Jonah Project 26

Jonah 2:8

Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them. 

Though I’ve never watched an episode of American Idol, now in its 13th season, millions love the show and adjust their weekly schedule around this broadcast. We love our pop-idols, music stars, glamor queens and celebrity athletes. Many of our actual idols, though, are hidden from us in plain view. Our hearts cling to idols as a drowning person clings to a piece of flotsam in high seas. John Calvin described the human heart as “a perpetual factory of idols.”[i] 

What is an idol? Timothy Keller, author of Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters, writes, “[An idol] is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbsyour heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give youwhat only God can give. A counterfeit god [idol] is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such a controllingposition in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought. The true god of your heart is what your thoughtseffortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention.”[ii] 

As a perpetual factory of idols, humans make idols of anything, including money, sex, power, position, careers, sleep, food, drink, and especially our own life.The ancient world was so crammed full of idols, and the problem of idolatry was so widespread, that idols make top billing on God’s top ten list of how to live life to the fullest:

#1—You shall have no other gods before me. 
#2—You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.[iii] 

Our world today is still crammed full of idols and the problem of idolatry is still widespread.What is of greatest worth in your life? What do you find at the center of your heart? What are you clinging to? What is worthy of being at the center of your life? Is there any worthless thing sitting as the centerpiece on your heart’s table? 

Jonah encourages us to turn away from worthless idols, knowing they all too easily turn us away from what is of greatest worth. Here are two ways to practice “turning” prayer:
1. Clenched Fist—Open Hand
Sit in a comfortable chair with your hands in your lap. Begin your time of prayer by clenching your fist. Reflect upon specific things in your life which you are clinging to, grasping tightly or trying hard to control. As you think of that thing, slowly open your hands, unclenching your fist, and relaxing your hand muscles. As you unclench your first, offer your heart in gratitude to God for caring for you and for that thing you’ve been clinging to.
2. Palms Down—Palms Up
Sit in a comfortable chair with your hands palms down on your lap. Begin your time of prayer by thinking of parts of your life where you are experiencing stress. When one of these comes to mind, turn your palms upward, releasing this stress and that aspect of your life to God, offering a childlike prayer: “I give up to you my life and this thing that is stressing me out. Thanks for loving me. Hold me with in your love.” Then turn your palms slowly over, receiving the love of God into your life. Once your palms are down again, think of another part of your life which has taken center place. Turn this over to God by turning your palms upward and offering this “idol” and also your life to God.[iv]

I love the Third Day song based upon Psalm 36, soaring with God’s love into the vastness of the universe overhead. 
Your love, oh Lord
Reaches to the heavens
Your faithfulness stretches to the sky
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains
Your justice flows like the ocean’s tide
I will lift my voice
To worship You, my King
I will find my strength
In the shadow of your wings.[v] 

May you know more of the greatness of the love of God, especially in those places where you’ve been clinging to what is worthless and undeserving of center place in your life.

Photo courtesy of Thomas Robinson.
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[i]John Calvin, from The Institutes of the Christian Religion. 
[ii] See Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power,and the Only Hope that Matters. 
[iii]Exodus 20:3-5.
[iv] I first discovered this pattern of prayer in Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth
[iv]Psalm 36:5-7, also see Third Day, song from Chronology, Vol. 1.