She stood shivering in the cold, the wind whipping her dark hair from side to side as she stood in the long line with thousands of other college students. They waited patiently in the frigid afternoon to give their meager cash to missions organizations dedicated to taking Jesus to slaves around the world. She stepped up to my giving station, hands shaking from the cold.
“How much do you want to give?” I asked, as I had over a hundred times in the past hour.
“Let me see,” she handed me a wad of crumpled cash before dumping the contents of her purse out before me, picking out coins from among gum, lipgloss and bits of trash.
“$169.92 – that’s all I have,” tears welled up in her eyes.
“Are you sure you want to give it all?” I asked, concerned at her reaction.
“Oh yes!” She flicked away her tears with a smile. “I just wish I hadn’t just bought more shoes that I don’t need, so I’d have more to give.”
“What about dinner? You need to eat.” I loved her heart, but was concerned that her giving was bordering on the extreme.
“Oh – I’m fine, I have a Chick-fil-a gift card from my Mom. This is my Christmas stocking money for movies, eating out and silly stuff before school starts back. Now I’ll just spend more time hanging out with people than buying things. It’s like Pastor Piper said last night; I have an eternity of everlasting joy waiting for me – I don’t need stuff now, I have everything later. Why shouldn’t I give all of my extra money so people can meet Jesus and experience that same eternal joy? This is the best possible use of my Christmas money – I just wish I had more to give!”
Humbled by the words of this 18-year-old girl, I processed her donation in silence. She left to rejoin her friends, but I couldn’t shake her earnest words, ‘I don’t need stuff now, I have everything later.’
Lost in Little Lusts
Consumerism defines America. One of my favorite questions for foreigners visiting the US is, “what’s different about America?” And I’ve noticed that their answers are all basically the same; “there is just so much of everything. Americans are obsessed with having the new, biggest, sparkly, faster thing.” Consumerism not only defines American culture, but sadly it also defines American church. We are far more focused on what we get from church, rather than what we give. We are far more concerned with how our churches look, than what they teach. We are far more conscious of who we attend with, than Who we worship. We are wasting away our lives in a vast sea of little lusts – those seemingly inconsequential little idols that pull our affections, our time, our money, and our lives away from Christ.
And when our lives are full of idols, small though they may be, we have only bits and pieces left to offer God. Francis Chan, in his book Crazy Love, describes it as giving God the leftovers, “It’s easy to fill ourselves up with other things and then give God whatever is left. Hosea 13:6 says, ‘When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.” God gets a scrap or two only because we feel guilty for giving Him nothing. A mumbled three-minute prayer at the end of the day, when we are already half asleep. Two crumpled-up dollar bills thrown as an after-thought into the church’s fund for the poor…. Leftovers are not merely inadequate; from God’s point of view, they’re evil. Let’s stop calling it “a busy schedule” or “bills” or “forgetfulness.” It’s called “sin.”
Little idols are so hard to recognize, because they are just a part of our materialistic life. Several years ago, God asked me if I would be willing to drop everything and go to the mission field. I said yes, but then started fretting about all the things I would have to leave behind. Hello, little idols! We have to be on constant guard of our affections to make sure that we are not giving things a place in our heart that is rightfully God’s alone. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
Liberated from Little Idols
How do we fight the little lusts that invade our lives at every turn?
Time. With. Jesus.
- Time with Jesus transforms our hearts to desire the best things.
Quality, consistent, time with Jesus keeps the lusts in perspective as the little idols that they are or could be. Piper explains it by saying, “Little hearts give little lusts big power. Big hearts give little lusts little power – because a heart made big by God reveals little lusts to look like the little monster that it is.” A heart is made big by time with Jesus. Time in the Word transforms our perspective. Time in prayer alters our heart’s affections. Time with believing friends keeps us accountable on our struggles with little lusts. Jesus alone has the power to liberate our hearts from the little lusts of the flesh. Liberation from lusts doesn’t mean literally having nothing, but that nothing, but God, has our hearts.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2
- Time with Jesus refocuses our hearts on the enormity of what awaits us.
Little idols distract us from what is most important – a relationship with Jesus on this earth and an unfathomable eternity with our Lord in heaven! As believers, that is our future, that is our promised reward, that is our hope! This is not our home and so we are called to wait in great expectation for the joy of eternity (Phil. 3:20). Little lusts have no power over the person who is rightly focused on our marvelous coming eternity. “You looked into an eternity of everlasting joy and said ‘I don’t need these little things now, I have everything later.’” (Piper)
We regain focus on the eternal by time in the Word. If you find your heart being pulled away by little idols, stop, dig into the Word and catch a glimpse of what God has stored up for us in eternity (Rom. 8:18-30). We rejoice in what is to come, rather than chasing after what we don’t have in this temporary life.
“For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” Hebrews 10:34-36
Laying down Little Idols
Many who read this article will walk away pitying the people who struggle with little idols, completely unaware that their life is littered with little lusts. Some who read this article will be convicted of the little lusts in their life, but faced with lusts now or eternity later, they choose a life of little lusts. A few who read this article will examine their affections, lay down their little idols and pursue God with all their heart, mind and soul.
Which one are you?
Francis Chan says, “Many of us believe we have as much of God as we want right now, a reasonable portion of God among all the other things in our lives. Most of our thoughts are centered on the money we want to make, the school we want to attend, the body we aspire to have, the spouse we want to marry, the kind of person we want to become… but the fact is that nothing should concern us more than our relationship with God. It’s about eternity, and nothing compares with that.”
We cannot imagine what God can do through people who are sold out, wholly surrendered, to Him. The lost will find salvation in Christ, the poor will be cared for, the slaves will be rescued, the hurting will be comforted, and the questioning will find the answer. God is advancing His Kingdom through men and women who lay down little lusts and completely surrender their hearts to Him.
Will you be one of them?
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14