I love to read. In fact, I’ve loved it ever since I can remember. Though how much I read took a significant nosedive when I was teaching (after staring at and grading papers for a few hours, looking at a book—no matter how entertaining or enlightening—loses some of its appeal (and all the teachers said, “Amen!”) I’ve re-entered the wonderful world of books in the last couple of years, and not just the easy, fast-read fiction I’m sure to enjoy, either; some serious, thought-provoking, challenging books. One such book is, Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone by Elyse Fitzpatrick.
It was originally published in 2001 and had been “on my list” for a few years, but it always seemed like a bit of a drag. Idols? My heart? Sounds deep and heavy and ugh. But, I finally picked it up and when I did, was absolutely amazed at how God use it.
Fitzpatrick has the beautiful gift of being able to take a big, abstract concept with lots of layers and peel it back to the essentials in a way that not only makes sense, but cuts right to the quick of my wrong thinking/believing/acting. I always write, highlight, and underline in non-fiction books that I’m reading, but I don’t think I’ve ever written, highlighted, or underlined a single book as much as this one. Page after page, Fitzpatrick unpacks the who-what-where-when-why-how of idolatry. She is kind, but firm; understanding of our sin nature, but absolutely unrelenting in the truths of God’s Word.
I don’t know about you, but I need as much of that in my life as I can get.
Here’s how she describes the purpose of the book:
“This book is written for those of you who desire to live a godly life and yet find yourself in a recurrently disappointing struggle against habitual sin. This book is written for you who find yourself constantly tripping over the same bad habit, the same embarrassing weakness, the same sinful slavery that you hoped to be free of years ago. In this book you’ll learn that idolatry lies at the heart of every besetting sin that we struggle with.” (p.15)
Though the topic of this book is heavy (idolatry), the hope in it is freedom. The author points out over and over again that our sinful experience includes idolatry, but that God, in His kindness, sanctifies us by revealing idolatry to give us something so much better than what they offer: the fullness of Himself.
As I was reading this book, the more I learned about idolatry and its connection to my desires and my worship, the more I began to see much of my life with a different lens. How I viewed myself, how I compared myself to others, how I interacted with food, what I find security in, what I love, how I love it, how I spent my time, what I spent money on, how I thought about my family – the list goes on and on.
Though finishing this book didn’t mean I could triumphantly stand and proclaim myself “idol-free” – it did provide me with a framework, context, and theology of both idolatry and worship. I have come back to the thoughts and ideas that Elyse Fitzpatrick faithfully presents over and over since reading it. And, even as I flipped through some well-worn pages in writing this post, I find myself thinking, “Yeah, it’s probably time to read this again.” It’s full of truth that’s worth returning to – truths that I am prone to quickly forgetting.
I thought I’d leave you with a few teaser quotes to whet your appetite for the richness of this book:
On what idolatry is:
“Idols aren’t just stone statues. No, idols are the thoughts, desires, longings, and expectations that we worship in the place of the true God. Idols cause us to ignore the true God in search of what we think we need.” (p.23)
Doesn’t that simple definition bring up all kinds of thoughts? Make you a little uncomfortable, but in a good way that you probably need to explore?
On how sin is linked to idolatry:
“The sin of unbelief lies at the heart of all other sins and particularly at the heart of idolatry… When we fail to believe the truth about who Jesus is and miss the impact of His astounding work in suffering and dying for our sin, it will be impossible to resist the allurement of the gods of this earth as they whisper their promised pleasures to us.” (p.65)
Oh man, this specific chapter has been instrumental in how I think about my sin and how prone my heart is to idolatry. I’ve seen over and over how my sin (stemming from my thoughts and desires) truly is almost always linked to unbelief of some kind.
“…emotions are the mirrors of our heart. Our emotions reveal our thoughts and intentions; they reveal the judgments we’ve made about our circumstances…Our emotions respond to and reflect our inner thoughts, and it’s only as we center these thoughts on God’s character that we find joyful praise spring up from our heart.” (p.198-199)
Oh, the emotions! They are so helpful and necessary and can be so deceitful in the same breath. My emotions always feel like a tangle, and in this book I felt like Fitzpatrick was able to help me untangle some things and draw straight lines between where my emotions come from, when & why they’re helpful and God-given, and how to leverage them for benefit instead of destruction.
Have I convinced you that you need to read this yet?
Whether you think you “need” to understand/learn more about/think about idolatry or not, I promise you that reading this book is well worth the time you’ll invest in it. And if you want to talk about it after you read it, I know a girl who might be interested in meeting for coffee.