An idol is anything that you worship more than God. How can you tell if something has become an idol in your life? Well, what do you talk about the most? What do you think about the most? What captures most of your emotions, time, and money? What do you most fear losing or doing poorly with or in? What can bring you both your greatest happiness and your greatest sorrow? If you honestly answer all or most of these questions with something other than Jesus, than you have discovered an idol in your life. It may be a sport, your appearance, your grades, your clothes, your electronics, or the approval of other people. Unbelievers are always enslaved to their idols, but Christians can fall victim to idolatry, too, and we must constantly guard our hearts against it (1 John 5:21). Whatever it is that has captured your heart, if it is not Jesus, it will ultimately let you down and lead to your ruin, either in this life or the next. Jesus explained the problem perfectly when He said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24).
The end of Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the giant fish shows that he has finally figured out this grand biblical truth the hard way. He recognizes that following idols is “worthless.” The physical toughness and nautical experience of the sailors onboard the boat to Tarshish could not save them from the storm, and neither could their fake statue “gods.” Only the one true God of the Bible could deliver them. Jonah knows, too, that the people of Nineveh are doomed to die in their sins as well if he does not come to them with the Lord’s message of warning – their skill in battle and gods of war will not stop their destruction. And Jonah at last realizes that his own national pride and selfishness and whatever else motivated him to disobey God was pure foolishness that almost cost him his life. So Jonah acknowledges that only his God can save, and he vows that he will now worship and serve the Lord again. Something has happened in Jonah’s heart that will lead to him once again obeying the Lord’s calling on his life. God had been waiting for Jonah to come to this resolution, and once He sees the change in Jonah’s spirit and will, He commands the fish to spit Jonah up on dry land. Jonah is free again, both literally and spiritually.
How about you? Are you willing to let God search your heart and tear down the idols that He finds? Are you willing to make changes in your life to cast down your idols and put God first? Are you looking to Jesus alone as your greatest comfort and joy in both this life and the one to come? Are you living for the One who loved you and gave Himself for You, or for something else? My prayer is that we will all glorify and enjoy Christ today as our greatest treasure and hope.
The Text (Jonah 2:8-10)
8 “Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy.
9 But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”
10 So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
Questions to Think About
- Imagine that someone followed you around today and recorded all of your conversations. If that audio file were then played in front of your homeroom, what would your classmates say was most important to you based on your own words from the last 24 hours?
- How many times this school year have you missed church because of a sports game or practice (include all-day Saturday tournaments that led you to sleep in and do homework, chores, and other stuff on Sunday)? Now, how many times this school year have you skipped a game or practice to go to church? What would a nonChristian observer say is more important to you based on your answers to these two questions?
- Jonah vowed that he would “pay” the God who saved him what he “vowed.” If you are a Christian who claims to have been saved by the amazing grace of God, what do you believe that you have vowed to give your God in return? In other words, what did you mean when you committed your life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? What has your commitment required you to sacrifice and do for your Lord?
- In the Old Testament, God’s people were often tempted to worship literal idols, or statues that were supposed to represent gods. These idols represented what their unbelieving neighbors worshipped instead of their real Creator. Today in America, most Christians are not tempted to worship these kinds of false gods. Rather, we are drawn away to the other things our lost culture worships – money and power, success and fame, comfort and pleasure, and increasingly among families – youth sports. The idols are different but the challenge is the same – we must daily choose to set aside Christ Jesus as Lord in our hearts and ask God to show us our idols and help us to tear them down from the thrones of our lives (1 Peter 3:15).
- Idolatry can happen not just when we worship the wrong gods, but also when we try to worship the right God in the wrong way. The first kind of idolatry is a breaking of the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). But the second kind of idolatry breaks the second commandment (“You shall not make for yourself a carved image…” Exodus 20:4). God gave this command to prevent His people from trying to remake Him into who they wanted Him to be instead of who He had revealed Himself to be through His Word. The most common example of this idolatry in our church and Christian school cultures today is when people overemphasize the love and mercy of God and fail to balance those traits with His holiness and wrath against sin. In other words, some Christians are tempted to think of God as some kind of “Great Grandaddy in the Sky” who winks and smiles at sin and never disciplines believers and won’t eventually judge unbelievers. The only way to avoid remaking God into something He is not is to faithfully study and hear teaching from the entire Bible rather than just the verses we want to hear. That’s a major reason that I (Mr. Reel) write these devotions 🤔 – to help young Christians learn how to study through books of the Bible and receive the whole counsel of God.