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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

“Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’...The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply...I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” - Psalm 16:1, 2, 4, 8-11

What do you most often wake up thinking about? When your head hits the pillow at night, where do your thoughts most often go? Such questions are helpful in identifying idols in our lives. As pastor and author Tim Keller so skillfully reminds us, what we most desire in life becomes our functional god. What we want most – whether it’s achievement, status, money, power, comfort, or a hundred other false deities – receives our allegiance. We trust these things to provide our lives with peace and significance. We obey the demands these idols make on us. We work late hours because of the allure of a promotion. We trade our integrity, health, or responsibilities for a moment’s satisfaction. The problem, as the Scriptures are at pains to tell us, is that idols never deliver what they promise.

The pursuit of idols disappoints both when we fall short of the their demands, and (especially) when we meet what they demand of us. As the Psalmist here reminds us, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply.” Here’s why: if we fall short of an idol’s demands – we don’t get the grades we want, we don’t attract the person we want – the idol will turn on us. No longer a source of hope, an idol unmet jabs a finger in our chest and speaks condemnation and failure over us. “You’ll never be good enough. You didn’t work hard enough. Everything you’ve done was a waste. No one likes you and no one ever will,” are the bitter taunts of an idol we’ve failed. Crueler still is an idol whose demands we’ve met. Imagine the athlete who’s finally won the championship they’ve labored a lifetime to achieve, only to find her exasperated just months later with a sense that the reward wasn’t entirely what she’d hoped for. The satisfaction lingers for a moment before an idol’s voice pipes in, “Maybe two championships will satisfy you … maybe three … maybe being the best ever,” and on it goes. The lie of “just a little bit more” erodes the soul of an idolater until there is only desperation and despair left.

So what is the alternative? The Psalmist tells us, “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.” The only way to defeat the destruction of false worship is with the soothing balm of true worship.

The Psalmist reminds us that worshipping God is the only mode in which the human heart finds ongoing life and rest. In worship, we both give to God and receive from Him. How much more reason do we, as followers of Jesus, have to absorb this truth! In stark contrast to the cruelty of false idols, when we fall short of what Jesus requires of us, He’s already provided the means by which our relationship with Him is restored to a place of health. All we need to do is turn and repent. God knows what’s best for us; He is our Creator, after all. As such, pursuit of what He requires is a reward unto itself. As the Psalmist puts it, “You make known to me the path of life.”

This is profound truth and precisely the sort of thing that ought to stir us to more fervent seeking of God during this time of fasting. Ask God to reveal any competing gods in your heart and to identify the ways in which that idol has and/or is multiplying sorrows in your life. Then turn back to Him in repentance and ask Him to make known to you the path of life, a mode of life that is ever aware of His life-giving, joyful, and eternally pleasurable Presence. 
 
Scott Jones
Ministry Fellow at Princeton
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