There is a strange little story in Genesis 31 about when Jacob takes his wives, and sons, and his goods and he runs away from his father in law, Laban, to return to his home land. Before they leave, Jacob’s wife, Rachel, steal’s her father’s household gods. This act is understated, it is never explained, no motive is given, no judgment is ever pronounced on it - it just happened, and it causes a potentially critical conflict between Jacob and Laban. But then the moment of conflict passes, and we never hear anything about Laban’s household gods again.
It’s an odd story, and I wouldn’t dare presume to try to explain it here, but I mention it to help illustrate something I often notice in myself. Like Rachel, I have a tendency to covertly smuggle the world’s “household gods” into the things I do as a Christian. Here are two examples:
Recognition - I am a recognition junkie. I constantly catch myself thinking “Did anyone see me do that? Will they be impressed? Will I get a compliment or commendation out of that?” Or I might think “What if something I say (or write) totally changes someone’s life?! That would be awesome!” Perhaps desiring recognition in and of itself isn’t wrong but when I do things more for the love of recognition than for the love of God or neighbor, I have just worshipped my household god of recognition.
Comfort - I love it when things are easy! When things get hard and uncomfortable, I tend to get grumpy, whiny, melancholy, passive aggressive, and I also start to feel oddly tired all of a sudden. If I had my way, life would be sleeping in, an easy walk through the woods, lots of food, no mess, a book and a cup of tea by a warm fire, a movie with my wife, and a nice long uninterrupted sleep. When I have an image of a peaceful evening in my head, and I hold on to it so tightly that my family and neighbors are an interruption, frustration, and inconvenience to my comfort, then comfort has become my household god.
The god of comfort is especially dangerous because it cripples us spiritually and in our regular day-to-day lives. We don’t like to acknowledge that life is consistently challenging by nature, so we don’t want to do what is uncomfortable. And we definitely don’t want to accept that God actually intends for us to be challenged frequently so that we will grow. Growing is uncomfortable, both physically and spiritually. So it is a sad reality that the intricate defenses we have set up around us to keep us comfortable also keep us from growing.
This applies to the corporate lives of our churches as well. Jack Miller explains:
We have surrendered our hearts to the familiar forms of our religious life and found comfort of soul, not in knowing God, but in knowing that our worship practices are firmly settled and nothing unpredictable will happen Sunday morning… Perhaps seeking personal comfort is not wrong in itself. But it is desperately wrong when it becomes the primary reason for the existence of the local church. When that happens, the local church is no living fellowship at all, but a retreat center where anxious people draw resources that enable them merely to cope with the pains of life. The church then becomes a religious cushion.
Is the god of comfort reducing the one true God into a fluffy religious cushion in your life? Is the god of recognition robbing you of opportunities for joyful, self-sacrificial ministry? What other household gods have you brought with you into the church and into your life as a Christian? Where are they lurking, waiting to twist your priorities, warp your thinking, and corrupt your relationships? Household gods like recognition, comfort, control, and even happiness know how to dress up nice so they look harmless. They can hide in plain sight while they bring ruin to our souls.
But Jesus has broken the power of these false little gods! Instead of seeking recognition, he embraced the shame and humiliation of the cross for our forgiveness. Instead of seeking comfort, he left the glories of heaven to live a life of poverty, service, and sacrifice so we could know the riches of his grace. Instead of asserting his own control over his life, he submitted himself to the perfect will of the Father, which was to save His people through Christ’s sacrifice. Instead of pursuing his own earthly happiness, Jesus, “for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2).
Only a proper exalted view of Jesus Christ in our lives can keep these idols in their place. Seek Christ humbly, and in the last day he will recognize and exalt you. Seek Christ sacrificially, and he will bring you comfort. Seek Christ submissively, and he will direct your steps perfectly. Seek Christ through tears and pain, and he will bring you such happiness as you never thought could possibly exist. Seek Christ, and he will give you those things. But seek those things before Christ, then you will get neither them, nor Christ.