow or skeptical stare. I find myself treating Jesus like the embarrassing friend again.

“How come you never talk about your faith at work, John?”

“Well, it’s just that I don’t feel the need to bring personal issues into a public space.”

“I don’t know, man, it just might not be the right context.”

“I’d be more comfortable one-on-one. That’s a more likely place to win souls, anyway, is through relationship.”

Hogwash, all of it. Every last word. I know I’m treating Jesus like the embarrassing little brother again. Iknow I’m doing it, but the world is so deep within me, that sometimes I actually believe the words I’m saying.

The thing that drives me nuts is that there are moments every now and again, like the one I’m in right now, when all the pretense is stripped away and I become aware of exactly how desperately I need God. Right after a particularly bad sin, or a breakup with a girl, or a confrontation with someone that makes absolutely lucid how selfish I really am, I am as soft and malleable as wet clay. I know I need Jesus, and I go crawling back to Him, whimpering things about how “I need you more than the earth needs the rain.”

“I just don’t think I can go another moment without you, Lord.”

“I’ll dry up and wither if you leave me here by myself, Jesus. I’ll wither and die.”

And He’s kind, so He always takes me back, consoles me with kindness, crowns me with love and compassion. All is right with the world.

And then fifteen minutes later, I’m obsessing over a girl I could really have potential with. Or I’m engrossed in NBA scores when the Holy Spirit is begging me to crack open the Scriptures. Or I’m reading the Bible half-heartedly, my mind set on my own thoughts and plans. Or I’m talking to a co-worker, and a lifestyle issue comes up that I know I should address, but I let it slide because I’m really on an idolatrous path myself, and it’s difficult for one idolater to reprimand another.

Once again, I’m doing the Peter thing. “Who? Oh, that radical guy getting beat up inside for claiming he was God? Never met him. Wouldn’t hang out with the type – I’m too moderate and open-minded. Just let me stand by this nice warm fire. Don’t push me too far out of my comfort zone. Don’t ask me any difficult questions. I just want to stand here where it’s warm.”

By the grace of God, Peter ended up changing course. He eventually became a martyr for Christ, crucified upside down, as legend has it. May God grant me the same grace.



  1. It just feels so good to live in comfortable mediocrity. Are you saying I have to give that up? I’m not sure I want to talk to you anymore.

  2. I love you! You said a lot of the same things I’ve been thinking lately.

  3. i envy your knack for words my friend.

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