Yet my people have forgotten me;
they burn incense to worthless idols,
which made them stumble in their ways.
We usually think of prayer as an act of saying “yes” to God. We think of it as saying “yes” to the existence of God and “yes” to a relationship with God.
But too often the God that we are unknowingly saying “yes” to is a god who is made in the image of people who have hurt us or disappointed us. Without realizing it, we often worship and serve false gods. We may intellectually affirm our belief in a God of love, but emotionally we may serve a “worthless idol” who is demanding or abusive or distant. A god who causes us to “stumble on our way.”
It is not uncommon for people to unknowingly serve false gods. The god who is punitive, the god who is impossible to please, the god who is unreliable, the god who is passive—all these gods can seem like the true and living God. These “worthless idols” may reflect what we were taught about God. Or they may reflect our private fears about God. Whatever their source, these not-Gods have power over us. But they are not God. They are not the God of unfailing love and grace.
Before we can say “yes” to the God who made us and loves us, we need to begin saying “no” to the false gods we have crafted from our fears and pain. We need to begin to remember the God of love whom we have forgotten. And we need to begin to turn away from the worthless idols who hold us captive and cause us to stumble. This vital work needs to become our prayer.
In saying “no” to false gods, the first step is to acknowledge that these false gods exist and that we have had an impact on our lives . We need to become aware of the discrepancy between the God of love and the idols whom we have worshiped and served.
Acknowledging the presence of these gods in our lives can be very painful. We do not want to see this about ourselves. We do not want to see how confused we have become. We do not want to believe that we have forgotten the One true God and have spent our days chasing after idols. But the truth always free us, no matter how painful that truth may be.
When we begin to acknowledge the presence of idolatrous attachments in our lives we can begin the process of saying “no”. This, too, may be difficult, because we are afraid of these gods. We are afraid that they are powerful. We are afraid they will punish us or abandon us. We are afraid that if we get rid of them we will have no god at all. And we are afraid to hope that the true God really is loving, really is compassionate, really is on our side.
Sometimes the prayer of saying “no” to the idols we have worshipped is something we have to do many times, even as we ask for gifts of courage and of hope.
God calls us to leave the gods that cause us to stumble and to remember the God of unfailing love.
Prayer is saying “no” to gods who are not God.
I see that I serve worthless idols
that I have crafted from my fears.
Idols who cause me to stumble.
Idols that cause me to forget you.
It is hard to trust that the idols
who are harsh and rejecting
and that you,
Love, are true.
Give me the courage to say no
to my idol gods,
give me hope that your love is real.
Sit quietly, breathing deeply and easily. Invite God to show you the idol gods you may be serving. Take some time to observe these idols. What are they like? How do they compare to the God of love and grace? How do they cause you to stumble? Ask the true God of Love to give you the courage and hope you need to begin to say “no” to these worthless idols. Let your “no” to these idols be your prayer.
from An Enduring Embrace: Experiencing the Love at the Heart of Prayer,
by Juanita Ryan, 2012