Thursday, July 24, 2008

Altars to Achievement

"If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink." (John 7:37b)

Feeling a bit parched? Searching to quench that thirst with an iced tea or Diet Coke? Dive into the Word for real refreshment!I try to be diligent in my Bible reading and am often rewarded by God's speaking to my heart through particular scriptures. I pause and sometimes even write them down. The reflection usually ends there, however. This year, I would like to pursue the verses that God lays on my heart by pondering how He wants me to apply these verses in my life.

Here is what spoke to me this week:

"Their land has been filled with idols;

They worship the work of their hands,

that which their fingers have made."

Isaiah 2:8

Isaiah spoke these verses to the people of Judah seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, yet they are appropriate to our lives today.

In my last Thirstin' for the Word post, I wrote about the Bible study that I was doing and how it intersected with the sermon given by my pastor. This concept of idolatry is still on my heart, and this verse stood out to me this week in its treatment of one of the most prevalent and insidious idols in our culture.

Isaiah was referring to actual graven images in these verses, which to modern-day readers seem foolish. How could these people put their faith in statues that they had made?

Despite our incredulity at these people's misplaced faith, we have our own tangible idols: diplomas, certificates, trophies--all the evidence of our own achievement. How often are these items arranged in a place of honor in our homes, shrines, if you will, to what we have accomplished. In contrast, it may be difficult to find any physical evidence of God in our homes, other than a Bible coated with dust.

Sometimes these idols of our achievement are less readily seen. They may be the note that congratulates us on a job well done that is tucked away to be re-read one day to give us that "needed" confidence boost. Even less apparent, it may be spoken words of praise or approving glances that we treasure in our heart, raising our sense of worth.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am not saying that what we accomplish is worthless or that to have a healthy sense of self-esteem is wrong. However, like so many idols, achievement is a good thing that can become bad. It is when we have confidence in ourselves and what we can do to the exclusion of confidence in God that our achievements become pride and idolatry.

Back in my teaching life before I had children, I had my own little altar to the accomplishments of Celly B. Behind my desk at in my classroom ranged my diplomas from college and graduate school and a certificate proclaiming my National Board certification. I had paper weights and clocks engraved with laudatory words for teaching awards. I saved notes from students, parents, and colleagues that reminded me that I was a good teacher. Notebooks from workshops and presentations I had led were stacked on display in my bookcases. Whenever I walked into my domain, I was surrounded with evidence of what I had achieved.

When I left teaching to stay home with my new baby, God effectively tore down that altar I had created to myself. Those things that I had accomplished were unimportant in my new role as a mother. My former sense of identity and confidence were demolished. Slowly, I came to realize that what I thought I had accomplished on my own I had done with God's help and that He would provide me with what I needed to be a good mother:

"Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God." (2 Corinthians 3:5)

When we rely on ourselves and what we do to define ourselves, we will ultimately be disappointed. When we tear down our altars to achievement, we allow God to step in and reclaim His rightful place at the center of our worship.

So, what verses have spoken to you this week? Post those verses on your own blog, along with how you see that God wants you to apply them in your life. Then, provide your link below so that we can drink from one another's wells of scripture.


boutcrazy said...

Looks like we were both up early this morning. I'll stop back by later today to read your to work now. Have a great day and thank you for doing this.

Kathryn said...

the Lord, reminding me that He is pleased with my efforts ... and pleasing Him is all that matters. I will continue to pray for deeper sanctification in this area, relying on the Scriptures for my encouragement instead of my idolotrous "Encouragement" file. "Am I now trying to win approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10) "...We are not trying to please men but God, Who tests our hearts. ... We were not looking for praise from men..." (1 Thessalonians 2:4, 6) "For You have been my hope, O Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth." (Psalm 71:5) "... the LORD will be your confidence ..." (Proverbs 3:26)


PS-Hope Joel had a happy birthday yesterday! :-)

Kathryn said...

Oops! Guess my comment was too long; the first half of it is missing! Basically, Celly, I wrote that your beautiful and wonderfully expressed post was a welcome confirmation this morning. I never cared for trophies or certificates, but how I craved approval and positive feedback from others! I, too, have saved encouraging notes, cards, and e-mails from others; I even have an "Encouragement" file! Recognizing that I should be concerned only with pleasing God, I have prayed to overcome that fleshly desire. By God's grace, I have made much progress, but, very recently, the grip tightened anew. It's a much weaker grip now, but it's still a stronghold nonetheless. Your post this morning was like a sweet whisper of encouragement from the Lord Himself! Thank you. :-)


Jenn said...

Celly, that was a great post and so true of all of our lives.

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

I think about the time when I left the classroom, also, to be a home with my young children. Talk about a shift in perspective! It's taken me a long season to let go of my idols. After reading your thoughts in the matter, I further realize some that still linger close by. I will ponder these verses further today as I try to rid my life of everything that doesn't fit with life in Jesus.


Sherry said...

Thank you again for doing this. I'm so glad to join you other ladies.

boutcrazy said...

I thought about what you said all day. I looked at my desk at work, with my small achievement displayed. An award given by my company for being outstanding customer service rep. You are right, we can let achievements and recognition go to our heads and believe that we did it all by ourself. But my award reminds me that I come to a job that God has given me the talents and personality to do. He didn't give those qualities to just everyone. Customer serive is not for everyone. When we can look at a plaque or piece of paper and say..."Look what God did for me and through me", I think its okay. We sometimes need those reminders that God is using us in this world. So don't throw all those letters from the students away. Those are seeds that you planted, those are hearts you touched and God will bless that effort because you allowed Him to work through you.