Easier said than done.
Or as some say, Been there. Done that. Because most of us know the story. We do everything we’re supposed to do. We go through the step by step program. And just when we think we’re free. The idol of our heart smashed – finally!
So we do it again. And again. Until there is this massive disconnect between what we’re being told and what’s real. Eventually, we learn to tune it out.
But the fact is, it’s true. Idols sneak into our hearts. Good ones. Bad ones. Outrageously fun ones. Cunning, sly, wickedly deceiving ones we don’t know, or don’t admit we know, until something tries to take it from us. We react and the strength of our reaction tells us all we need to know.
We’ve got idols.
Good ones with people we love. Bad ones with addictions that once we controlled but now control us. Fun ones with things we do, places we go, social circles we travel in, that fill us with an intoxicating pleasure we can’t imagine living without. Deceiving ones, the worst of which is in the mirror. Somehow, somewhere along the way, we actually believe our own press.
We’ve got idols.
We don’t tend to do anything about it. Not until we have to. Not until someone loves us enough to tell us. Or maybe one day we wake up and realize that something other than God is god of us. And we can’t go on like that.
Lay your Isaac down!
And we try. And try. And try again. To take our hands off the ones we love and give them to the Lord. To push our addictions away. To enforce self-control in areas of excessive pleasure. To see ourselves rightly before God.
And it works. For a while. Maybe during Lent.
It’s here, right here, where the Church has been so utterly powerless. The gospel we preach, devoid of anything supernatural and miraculous. As if, somehow, by enforcing certain disciplines for us to do we will overcome the tyranny of the gods that plague our lives and we will be free.
Simple: Just do it. Know what your Isaac is. Then lay it down.
Of course, this is not what happened to Abraham in the actual story. He didn’t wake up one morning and think to himself he had a problem with Isaac. That his love for his son had become greater than his love for the Lord.
God did that.
He stepped in. He spoke to Abraham. He did the work of convicting. He put his finger on Abraham’s heart and demanded three things. His son Isaac. Full and uncompromised obedience. And finally, most importantly, worship.
What can Abraham do? He can obey.
What can’t he do? He can’t take the idol from his heart. None of us can.
This is the greatest deception possible. And most of us fall for it. We believe we have the power and ability first, to identify, and second, to dethrone the gods that take up first place in our hearts. It’s a lie. We can’t.
This is the work of God alone.
And He makes it strikingly clear as to HOW it’s done through this story. He called Abraham to Mount Moriah to worship Him. This must always be our starting point. We come before God. We put our eyes, our hearts, our full attention on Him. We praise Him. We give Him thanks.
We bind the idol. We lay it on the altar. We take the knife and do what we need to do to offer it to the Lord. But that’s it. All we can do now is to raise our hands. Surrender our hearts. Focus body, mind and soul upon the Lord.
And then wait. Wait for Him to make the transaction.
Wait for His power to do the work. To set us free. Real power flooding our soul. Forgiving our sin. Removing the idol. And replacing it with the one and only thing our hearts were perfectly designed for.
It’s what He does.
He calls us to come, worship, and lay our idols down. He provides the perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. And then He does what we need most.
Sometimes it happens in a moment. Sometimes it’s a process and happens over time. Either way, the Lord does what we can never do. He changes the heart. He puts things in order. Everything in its proper place.
Where the idol ceases to be the idol. And the Lord takes His rightful place in our hearts. First, always first.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it perfectly:
“The tables are completely turned, Abraham receives Isaac back, but henceforth he will have his son in quite a new way – Abraham comes down from the mountain with Isaac just as he went up, but the whole situation has changed. Christ has stepped between father and son…Outwardly the picture is unchanged, but the old is passed away, and behold all things are new.” 1
What a powerful image – Abraham and Isaac coming down the mountain with Christ standing between them! Everything forever changed.
This gives us everything we need to know. We come before the Lord. We let Him, by His Holy Spirit, do the work of revealing the idols in our hearts. Then we do our disciplines. We obey Him. We come before Him in worship. We bind our idols. We lay them down. And as we worship, we wait.
For Him to do the supernatural miraculous.
1 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 1995 edition. p. 99