Don’t give power to powerless things

We have a little garden plot here are Safe Haven Farm. It isn’t much, and it’s actually much less now than it used to be. But we get some fresh veggies out of it.

When I was younger, we’d eat out of the garden. We had potatoes and carrots and onions. We had everything to make salsa, except the tortilla chips. I loved the results of gardening. What I didn’t like was the work behind getting those results.

In this part of Kansas, our soil is fertile, but it’s filled with clay, which makes digging difficult. And then there are the weeds.

Weeds, weeds, everywhere, from dandelions to cheat grass and everything in between. Weeds make gardening difficult. They sap the nutrients from the fruit-bearing plants, and sometimes they’re difficult to distinguish too.

And even if you can tell the difference between a weed and a real plant, usually their roots are woven together, so you can’t pull one up without killing the other.

I hate weeds. Everyone does. I think that’s one of the reasons they’re part of the original curse (Genesis 3:17). But weeds don’t just affect our gardens. Weeds can affect our lives too. Weeds can be spiritual.

Idolatry is a spiritual weed. Ever thought about that?

When I think about idols and idolatry, I envision mass groups of people in robes bowing down to bronze statues or singing in foreign languages. Like some twisted church service thousands of years in the past when people didn’t know any better.

Maybe in some cases that’s true. Historically some cultures did bow down before forged statues, but you won’t see that kind of idolatry happening in the United States. American idolatry is much more subversive.

Sports. Artists. Politicians. Performers. Your job. Your friends. Your family. Idols can take the shape of even the most innocent relationships. It’s the power you give them over your life that makes them idols.

Those bronze statues people worshiped in ancient times had no power at all, except what the people who bowed down surrendered (Jeremiah 10:5).

We all have idols. Let’s just admit that right now, because it’s true. We all have something or someone in our lives that is fighting to take precedence over God and His plans. The question is who you’re willing to surrender your life to.

An idol is anything that takes the place of God in your life. So to figure out what idols are in your life, you have to ask yourself what role God should be filling.

God is our comforter. He should be the one who helps us manage our stress. Are you turning to something else other than His Word or His promises to calm you down? That’s an idol.

God is our sufficiency. He should be the one who makes us whole. Are you looking to another relationship to complete you? Are you looking to something you can achieve to make you feel worthwhile? That’s an idol.

God is our security. He should be the one who makes us feel safe, who makes us feel loved. Are you looking to what another person makes you feel to sooth your insecurity? Are you looking to your success personally to make you feel safe? That’s an idol.

Your sports team may be a community, but it shouldn’t be the root of your community. Your job may be how God provides for you, but never forget that it is still God who provides. And you may never be happy with the way you look, but you should always remember that God made you the way you are. And God doesn’t make mistakes.

But identifying idols is only one part of this. And it’s the easiest part. Removing idols from your life is difficult, painful work. Not only does it hurt you, but it hurts the people around you.

You have to dig up your life to expose the roots of the problem. So do the people who care about you.

If you’re blessed (like I am), you have people in your life who love you so deeply that they’re willing to experience the pain of uprooting your idols alongside you. No matter how much it hurts them or inconveniences them, they’ll hang in there right beside you. They’ll walk you through the pain and the heartache of realizing how flawed you actually are, and they’ll love you throughout it all.

But how much better would it be if we didn’t let idols put down roots in our lives? Remember, idols only have the power we give them (Jeremiah 10:5). So wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we didn’t give our idols any power at all?

That job you think matters so much? Instead of trusting your finances, how about you try trusting your faith?

That person whose opinion will make or break you? How about you care less about what they think and more about what God says?

That relationship you think you can’t lose? Ask God what He thinks about you and then reevaluate how the people in your life treat you.

Identify what could become an idol before it puts down roots. It’s like pre-treating your garden plot for weeds before you plant. That way you can pull it out before it damages your life and the lives of those around you. (Matthew 13:24-30)

God has give you the power to choose who will control your life. You can either hand that power over to powerless things, or you can give it back to God, who can actually do something with it.

Which do you think is a better idea?

Worshiping productivity is wasted effort

When you look at your to-do list and you see all the little check marks beside the tasks you’ve finished, what do you feel? Proud? Accomplished? Relieved? Maybe all of the above.

Being a person who finishes things is a gift. It’s not something that everyone you meet is actually capable of. Finishing things is hard work. It takes time and effort and focus, but once you dot that final i or turn that final page, you have the most tremendous sense of peace. Maybe that’s just me. But until that moment when that project is complete, some part of your brain never shuts up about it.

Being productive is good and important, but productivity is like any other achievement. If you don’t keep it in perspective, it can take over your life.

workaholicToday’s verses are Psalm 127:1-2.

Unless the Lord builds a house,
the work of the builders is wasted.
Unless the Lord protects a city,
guarding it with sentries will do no good.
It is useless for you to work so hard
from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
for God gives rest to his loved ones.

We can work as hard as we are able to accomplish something great, but if it’s not what God wants you do to, it won’t accomplish anything.

I like the feeling of looking at my list of tasks and seeing all the check marks. I like knowing that I’ve done a lot today. But somehow, the wires in my brain got crossed, and somewhere along the line I started looking at my level of productivity as a measurement of my effectiveness as a Christ-follower.

I don’t know when, but at some point I started judging how good a Christian I was by how much I could accomplish in a day. And there’s only one word for that type of thinking: idolatry. Because my productivity level had become the measuring stick I used to determine if I were good enough. No, not good enough to be saved. But good enough so that people around me wouldn’t be disappointed in me.

On one hand, productivity is a great thing. Being able to get a lot of things done at once is remarkable. Being able to juggle multiple balls at the same time is a skill everyone appreciates. But when you start putting more emphasis on getting things done than doing what God has told you to do, you have a problem.

Ah, but what if the things you’re trying to get done are things God has told you to do? What do you do then?

If you think that God has called you to work from 6 in the morning to 11 at night every day for a month straight with irregular lunch and dinner times (if you eat at all), you need to be sure that’s really what He wants. Because I just did that. And looking back on it now, I can tell you that I’m not sure it was His intention for me to do it at all.

Sure, all of it is great stuff. And God used it in a big way. And it made a lot of people really, really happy. But did I agree to do all of it because He told me to? Or did I agree to do all of it because I wanted to do it? Because I wanted to check things off my list? Because I wanted to feel useful?

Just like with so many other struggles in life, I really think the key is perspective. Productivity isn’t bad. Can you imagine if no one was productive? But productivity shouldn’t be used to shape someone’s identify, and it should never be used to dictate how good (or bad) a Christ-follower you are.

That doesn’t mean Christ-followers are free to shirk responsibility whenever they feel like it, but it does mean that, succeed or fail, God will still love us regardless. I don’t have to finish this project on time to be a good Christian. I don’t have to hit my manuscript deadlines to be a good Christian. I don’t have to do everything everyone asks me to do to be a good Christian.

Don’t base your worth on what you get done today. Don’t judge your effectiveness as a Christ-follower on whether you meet your deadlines. All of those things are what you do—not God. When it comes to your worth, God has already spoken on that note. He gave His most precious blood to pay for you. And as far as your effectiveness? Live how God says to live. Do your best. God does the rest. It has nothing to do with whether or not you put a checkmark on a task list.

Worshiping productivity may make you an extraordinary employee for a while, but when you burn out because you’ve lost your purpose and direction, you won’t do anybody any good while you’re picking up the pieces.