While the world pushes us to climb the ladder of success, God calls us to climb a different ladder.
How to you love that person that just bothers you? Is there any way to love them? Yes, but we have to learn to love like Jesus.
It won't do to “be good for goodness’ sake”—we must be good for Goodness’s sake—for God’s sake, whose goodness we daily enjoy.
In Psalm 131, David shows us how he was able to calm and quiet his soul and find the peace that passes understanding.
Humans have always loved idols. Israel’s history shows us that no matter how many miraculous wonders we witness, our hearts will always elevate the created before the Creator (Rom.1:25). What began as statues to Baal, Asherah poles, and Greek temples, continues to permeate our culture. These days, our idols look a bit nobler—a spouse, children, happiness, comfort, health—but they enslave us just like the idols of old.
Our idols don’t just settle for helping us break the second commandment, they permeate much deeper in our lives. The Psalms tell us that those who trust idols will become like them (Ps. 135:18). We may not turn into stone and wood, but eventually, the idols of our heart can chip away at significant areas in our spiritual lives.
The idols we create are blind, deaf, and mute, and if we continue serving them, we’ll eventually become the same. If left undisturbed and ignored, we may begin to lose our own sight, become deaf to others, and render our speech useless to the surrounding world.
Blind to Our Sin
One of the first ways we become like our idols is in becoming blind to our own sin. If we are in Christ, we have been given a new heart (Ezek. 36:26) and our eyes are opened to the gospel, yet the temptation to turn back towards darkness endures. It’s why the author of Hebrews exhorted the church to take care that no one has an unbelieving heart, “leading you to fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12-13).
Each person, feeling, circumstance, or dream we hold up as more important than God is ultimately a declaration of unbelief. Our idols make us believe that God won’t satisfy more than our they can. Our idols make us think that God’s grace isn’t enough, so we must make our own rules. They make us think that seeking our own comfort is more worthwhile than seeking the Lord’s glory.
We may not say these truths out loud, but the subtle deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13) will continue to feed our idols of unbelief, make excuses, and harden us to the sin we harbor. Some of us may continue to idolize health, blind to the ways we are trusting in our workouts to give us the peace that only God can give. Others may cloak our approval-seeking in righteous words like service or encouragement, but in reality, our idols stay hidden behind the sin we can’t see.
The trouble is, we can’t crush what we can’t see. This is where the passage in Hebrews gives us great hope. We must “exhort one another daily” (Heb. 3:13). Just as we could not open our eyes to Christ without his work, we need the Holy Spirit and Christ’s church to open our eyes to our blindness—even after salvation. It’s our brothers and sisters who can illuminate the darkness, and the Holy Spirit alone who can give us back our sight and put to death the idols of unbelief in our hearts.
Deaf to Our Brothers and Sisters
Our idols can make us become blind to our own sin, but they can also cause us to become deaf to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We see this played out in big and small ways in the church, whether it’s the prideful parent who refuses to seek any outside help, or the church member holding his politics so tightly that he can’t hear the concerns of a brother in Christ. Our strong opinions, steeped in the idolatry of self, can keep us so attuned to our own views that we can’t stop to give grace or charity to our dissenter.
But Christ calls us to something radical. He not only tells us to open our ears but to go even further by outdoing one another with honor (Rom. 12:10). We are told to bless those who hurt us, to be humble in our own eyes, and do what is honorable in the sight of all (Rom.12:14-17).
Beginning to knock down these idols begins by first finding the root. Where are we deaf to the concerns and wisdom of our brothers and sisters in Christ? What topics do we bristle at hearing a word of correction? Or what topics do we refuse to seek wisdom in?
You’ll likely have to ask a trusted brother or sister to help you see what you cannot. Of course, our brothers and sisters in these disagreements are sinners too, but Jesus tells us our first step is always to look upon our own sin (Matt. 7:3).
Mute to the World
Finally, our idols can mute our voice to the world around us, which fleshes out in two ways. The first is seen when our idols make us look exactly like the world around us. When we idolize comfort, a job, or happiness, we will inevitably be tossed into anxiety when these idols are not met. When the job is lost or life gets difficult, we will look no different than the unbeliever in the cubicle sitting right to us.
