Holly Satterthwaite shares how identifying and killing the idols in our lives puts God back in the driving seat and makes us better witnesses of Christ’s love
Have you ever had an image of what you wanted your life to look like but felt that bitter pang when reality didn’t align? When I married my husband and moved to London, part of my heart forgot to jump into the suitcase. It continued to yearn for suburbia. Open green spaces on the doorstep. A house with a garden. Picking strawberries with a couple of kids and a dog.
For the first five years of our marriage I let this desire direct my decision-making. I tried to defy God’s voice to keep this aspiration within reach. It was a comforting dream, but it was also a deep-rooted idol that dishonoured God and diluted my salty-ness for the gospel.
Things that control our lives
In Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John (Crossway Books), Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones describes an idol as “anything in our lives that occupies the place that should be occupied by God alone…anything that holds my life and my devotion…anything to which I give much of my time and attention, my energy and my money; anything that holds a controlling position in my life.”
They often come in alluring ‘packaging’, making promises they have no ability to or intention of keeping. It might be career success, marriage, motherhood…or in my case, a garden. None of these things are bad in themselves, but when we trust them to bring fulfilment and allow them to sit in the driving seat of our lives we’re uprooting Jesus’ rightful place. When that happens, we drift dangerously off course, accumulate guilt and shame, get waylaid with disappointment, and find the witness our cities and villages so desperately need grows dim.
Putting that idol to death
When my husband Howard started leading a central London church, it was time to let my suburbia idol die. It wasn’t that I could never live there; but that living there couldn’t be what I was living for. That’s easier to type than to apply. I’m not sure you can communicate the emotional web of anxiety, pride and fear with which an idol can entangle you using words alone.
But how do we kill these evil idols? 1 John is bookended with two instructions: “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7) and “dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). The first step to overcoming an idol is to bring it into the light. 1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Confession is how we should bring our sinful idolatry to the one who has already broken its power through the cross and resurrection. By doing so, we don’t find condemnation, but joyful liberation, grace and a renewed strength to stand firm. Our dim glow can shine again as we remember the depth of our Saviour’s love for us, and why he alone is worthy and able to sit in the driving seat.
The best driver
In December 2017, we moved into a fifth-floor, central London flat (a beautiful one loaned by the church). There’s no garden, but we have transformed the 4m x 1m fire escape into a balcony. Walking my kids to school against the commuter rush is like wading through thick mud. But do you know what we found? Jesus is the best driver. He doesn’t always take you where you wanted, or by convenient routes, but his journey and destination are always perfect. I may not live in suburbia, but I have learned that strawberries grown and picked on fire escapes bring joy, too.