Impatience and Idolatry

If you want to grow as a Christian, it is crucial that you learn to examine your heart. The sins that we and others notice should be treated as symptoms of a heart condition, not the disease itself. Repenting of these sins of the heart involves identifying and destroying idols.

Usually idols are not inherently evil things but rather good things that we make ultimate things. I’ve read numerous questions over the years designed to help one identify his or her idols, and these can be helpful diagnostic tools, both for individuals and accountability partners. But in preparing for a recent small group Bible study, I ran across a tool I hadn’t seen before.

This Bible study focused on the topic of patience. In Colossians 3:12, we read that we should “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…” (NASB) This passage makes a clear connection between patience and the heart, and in preparing this study I had a chance to think more carefully about the practical outworkings of this connection.

When we’re tempted to impatience, it is because of a desire. Some person, situation, or limitation is between me and something I want. Since idols are often overdesires (desiring something so much that it becomes an object of worship), when we are impatient it is often an idol peeking out from under the corners of our heart. We worship the idol more than God, and we sin. We become angry, bitter, resentful, withdrawn, etc., because our idol consumes us and we refuse to wait on the Lord.

There is a helpful corollary to this, then: one way to hunt for idols is to see when you are tempted to impatience. Try to find the related desire that is not being fulfilled, and you won’t be far away from identifying an idol of your heart. Repenting of the sin and tearing down the idol are the next steps, but that should be left for another post.

Perhaps an example would be helpful. When helping my older daughter brush her teeth the other night, she was not working as quickly as I wanted. She was distracted and playful, despite my repeated commands to focus on the task at hand. I quickly became impatient, and while my impatience mostly rumbled beneath the surface, in my heart, it briefly boiled over into angry, short words with my daughter too. Her teeth eventually got clean and my daughter went to bed, but this was not a proud moment for me.

What was the problem? Instead of being happy with this opportunity to spend time with my daughter, I wanted to rest at the end of a long day. And when she didn’t obey? I wanted to be in control, and I thought I deserved her obedience. I was bowing down to the idols of comfort and control, believing lies instead of the truth. 

Identifying these idols didn’t happen in the moment of sin, but it was a helpful exercise after the fact. And it has helped me in the days since this incident — by God’s grace, it has been easier for me to wait for and listen to and love my daughter.

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