American Idolaters: Aren’t We All?

By Aaron Welch, LMHC, NCC, CSOTS

I know, I know…..my title might be a little offensive. After all, the word “idolater” doesn’t illicit reactions of joy or glee in most, especially those of us who understand how much God HATES idolatry. Yet, as I examine my own life and look at the lives of countless others, I have to stick to my guns. At some point in time, aren’t we all idolaters?
Before you answer I should probably tell you that I believe idolatry to be when we put anything ahead of the Lord in our lives as far as priority. I know that’s a tough definition but the Word clearly teaches that our God is a jealous God and he expects to be #1, numero uno, absolutely FIRST priority in our lives. With that being said, almost anything can become an idol to us. It could be our spouse, our children, our career, money, popularity, our best friend, sleep, exercise, drugs, alcohol, sex, even ministry as a vocation. The frightening truth is that ANYTHING in this world can become an idol to us, something that forces God to move into second place…or third…..or fourth……or……well, you get the picture.
The biggest part of this issue is the hatred God feels towards idolatry. I’ve been reading through the Bible lately and as I peruse the book of Kings or Chronicles or Isaiah or Jeremiah, in fact almost all the Old Testament, it becomes very clear that idolatry is one of God’s “buttons.” Israel committed many sins and He often showed great compassion and forgiveness. But His pet peeve was how quickly the people of Israel turned to other gods (no gods at all) for comfort and security instead of turning to Him. This steamed God to no end. After all He had so obviously done for His people; saving them from Egyptian slavery, feeding them in the wilderness, leading them by His clear presence, clearing out the Promised Land so they didn’t have to worry about it, destroying their enemies time and time again, and so on. After all that and more, they continued to turn their eyes away from Him and onto Baal or Asheroth or Dagon….onto sexual immorality or the pursuit of power and wealth, of ANYTHING except Him.
The message to us is clear: God wants, no demands, to be our number one priority or He is not happy. Ouch. I said…..OUCH! This really hits home for me and is truly a scary reality.
That means that every time I have failed to complete a fast because I just had to have a certain food, in that one moment, I have placed food ahead of my hunger for God. That means when I care more about the happiness of my wife or the comfort of my children than I do the desires of God’s heart, I’m putting Him in 2nd or 3rd place. It means that whenever I pursue career success more than I pursue my walk with the Lord that my career has become my idol. You can insert anything into this paradigm. Whether we’re talking about good and honorable pursuits like family time healthy living or, on the flip side, sinful pleasures like gossip or pornography the truth remains the same: if these things come before God in our heart of hearts, they have become a form of idolatry. Larry Crabb in his book, “The Pressure’s Off” talks a lot about how we often pursue God’s blessings more than God himself. If this is true, doesn’t it mean that the pursuit of God’s blessings, IF IT IS #1 TO US, is a form of idolatry?
People, God desires for us to desire Him. He expects to be #1 in our goals, our priorities, our decisions, and in our hearts. Whether that means blessing or suffering doesn’t matter. God expects us to put Him first, no matter the outcome. When we don’t, are we any better than our Israelite examples?
So, how do we do this? Practically speaking it is very difficult to keep God #1 in our lives. I know that. Shoot, I LIVE that. But my desire is that this would change. My goal is that I can turn this trend around in my heart and life. My quest is to walk so closely with God that His wants are my wants, His goals are my goals. So how do we turn this around in our lives?

• Focus on knowing Him; not knowing ABOUT Him: Too often we rely on “head” knowledge in regards to the Lord yet our sins and idolatry and fleshly pursuits normally come from our hearts. We must strive to draw near in relationship to God, allowing His Word to penetrate more than our brains. We must read every scripture with an eye on what the Lord wants to speak into our wounded, sinful hearts. This means we must become better listeners to God by seeking Him in silence and solitude. The more we learn to know Him and allow Him to lead us on a personal level, the less we will drift towards other things in priority.

• Realize that none of these other pursuits can satisfy: Everyone, all these other things that provide us temporary happiness or comfort are no more satisfying, in the long run, than the wooden idols were in scripture. A happy family always hits hardship. Money can come and go overnight. Your spouse may be pleased with you one minute and irate at you the next. A piping hot pizza may make you feel better in the moment but give you a stomach ache thirty minutes later. Sex may be awesome for about sixty seconds of climax but it can never fill the void in your heart. Some of the things we turn to are okay and healthy. No problem. It’s great to spend time with family or to minister to people or to “bring home the bacon.” The problem comes when we put those things ahead of God in our lives. Then they simply become “broken cisterns” that can never hold water or bring us real contentment. The reason we have to keep going back and back to all of these things is because they can never fully satisfy for long. Only God can, which is why He deserves to be #1. If you will just take a long look at these other pursuits and realize they never fully deliver, then you’re on the road to understanding how they must come behind the Lord in our lives and hearts.

• Have realistic expectations of your walk with Christ: I’ve talked to so many people who get disillusioned with the Lord when they face hardship or things don’t go their way even though they believe they are living right and making good, godly decisions. Let’s face what that attitude really is: a manipulative view of our Father in Heaven. A friend of mine said it so well: “For every Solomon in scripture, who acquired great fame and wealth, there is a John the Baptist, who died alone in a prison cell.” I love that because it means that living for the Lord does not necessarily mean we will experience an easy or affluent life here on earth. John the Baptist served God as diligently as Solomon, some would say MORE so. Yet, his life was one of living in the wilderness and a beheading by a jealous queen. We must put God first, whether He blesses our lives in earthly ways or not. Even if our children turn away from Him after we spent years training them up as Christians, God must still be first. Even if we follow the Lord into ministry only to be spat upon or beaten down emotionally from our congregation, God must remain primary to us. If we somehow inherited 100 million dollars and our every earthly need was taken care of, God must still reign! So, be realistic. If you think being a Christian means only a life of blessing and prosperity, think again. It might mean that but, then again, it might not. Only God can choose what our lives look like here on earth. He might bless us materially or we may never know where our next meal will come from. Either way, God desires first place.

• Look to God instead of self-medicating: When things get hard, don’t reach for a glass of wine for comfort. Don’t think that being super-dad or super-mom will make it all better. Chocolate will not fill your heart up. Pornography only adds to our shame instead of healing our pain. People, listen up. When life gets hard take all of that to the Lord. Your anger, sadness, disappointment, joy, unforgiveness….all of it. All the ways we choose to try to feel better are barely even temporary in their comforts. Only God is the living water and only He can satisfy our souls and mend our wounded hearts.


• Keep your eyes on Him: That’s the key. Staying focused on the Lord. Not running ahead. Not demanding a certain lifestyle. Not worrying about your future. Keeping your eyes on God, knowing that He has a plan for you. Comfortable? Maybe not……..but one that is good.
So, right now my readers. Evaluate your lives. Make a list of what is most important to you. Is God first? If not, where is He in the list? How can you change that? Do you even want to?
American Idolaters? I confess…..I am one. But I’m striving to move God up that list so that He is consistently #1. It’s the only way to true peace and happiness. It’s the only way to truly walk with Him.


Aaron Welch is a licensed mental health counselor, nationally certified counselor and certified sex offender treatment specialist. He strives to fight for the hearts of his clients and empower them to build a legacy that impacts the world. He is part of a team of experts at “The Lifeworks Group, Inc”. For more information about Aaron or Lifeworks, please visit www.lifeworksgroup.org or www.legacycounselingservices.org

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