For as long as I can remember, far before I even realized it, time has been important to me. Not as in – what time is it?, although that probably has its place as well, as I often feel like I’m racing the clock, hours of the day just slipping through my fingers, but I mean the passage of time.
Carefully planning, crafting, making space for more, rearranging and maximizing for efficiency are my jam. It is a casual and natural bent for me, a good thing much of the time.
I am a doer, a producer, a maximizer, naturally pushing and tugging to be more productive.
And we live in a world where such attributes are often lauded.
It’s helpful to get things done. It takes a certain amount of drive to run a home with a decent size family, that isn’t in complete chaos, so my bent toward efficiency rises to the surface.
I’m a get it done girl.
But there is something important I’m learning to watch for here. Somewhere in this fertile ground of need and passion, this blending of gifts and personality and desires, lies the subtle risk of drifting off center.
Your bent and passions may be different, it’s likely that they are, yet our tendency to drift is much the same.
Consumed by a good thing, we can easily be led astray.
Recently I was reading in Exodus 32 when Moses was meeting with God on Mount Sinai. The Israelites were hanging out with Aaron down below and they all got kind of impatient as Moses seemed to be taking his time on the mountain.
We all know the story in short form. In their impatience, the Israelites asked Aaron to make them a god to lead them in Moses’ absence. Aaron makes a golden calf out of their jewelry. And the whole thing goes down hill from there.
At first glance, in modern times, the story seems sort of ridiculous.
We’re tired of waiting on the man who God has clearly done incredible miracles through, so let’s make a gold statue and follow that instead.
What an altogether bad idea, right?
However, when we dig a little deeper into the story, its not quite as crazy as it seems. Now I should note, there are plenty of scholars who have debated and hashed out this passage over the years. You can read all sorts of great commentary and interpretations online. And it’s a worthy and fascinating endeavor to do so.
That being said, taking the scripture at face value there are some obvious things we can glean.
The Israelites weren’t as crazy as we like to think.
What’s more, they weren’t much crazier than we are, even though that can be an uncomfortable pill to swallow.
You see livestock was a pretty popular specimen at that time. The Egyptians worshiped Apis, while the Canaanites worshiped Baal, both gods in the form of bulls. Geographically, when at Mount Sinai, the Israelites were right in the middle of these two locations and probably had exposure to both of them.
So when Aaron fashioned the people’s gold into a calf, it wasn’t nearly as foreign as it seems to us today. More like, what every one else seemed to be doing at the time.
Further, once the calf was finished the people announced, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” at which point Aaron built an altar in front of the calf and declared, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.”
Again these verses are debated up and down but I don’t see the Israelites jumping out on a completely wild limb here. They are simply hungry for a physical representation of their God. Waiting, they tired of silence. They know God is big and powerful. They aren’t looking to turn their back on him completely, they simply want to help him out a little bit.
Can you see how important it is to differentiate there?
We can easily cozy up in these high and prideful places because we surely aren’t melting down earrings and praying before golden calves over here, but I think the reality of the Israelites’ hearts was less like doing a 180 and more like shifting slightly off-center.
Their questions crept in quietly.
What if we worshiped God like this?
If this is good, maybe that would be better?
The questions sound hauntingly familiar of what Eve was asking herself in the garden.
Did God really say that? Because being wise couldn’t be all bad, could it?
The questions sound hauntingly familiar of what I’ve asked myself at times.
And I hate even typing that.
You see, I think we are fooling ourselves when we think the idols of our heart are black and white, when we pat ourselves on the back for not having any golden calves in our homes. The things that distance us from Christ most often present themselves in shades of gray.
The things that break down our relationship with him, that cause us to disconnect or elevate other things above him, sneak in mostly quietly – through our need for control, for answers, for Him even.
Do you see how that works? My mind is boggled by it because the Israelites really wanted more of God, they wanted Moses to lead, but in their impatience they decided to help God out a bit. We’ll make this idol so we can see him like we want to see him and then we’ll make a feast and celebrate him.
How often do we construct idols in an effort to help God out? How often do we get a stranglehold on our gifts, count them as our own and rob him of the glory?
It’s crazy to read all the things, the articulate details, God and Moses were mapping out up on that mountain, while the Israelites were just sure God had forgotten them.
I wonder how often we ruin the good things he has planned for us by choosing something other than patience, other than only Him?
There is much we can learn from the Israelites. Much we can understand if we don’t write them off as idiots and realize we are more like them with fancy clothes on, pretty planners under our arms, a screen in our hands. And our tendency to drift is every bit as real.
The brave question we should be asking is this:
God what are my idols? Where have I shifted my gaze slightly off center, bought into a cheap imitation or replacement of you? Where am I struggling to wait, to fill that space with something, anything, else?
Convict my heart, realign my focus, that I might fight temptation, ignore distraction and steel my heart, my soul and my mind on you.
May it be so.