Yesterday I made something other than God my god. I sinned and I broke the first of the Ten Commandments. As I was reading today I came across this quote and it really kicked me in the head.
Suppose my god is sex or my physical health or the Democratic Party. If I experience any of these under genuine threat, then I feel myself shaken to the depths. Guilt becomes neurotically intensified to the degree that I have idolized finite values…suppose I value my ability to teach and communicate clearly…if clear communication has become an absolute value for me, a center of value that makes all my other values valuable…then if I [fail in teaching well] I am stricken with neurotic guilt. Bitterness becomes neurotically intensified when someone or something stands between me and something that is my ultimate value.
-Thomas C. Oden, Two Worlds: Notes on the Death of Modernity in America and Russia (IVP,1992), Chapter 6.
What struck me so hard was that in his list of hypothetical idols, the fourth one he listed was the idol that dethroned God in my heart yesterday; namely “my ability to teach and communicate clearly”. From the time I woke up yesterday, my primary thoughts and my goals all had to do with preaching well and communicating clearly at church that morning. I was thinking over my winsome illustrations and relentless logical progression through the text and was so consumed with it that I allowed myself to become rude and snappy to my family. In my mind I needed to be able to drive to the church by a certain time in order to give me the buffer zone that I needed between arriving at church and setting everything up and the time when people started arriving for the service. I felt that if I wasn’t able to get that done then I wouldn’t be able to perform well and speak eloquently to my congregation.
Bitterness becomes neurotically intensified when someone or something stands between me and something that is my ultimate value.
I became neurotically bitter because someone or something was standing between me and my ultimate goal; preaching a good sermon.
And then, surprise, surprise, when it came time for me to get up and teach the scriptures, it totally sucked! In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense (especially in light of 1st Peter 3:7) but for some reason I didn’t see it coming. I hate bad preaching, but not nearly as much as I hate preaching badly. It’s the worst feeling in the world to know that you aren’t doing justice to the text.
…if clear communication has become an absolute value for me, a center of value that makes all my other values valuable…then if I [fail in teaching well] I am stricken with neurotic guilt.
Afterwards, my confidence and my self worth were all but shattered. It’s one thing to fail in private, but another to fail in front of your own congregation. For the rest of the day I just replayed the botched message in my head, wishing I could have done it better, wishing I could have been clearer.
Yesterday was not a nice day for me. Today I had a long talk with my wife about it, and apologized and repented for what I did wrong, then I came upstairs to relax and catch up on my reading, only to get hit by this paragraph that shows me that it’s even deeper than being a little rude and then preaching poorly and feeling crummy about it, but it’s an idolatry problem, where a good thing was turned into an ultimate thing.
Preaching has the definite capacity of becoming an idol for me, and yesterday it did, much to my own and other’s detriment.
I renew my faith today in God alone as my source of joy and fulfillment, reward and satisfaction.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.
4 years ago