“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” Matthew 13:22
There was a time I fought for, not against, that which the world says is important. I allowed control, comparison, and covetousness to rule my soul for many years. I longed for the approval of the people around me. I sought affirmation for my appearance. And I surrounded myself with everything and everyone that fed this idolatry.
By God’s grace, those empty desires to find my power and praise from this world have since been replaced, deep down, with a desire for Christ to rule my life.
But the fight to stop seeking and serving my idols didn’t end there. In many ways, the fight was just beginning. And as I embarked on the battle, I had no idea just how powerful, enduring, and suffocating idols can prove to be within our hearts.
True, Jesus can replace our deepest longings in an instant. Nevertheless, there will always be parts of our heart that war against God’s holiness and continue to cause temptation, distraction and deceit. Christians should expect to engage in a life-long battle to replace worldly mentalities with the eternal truth.
Like I said, I wasted years embracing the lies. But subsequently, I’ve also spent many years fighting those same temptations. Often, I would think I’d been “freed”, only to find I’d taken two steps forward, three steps back.
I cut ties with “bad influences”. I deleted social media accounts. I (attempted to) will myself to stop caring what certain people thought. But at the end of the day, my heart still ached to find worth in other people and places. I wanted to worship the true and living God! So why was I striving in vain against these idols?
Paul points to the reason that my efforts were ineffective, in Colossians 2:
“Why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations- ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’… These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion… but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
I was completely committed to saying “no” but, as Scripture tells us, the “do-not’s” are of NO VALUE, by themselves.
Joni Eareckson Tada discovered this, as a teenager, upon her tragic paralysis. For when her ability to engage her body in physical pleasure was taken away, her idols- rather than fading- became more evident than ever. In her early days as a paraplegic, she would stare out the window, daydreaming about using her senses. Whether creating elaborate sexual fantasies or simply longing to feel the warm sand on her legs, Joni’s mind longed for what was temporary more than ever.
Simply avoiding the outworking of her desires didn’t actually change her desires!
So we may delete our Instagram accounts… Stop buying organic food… Avoid the Mommy blogs… Cut up the credit cards… Lock up our incessantly demanding phones in a drawer…
But the desires- the true idols keeping us away from Jesus- will remain untouched.
Many of the actions listed above can be a helpful battle tactic, but none of these hone in on the true enemy. And the true enemy- our own deceitfully wicked and lustful hearts- need more than a list of “do not’s”. For even as the Old Testament kings crushed false images “into powder” only to see their kingdom continue in their fatal habits, crushing the temptations around us will prove futile if we are all the while neglecting the temptations within us.
We can overcome the worldly cares threatening to choke out God’s life within us. But the key is not in abstaining from the evil desires, but in pursuing the good and holy desires.
We read in Colossians what is of NO value, but directly afterwards, it tells us what IS valuable: “Seek the things that are above.”
You really want to tear yourself from the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches? Then stop dwelling on the sin around you, and look UP! Delight yourself in Jesus. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Treasure Christ- for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…
Joni Earakson Tada’s life become increasingly more “choked out” by her deceitful desires, until her eyes were fixed on a greater desire. She recalls, “As I concentrated on [God’s] positive instruction from the Bible, it was no longer necessary to retreat from reality. Feelings no longer seemed important… When my focus shifted to this eternal perspective, all my concerns about being in a wheelchair became trivial.”
If Joni’s “concerns”- about never again being able to feed herself, dress herself, ride her horses, enjoy sexual intimacy, or live independently- became trivial in light of her love and satisfaction in the Lord, HOW MUCH MORE SO are we able to experience freedom from…
The “likes” of our social media followers.
Obsession over our health.
Control over our finances.
The approval of women.
The lust of men.
Anxieties of parenting…
The list goes on. The idols are many and strong. And we will wage war against them until the day we die.
But we are not that seed choked out by the thorns surrounding us- we are the seed that goes on to bear fruit… And a fruitful life is not a result of saying “no” to the appearance of evil; it is the natural outcome of continuing to say “yes” to the one who truly satisfies. As we “taste and see”, our appetite for the world will grow dull, and our cares will be transformed to that which is true and eternal.