Yesterday I listened to a great address by Stacy McGhee speaking at “Marketplace” sponsored by The Table and held at Church of Our Lord.

Stacy asked us to examine the idols that may drive our lives and our work. He challenged us to consider the “insidious” nature of our idols and to consider how idolatry might be shaping our choices.

He asked us what could help us identify our idols and what might happen in our professional life if, having identified an idol, we were to give it up. He posed some fascinating questions:

What are the risks in giving them up? Are they worth taking; are there consequences? 

Many employers may value employees who are committed to the idol of the workplace, the bottom line, and company productivity. A shortsighted, unredeemed workplace where the focus is on productivity will likely encourage the idolatry that leads almost inevitably to over-work, burn-out, bitterness, and resentment.

As a help in identifying the idols in our lives, Stacy asked us to define “success” and “failure”.

During the discussion at the table at which I was seated, we agreed that success is becoming more fully the person God created me to be. The beauty of this definition of “success” is that it means success is available no matter what is going on in the external circumstances of my life. If I get fired from my job, lose all my clients, or get a demotion in the office, I can still be a “success” if I meet my situation with grace, gentleness, and kindness. I am a success when I avoid bitterness, resentment and violence against others. Conversely, my circumstances and accomplishments may look fabulously successful. But, if my achievements come at the expense of my becoming more fully the person God created me to be, then I am failing at the business of being truly human.

Responding to Stacy’s presentation, the group in which I shared came up with two insights I found challenging and helpful.

1. One of the main problems with idols is that they are never satisfied. When asked, “How much money is enough?” the wealthy respondent is rumoured to have replied, “… just a little bit more.” Enough is never enough if we are worshiping at the altar of any external achievement, accolade, or acquisition.

Jesus said,

‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matthew 6:24)

Like God, idols do not want a bit of my life; they demand the whole thing. I cannot serve two masters. Every moment of my day calls me to choose whom I will serve.

2. Idols divide and fragment. Idolatry leads to competition, not cooperation. When I put myself, my needs, my agendas, my ideas, wants, demands, and desires ahead of every other consideration, I inevitably move into isolation and broken human relationship.

When my bottom line is my bottom line, my heart closes to the presence of love, compassion, and wisdom . When I evaluate life in terms of how I am doing, I shut you out and become less receptive to the presence and work of God’s gentle Spirit in my life.

Jesus challenged his followers saying,

Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Matthew 6:26)

The antidote to idolatry is the deep knowledge that my identity does not reside in anything I do; it resides in who I am. Idolatry begins to lose its grip when I know that my life is a gift of God who values absolutely every aspect of creation.

If I am to be free of idols, I need to stay connected to that place within myself where I hear the voice that Jesus heard when God said to him,

‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ (Luke 3:22)

Next to this voice, the allure of idols fall strangely silent.