As Christians, however, our lives should look different because our hope is completely different. That doesn’t mean that we can’t feel stressed or experience difficulty, but it does mean that our priorities should look different than the unbelievers around us. When we continue to let the idols of our hearts take over, they rob us of the chance to preach a different and beautiful story to the world around us.
Secondly, our idols keep us from purposefully entering into the lives of those around us. Who has time to develop a relationship with a neighbor when we are too busy with our own projects? How do we encourage the woman behind us in the checkout when we are too concerned with our phone? The nature of man-made idols is that they must be maintained. We must keep feeding our need for approval, tone our body, multiply our entertainment—and when we do we are left with little time for else.
But again, Jesus calls us to something radical. We have a different mission than maintaining our idols. Instead, we are to give up our hold on everything in this world to gain everything in the beauty of Christ. We are to make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20) and to proclaim his name among the people God has put around us. And if we want to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have in Christ (1 Pt. 3:15), we must first clear away the idols that rob us of that voice.
Good News for Idolaters
While it’s painful to see the grip of idolatry, the good news is that we worship the God who stands above every idol. Just as the ancient statue of Dagon fell to the ground before the Ark of the Covenant, our own idols will fall prostrate before the true God of heaven (1 Sam. 5:2).
We don’t have to feel defeat but can seek out our idols so we can destroy them. We can stop to see what has been keeping us from speaking the gospel to those around us. We can ask God to show us where our ears have been closed to our family in Christ. And we can ask from the Holy Spirit and our brothers and sisters to help show us the sin we can’t see.
We may start to become like our idols, but it’s the power of the cross—the same power that raised Jesus from the dead—that gives us the power to crush them. Each day we can lean on the God who continues to breathe life and hope into our blind, deaf, and mute hearts.
Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She has contributed to various online publications such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.
I know it’s coming. I’ve read it before. But maybe the story will be different this time. But alas, it’s not. It never is.
Genesis 3 always follows Genesis 1 and 2. It’s like watching a train wreck over and over again, and I’m a passive observer with the unfortunate privilege of being an eye-witness to chaos and destruction. Powerless to stop it but forced to watch.
If I had written Genesis 3, things would have gone differently. Adam would’ve done his job, protected his bride, resisted temptation, vanquished the serpent, and left a heroic legacy for the rest of mankind.
But I don’t get to rewrite the story because the story itself tells us its Author is perfect. He doesn’t make mistakes.
Sometimes, I need the story to correct me. That’s what Psalm 127 does. It doesn’t let me long for what could’ve been, but rather live wholly—and trustingly—in what is.
A Garden Psalm
One of fifteen Psalms of Ascent—a set of songs regularly sung by Hebrew pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem—Psalm 127 reminds pilgrims that in every aspect of our created reality, God can and should be trusted.
And that really is the point of the garden story in Genesis—that God can and should be trusted.
But we have a hard time trusting him, don’t we?
When viewed alongside Genesis, we discover that the 127th psalm is a garden psalm. It reminds us of the origin story that set the assigned rhythms and responsibilities of human life. It’s a psalm about how life was intended to be lived, how we’ve fallen away, and how we can once again be brought back into God’s intended design.
Psalm 127 is a hope-filled corrective in a fallen world, a glimpse into how a garden life is once again possible because of the reality of redemption. Ours is a fallen world, yes, but living as we were intended is also possible, even in the midst of brokenness.
To help him (and us) live as intended, God gave Adam a three-fold job description in the garden, which is echoed in Psalm 127: work, protection, and multiplication.
The Dignity of Labor
God made it clear that humanity’s role on the earth included the responsibility of work:
“Fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” (Gen. 1:28, emphasis added).
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it . . .” (Gen. 2:15, emphasis added).
Work, labor, was not originally a toilsome thing, but as a result of the Fall, God cursed mankind’s labor with toil, making it a vanity, a chasing after the wind. It’s no wonder, then, that the psalmist says,
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain . . . It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” —Psalm 127:1a, 2
Rather than working from our identity, we fallen humans tend to try to work for our identity.
This misplaced identity comes when the creator God—the original and primary Worker—is disconnected from our work. We work in our own strength and for our own purposes, so our work ends up defining who we are. Those who “rise up early and go late to rest” are enslaved to their own need for validation through accomplishment or success.
