Now the country that we came from,
They play silver melodies,
And the kings and queens would write their dreams,
On silver pages we would read.
We were taken through the shadows,
Were we carried through the night,
When the sun appeared,
My God my fears of silver melted in the light,
And we saw the world with different eyes.
From Silver by The Gray Havens
Near the turn of the year I was introduced to a band (husband-wife duo) called The Gray Havens. I gave their songs a listen and they drew me in with haste. They combine melodic folk rock, storytelling, and theological depth in a rare and beautiful way I had never heard.
Shortly thereafter, a friend posted on Facebook that he would soon be attending their concert held at the Christian Church in a small town twenty miles to my south (Rich Hill, MO). I was in! One of their songs they played was Silver. Lead singer, Dave Radford, explained how silver represents things in life that can be very good things, but instead of letting them point us to the One who is greater we turn them into the greater.
Recently, I preached Exodus 32&33 where Moses had been on Sinai for forty days and the people encamped below grew impatient and took their eyes off God and his promises. These were a people who had seen God’s mighty hand through ten plagues and the parting of the sea as he rescued them. When they complained for a lack of water and food, he provided. As they traveled, during the day they had seen God’s glory lead them as a pillar of smoke; and at night as a pillar of fire. They heard the voice and presence of God thunder and shake Sinai as he called them my treasured possession.
Yet, in all of that experience of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and majesty they bowed themselves before a gold calf and celebrated its presence as their god. They turned their hearts to a worthless idol.
Idolatry is the chief sin. When Eve listened to the serpent’s voice, ate of the fruit and gave to Adam in rebellion to God, it was with the serpent’s promise you will be like God—a poke of pride revealing the underlying idolatry to be self gods and goddesses. When God gave the people the first two of ten commands they were: you will have no other gods besides me and you will make no graven images and worship no images—both speaking against idolatry. In Romans 1, Paul said the refusal to worship God and instead worship images and creatures resulted in God’s wrath and the judgment to let us follow our own darkened hearts into all sorts of evil.
Idolatry, the root sin, is deceptive and dangerous and appears in many forms.
Even as followers of Jesus, we must guard ourselves against idols. The apostle John abruptly concluded his short first letter by warning his beloved church, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
In our western culture where we see ourselves enlightened beyond the silly rituals and idol carvings of other cultures (ancient and modern), we tend to lose sight of this danger. After all, we don’t carve a half dog, half man from wood and set it on our fireplace. Yet our hearts can still be stolen away by idols.
We value pleasure, be it in food, sex, or exercise. We value power and rising to the top of the chain. We value money and possessions, and even call it success and the American dream. We value fame and indulge our talents or lack thereof in shows that even have idol in the name. We value family and will run ourselves ragged to keep our children happy or to live vicariously through them.
And none of these things in themselves are bad. God created us for pleasure, the Psalms even say that in God’s right hand there are pleasures forevermore. The world needs leaders and supervisors in power, especially men and women with godly character who will help those they lead realize their potential. In 1 Timothy we are told to both enjoy what we have and also share with others; the more we gain the more we can give. God has used famous people to spread his gospel to a larger audience than most will reach (think: Billy Graham). God designed family as the most basic social network.
But when these take center stage of our hearts, they become the silver the Gray Havens sing about. They may not be carved images on mantles, but they are nonetheless our idols and our functional gods. They are the things for which we live, eat, sleep, work, and dream.
We must not settle for silver. We must not elevate lesser things to give the satisfaction that we can only truly find in the Greater.
To keep ourselves from idols, we must do two things. First, we must identify potential idols. The question to reflect upon is: What commands the greatest passions of your life? In other words—what makes you most happy? What do you feel you cannot live without? What makes you angry? What upsets you or saddens you if it is taken away? Then when we see idols on the throne in our hearts, we confess them and repent.
Second, we must keep looking to Jesus as the greatest treasure. He is the Savior-King, the one who gave himself for us that we might live for him. He is the true source of joy—the light which melts the silver so that we see the world with different eyes…
To see him as greater we must praise his greatness. He is worthy of worship. We must read, think upon, and hide in our hearts God’s word. It is the Bible that ultimately leads us away from idols and to Christ that we can see and experience Jesus more fully. We must pray; and I would say even pray like Moses did in the face of Israel’s idolatry: please show me your glory! Experiencing the glory of God exposes our idolatry and sinfulness, but also leads us to redemption, which drives our praise of God and compels us on mission into the world (think, Isaiah 6).
Don’t settle for silver. Yearn for the Greater.