When Samuel the prophet was old and gray, he had some advice for Israel.
“Do not be afraid; you [Israel] have done all this evil [asking for a king],” he said. “Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty” (1 Samuel 12:20-21 ESV).
I’ve been thinking about his admonition to not go after empty things. Commentators say he’s referring to idols. In 1 Corinthians 8:4, the apostle Paul says idols are nothing, meaning they have no power. Yet, humankind continues to be drawn to them, aren’t we?
Power, status, money and sex come to mind. But thousands more exist. Success, self-righteousness, appearance, people and dare I say, even hobbies can make the list.
Tim Keller defines an idol this way: “It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
We know such things to be empty, but we chase them anyway because they aren’t empty in the moment. Idols are replacement gods. They provide momentary senses of security, happiness or pleasure. But then they fail us and leave us feeling, well … empty.
Most of us probably wouldn’t admit that anything is more important to us than God, but Keller’s definition of an idol challenges us to ask ourselves: What absorbs our hearts and imagination more than God? What do we think about most?
If you carried around a little notebook with you all day and jotted down your primary thoughts in fifteen-minute increments, how many empty things would the page reveal?