Humans were made to work for God. Divorced from this reality, we allow our work to define us rather than allowing God to define both us and our work. Work becomes toil when it’s disconnected from the God who “works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
Since God should be our defining reality, work—a good thing in itself—has a natural limit. Labor should not be all-encompassing. It shouldn’t consume us. Work’s natural end is God-protected rest: “for he gives to his beloved sleep.” This is the natural rhythm that God himself observed on the seventh day when he rested from all his labors (Gen. 2:1-3). Without this rhythm, we cannot live as God intended.
The Role of Vigilance
Adam’s second responsibility in the garden was protection: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15, emphasis added). The Hebrew word translated as “keep” carries the idea of protection: Adam was to guard the garden. But from what? Hadn’t all of God’s creation been good?
From this language, it’s clear there’s an imminent threat, an Enemy at the gate. Adam’s job was to protect the garden from this insidious intruder.
Sadly, Adam wasn’t up for the task. He let his guard down and the intruder entered the garden, successfully tempted Eve, and Adam found himself falling into disobedience alongside her.
Psalm 127 echoes this protective responsibility with the image of the watchman:
“Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” —Psalm 127:1b
We Americans are a people obsessed with security and safety. Unlike the ancient Israelites who lived with constant threats from nature, disease, and foreign armies, our days are passed in relative ease.
We’re shocked when our sense of peace is invaded by natural disasters, terrorism, or senseless acts of violence. We observe tragedy on the news, then quickly coddle ourselves back into a sense of safety. We pad our bank accounts, increase our insurance coverage, and buy safer cars. But without God’s protection, it’s all for naught.
Implied in the verse above is that the watchman is trusting in his own vigilance to bring safety. He is not trusting in God’s protection. This was Adam’s weakness as well: forgetting to trust in his guardian, the God who had created him. Adam failed to turn to God for help in his protective role, trusting instead in his own vigilance and power.
What would have happened if Adam (or Eve) had turned to God and cried out for help in that moment? We’ll never know.
There is only One who can truly protect us. We have one Shepherd who knows the number of hairs on our head. In our moments of greatest fear and anxiety, we must look to him. When we do, we live into the lives we were made for.
The Task of Multiplication
The final task assigned to our first parents was multiplication: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth . . .’” (Gen. 1:28).
Psalm 127 echoes these blessings:
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” —Psalm 127:3-5
Children naturally reflect the ones who bore them. This was God’s intention in calling humanity to multiply, that those made in his image were to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” with his reflected glory (see Num. 14:21; Hab. 2:14). It’s an undeserved reward for men and women to join God in this glorious task.
When we partner with God in the work of multiplication, we’re pictured as warriors, armed with the arrows of proliferation. The enemy confronts each of us at the gates with the lie uttered since the garden: “You can’t trust God. He doesn’t love you. You aren’t blessed. He can’t use you.”
And yet in our work of multiplication—whether it be bearing and raising children or making spiritual children through disciples (see Matt. 28:18-20)—God uses us despite ourselves.
And like all human tasks, unless the Lord does his work, we remain fruitless, unequipped for the battle at hand and defeated by the lie. But equipped with our God-given arrows—the fruit of grace in our lives—we meet the enemy at the gates, ready and triumphant, just as we were intended.
You Had One Job
Adam had one job: to trust God. His sin was thinking he could work, protect, and multiply without God. Psalm 127 reminds us of our own similar tendency and calls us instead to a life of trust.
This kind of life is possible because there is one who did the job Adam couldn’t: Jesus. He boarded the train wreck of this world, bore its destructive consequences, and is putting it all back together.
We can’t rewrite the story, but Jesus has written it for us and redeemed the ending.
So instead of looking back at the garden and lamenting the Fall, we must look forward to Christ. We can trust what he has accomplished, rest in his finished work, and join him in the work he has for us.
Let’s meet our enemy at the gate with a ready answer: Our trust is in Christ, the Lord.
Mike Phay serves as Lead Pastor at FBC Prineville (Oregon) and as a Staff Writer at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He has been married to Keri for over 21 years, and they have five amazing kids. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikephay) or check out his blog.