Shutting Down the Factory

John Calvin said that man’s nature is a “perpetual factory of idols.” Almost unnoticed idols can creep onto the throne of our hearts and before we know it, we’re worshiping at their altar. Work. Sports. Money. Accomplishments. Alcohol. Someone. Idols come in all shapes and sizes. So how do you shut down the factory? Here are a few steps:

  1. Identify your idols. What allures you may not even interest your friends. The common way of referring to this is, “he has his own demons.” But this terminology deflects the blame from the real source. We all have sinful natures that produce customized idols. How do you know when something has become an idol? Tim Keller says, “When anything in life is an absolute requirement for your happiness and self-worth, it is essentially an ‘idol,’ something you are actually worshiping.” (Counterfeit Gods)
  2. Put away your idols. Once you know what they are, take the next step to get rid of them. If you’re a workaholic, adjust your work hours. If you’re an alcoholic, quit drinking–completely. If you’re addicted to gambling, don’t carry indiscriminate cash.
  3. Get help. You will not successfully fight idols alone. You’re not equipped to battle alone. Scripture is replete with examples of people who, when left alone, self-destructed. (See Samson, King David, Esau…to name a few). Join a Life Group (email james@graceforall.org). Get counseling (Chuck Tripp is a great resource: 828-803-7281).
  4. Worship God. If the worship of God doesn’t replace whatever else you were worshiping, you will return to your idols. You are created to worship. You will trust in someone or something. Will it be God? Take 3 minutes to let the words of Lauren Daigle’s song sink in.

The Room

Joshua Harris, pastor in New England, had this dream years ago as a teenager. It was originally published in New Attitude magazine in 1995. If you struggle with guilt over past, forgiven sins, this is a must read. If you think your sins are too much for God, read this.

In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing features save for the one wall covered with small index-card files. They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order. But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and seemingly endlessly in either direction, had very different headings. As I drew near the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read “Girls I Have Liked.” I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one.

And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my life. Here were written the actions of my every moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn’t match.

A sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror, stirred within me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content. Some brought joy and sweet memories; others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching. A file named “Friends” was next to one marked “Friends I Have Betrayed.”

The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird. “Books I Have Read,” “Lies I Have Told,” “Comfort I Have Given,” “Jokes I Have Laughed At.” Some were almost hilarious in their exactness: “Things I’ve Yelled at My Brothers.” Others I couldn’t laugh at: “Things I Have Done in My Anger,” “Things I Have Muttered Under My Breath at My Parents.” I never ceased to be surprised by the contents. Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes fewer than I hoped.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had the time in my 20 years to write each of these thousands or even millions of cards? But each card confirmed this truth. Each was written in my own handwriting. Each signed with my signature.

When I pulled out the file marked “Songs I Have Listened To,” I realized the files grew to contain their contents. The cards were packed tightly, and yet after two or three yards, I hadn’t found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the quality of music, but more by the vast amount of time I knew that file represented.

When I came to a file marked “Lustful Thoughts,” I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded.

An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: “No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!” In an insane frenzy I yanked the file out. Its size didn’t matter now. I had to empty it and burn the cards. But as I took it at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it

Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot. Leaning my forehead against the wall, I let out a long, self-pitying sigh. And then I saw it. The title bore “People I Have Shared the Gospel With.” The handle was brighter than those around it, newer, almost unused. I pulled on its handle and a small box not more than three inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand.

And then the tears came. I began to weep. Sobs so deep that they hurt started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key.

But then as I pushed away the tears, I saw Him. No, please not Him. Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus.

I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn’t bear to watch His response. And in the moments I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper than my own. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one?

Finally He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn’t anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again. He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He didn’t say a word. He just cried with me.

Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to sign His name over mine on each card.

“No!” I shouted rushing to Him. All I could find to say was “No, no,” as I pulled the card from Him. His name shouldn’t be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of Jesus covered mine. It was written with His blood.

He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and began to sign the cards. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, “It is finished.”

I stood up, and He led me out of the room. There was no lock on its door. There were still cards to be written.

By Joshua Harris. Orginally published in New Attitude Magazine. Copyright New Attitude, 1995. You have permission to reprint this in any form. We only ask that you include the appropriate copyright byline and do not alter the content.

Scriptural Convictions

From The Valley of Vision (page 350-351)…a prayer thanking God for His word…

O God of Love

I approach you with encouragements derived from your character, for I am not left to feel after you in the darkness of my nature, nor to worship you as the unknown God. I cannot find out your perfections, but I know you are good, ready to forgive, plenteous in mercy.

You have displayed your wisdom, power and goodness in all your works, and have revealed your will in the Scripture of truth. You have caused it to be preserved, translated, published, multiplied, so that all men may possess it and find you in it.

Here I see your greatness and your grace, your pity and your rectitude, your mercy and your truth, your being and men’s hearts; through it you have magnified your name, and favored mankind with the gospel.

Have mercy on me, for I have ungratefully received your benefits, little improved my privileges, made light of spiritual things, disregarded your messages, contended with examples of the good, rebukes of conscience, admonitions of friends, leadings of providence.

I deserve that your kingdom be taken away from me.

Lord, I confess my sin with feeling, lamentation, a broken heart, a contrite spirit, self-abhorrence, self-condemnation, self-despair.

Give me relief by Jesus my hope, faith in his name of Savior, forgiveness by his blood, strength by his presence, holiness by his Spirit: and let me love you with all my heart.

The Broken Heart

Pray deliberately through this Puritan prayer:

O Lord,

No day of my life has passed that has not proved me guilty in your sight. Prayers have been uttered from a prayerless heart; praise has been often praiseless sound; my best services are filthy rags.

Blessed Jesus, let me find a covert in your appeasing wounds. Though my sins rise to heaven your merits soar above them; though unrighteousness weighs me down to hell, your righteousness exalts me to your throne.

All things in me call for my rejection, all things in you plead my acceptance. I appeal from the throne of perfect justice to your throne of boundless grace.

Grant me to hear your voice assuring me: that by your stripes I am healed, that you were bruised for my iniquities, that you have been made sin for me that I might be righteous in you, that my grievous sins, my manifold sins, are all forgiven, buried in the ocean of your concealing blood.

I am guilty, but pardoned, lost but saved, wandering, but found, sinning, but cleansed.

Give me perpetual broken-heartedness, keep me always clinging to your cross, flood me every moment with descending grace, open to me the springs of divine knowledge, sparkling like crystal, flowing clear and unsullied through my wilderness of life.

From the Valley of Vision

A Prayer for Saturday

Incomprehensible, Great and Glorious God,

I adore you and abase myself. I approach you mindful that I am less than nothing, a creature worse than nothing.

My thoughts are not screened from your gaze. My secret sins blaze in the light of your countenance.

Enable me to remember that blood which cleanses all of sin, to believe in that grace which subdues all iniquities, to resign myself to that agency which can deliver me from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

You have begun a good work in me and can alone continue and complete it.

Give me an increasing conviction of my tendency to err, and of my exposure to sin.

Help me to feel more of the purifying, softening influence of religion, its compassion, love, pity, courtesy, and employ me as your instrument in blessing others.

Give me to distinguish between the mere form of godliness and its power, between life and a name to live, between guile and truth, between hypocrisy and a religion that will bear your eye.

If I am not right, set me right, keep me right; and may I at last come to your house in peace.

From The Valley of Vision (page 174-75)