Since the day my Varsity volleyball coach asked us to list three goals for the season, I’ve been drawn to goal-setting and the process of pushing aside everything that could possibly obstruct me from reaching my goal. I’ve been the live-with-all-your-heart type, and whether we’re talking about my career, my hobbies, or my creative pursuits, I don’t like doing anything half-way or half-heartedly.
But what happens when the goal you wrote at the top of the list becomes an idol?
It happens. Whether it’s the goal of running a sub-five-minute mile, climbing to the top of the corporate ladder in any given company, or losing ten pounds, it’s all too easy for a healthy goal to become an unhealthy idol.
Here are just a few indicators that the goal you’re chasing might just be an idol:
- You think about it in an almost constant undercurrent of subconscious thought.
- You sacrifice significant amounts of time with the people you love in your pursuit of your goal.
- The people you love become disgruntled with the pursuit of your goal.
- You begin to feel angry, anxious, or stressed when it seems it’s taking too long or you’re being hindered in some way.
- You feel like your heart’s been torn in two when you encounter a major setback.
- Your goal is mostly about you and makes little positive impact on the people in your life.
- Your goal has very little to do with loving God or loving other people.
I’ve made idols of all sorts of goals. What starts as a God-given incentive to join him in what he is doing becomes a self-centered imperative to make much of my own life. Throughout the course of my life, I’ve made idols of the decorations on the living room wall, running, comfort, collecting things, dieting, perfect grades, state and district titles in athletics, creative lesson plans, and much more.
So what are we to do when we realize we’ve turned our goals to idols that are sucking the energy, spark, and focus from our lives?
In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul writes:
And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play…Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:7,14 (NKJV)
We’re called to flee from the idols set up in our lives. But how do you flee when your idol is something you’re forced to face every day? How do you flee when your idol is your job, your house, your child, or your wardrobe?
We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB)
Casting down our idols begins in the mind. To stop the cycle of perseverating over a thought, idea, object, or pursuit, we replace the incessant thoughts with the truth of God’s Word. We take our thoughts captive and focus on our first two callings in life: Loving God and loving others (Luke 10:27, my paraphrase). If a thought doesn’t lead us to greater love for God and greater love for others, if it doesn’t honor Christ, we take it captive and replace it.
There’s a common phrase in our culture that tells us we need to “let go” of thoughts that aren’t obedient to Christ, but 2 Corinthians 10:5 speaks a different word of advice: “we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
We’re called to take our thoughts captive, ask where they came from, and closely examine them by shining the light of truth upon them.
Here are some Words of truth to replace the idolatrous thoughts that encumber many of us:
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8 NASB)
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV)
let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB)
Casting down idolatrous goals doesn’t mean we stop setting goals altogether. God is a God of order, organization, and kingdom purposes. When we join him in what he is doing, setting goals is healthy and reasonable. It’s simply up to us to remain alert and ensure that our goals don’t start to carry more weight than they should.