- Blind and excessive devotion to something/someone
- Anything or anyone that comes between you and God
- When anything becomes ultimate, it is an idol
It was never my intent to worship another god except Jehovah. By the time I found myself in full blown idolatry, I did not even know it was idolatry. I just knew I was miserable and tired and disconnected from the Lord. At first I accepted it as a normal phase of the Christian walk (boredom and disconnection from God) and simply tried to go through the motions – quiet time, go to church, read my bible, worship blah blah blah. But then our relationship with the Lord was never meant to be blah blah blah. It is not normal. The blah we feel is an indication that something is wrong. Instead of accepting it, it is time to go to the Lord in honesty and pray: Search me O God and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts. See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24). God is faithful to answer that prayer.
When I finished college over 10 years ago, I was not even thinking about marriage. I knew it is something that happens automatically. Get a job, work hard, get promoted, get a nice place, marry a Christian man (and a handsome one as well :-)) and start a family. That, to me, was the normal life. That is what I saw happen to my older friends and my first born sibling. It never crossed my mind that perhaps, just perhaps, God might have a different and unique path for me.
Five years after college, I was still single. But I was deep in the search for ‘the one’. Along that journey, I met several ‘the ones’ who as we discovered each other’s’ flaws, were no longer ‘the one‘, and I was not their ‘one’. I love Jesus and have served him all along the journey. He has been good to me. Along this journey, I have seen God answer many of my prayers. Physical healing. Deliverance. Material provision. I have prayed about trivial things (trivial to others..) such as acne or a lost earring and seen God answer. I have seen Him guide me and give me wisdom in messy situations. So I know God answers prayers. It therefore became perplexing to me that the husband prayer was not being answered as 5, 6, 7, 8 years went by. Never one to give up easily, I persisted in seeking. Knocking. Asking. Pleading. Begging. Crying. Each year, I hoped and prayed it would be the year. I identified my wedding colours. I identified preferred venues. I identified preferred grooms now and then. Slowly but surely, my desire for marriage consumed my entire life.
A heart issue…
Now, this was hard for anyone to tell, except the Lord. I also could not tell; I thought I was seeking what God wanted. Besides.. I didn’t stop serving God or loving him or quit reading my Bible. I was not even dating anyone. I seemed to have endless crushes though, another sign something was wrong. But I could not tell I was in idolatry because I was not kneeling before a statue of wood or gold or a human being. No. none of that. Now, modern day idols don’t come in the form of gold statues. In fact, usually they are good things that the Lord wants to give us. It is the state of the heart – the heart is kneeling towards something else instead of the Lord. God looks at the heart and sees what is going on there, even when outward activity may not point to obvious idolatry. The enemy of our souls is sly; he knows we will not bow down to an image, so he draws us to idols at the heart level.
When we seek God’s blessings (even in prayer) more than we seek the Lord himself, then they have become idols. It can be anything – a ‘hot’ body pursued in the name of exercise. Promotions at work. Being loved by so and so. A certain ministry. A certain weight. Living in a certain neighborhood. Driving this and this kind of a car. Wearing these kind of clothes. Anything that occupies us obsessively is an idol. For me, it was the desire to be married.
Some Signs of Idolatry of Marriage in Singles
Symptom #1: You lose enjoyment of life
Those in idolatry of marriage believe their life will start when they marry. They are therefore not able to enjoy the here and now. Nobody wants their lives to stall. So we will do anything to keep our lives moving forward. This is rooted in the lie that I have no other purpose except to be a wife/spouse. This leads to an endless and frantic search for that life to start. It blinds you from the life in front of you. For me, I lost the ability to enjoy friendships. My family. My job. It was like everything was tainted with a dark cloudy gloom. I would have thoughts like – yes I am grateful but would be happier if my husband were here to enjoy it with me. Idolatry steals from you. The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).
Symptom #2: Your relationship with God revolves around him giving you a spouse
I have fasted so many times in the last few years for my husband. I have been on the prayer line when we were asked in church to go forth for requests. I have spoken the word of God. At some point, it was all I prayed about. In 2016, I began to lose the sense of the presence of God. I began to see God as this stingy all in control person who was withholding a hubby from me. I knew him well enough to know not to enter a relationship without him, but I was frustrated that he was not leading me to one. I was offended and mad at him. I kept thinking – you are withholding the key to my joy. That, beloved, is the key sign to idolatry. When you believe you must have 1, 2, 3, to be happy. You go for church meetings, you serve in church or spend time with God so that He can meet the need for a spouse. I have some news for you – God loves us too much to operate like that! I kept wondering – God, I am serving you. I love you. I am walking in purity. Why aren’t you giving me a spouse? No.. it was more like Why aren’t you giving me a spouse to make me happy? In believing the lie that my happiness was tied to a spouse, I was basically telling God that He could not make me happy. My happiness was tied to a husband, and God was the means to that end. Idolatry!
Symptom #3: You are unable to have healthy relationships with men
I know idolatry applies to both men and women. However, I write as a woman. When in idolatry of marriage, you are in a frantic search for your husband. You are therefore unable to relate to brothers as brothers. They are either ‘the one’ or not. If they are the one you have deemed ‘the one’, you start to have unrealistic expectations towards them. In most cases, your thinking is warped because you are being led by the flesh. One of the works of the flesh is idolatry (Galatians 5:20). In most cases you get disappointed because you are not their ‘one’.
For the brothers who like you but are not the ‘one‘ you have zero interest in them. To you, they are an annoyance because they are interfering with your focus. You have no time or sisterly love for them because your focus is ‘the one’. You cannot even encourage them in any way because your idolatrous heart is selfish and set on marriage.
In my state of idolatry, I had identified ‘the one‘. I prayed fervently about him and had my thoughts fixated on him. I kept wondering why he could not see I was “his one”. When I was around him, I was nervous and somewhat afraid of him. See in idolatry, you don’t have God’s peace. It was hard to see him as my brother in the Lord. All I saw – you are the ticket to my unending happiness and bliss and purpose.
Sisters, let me mention this here. You need to be discerning when a brother seems to be desperate for you, to the extent he is somewhat afraid of you. You need to discern between ‘he likes me‘ and when it is fleshly idolatry. I don’t believe the Holy Spirit leads us to desperately cling to a person and be miserable without them. Be careful when your joy depends on another making you happy or when he depends on you to make him happy. I definitely want a man who loves me, but I don’t want him to depend on me for his joy because frankly, I will fail him. I want both of us to depend on Jesus.
Symptom #4: You Look to a man to give you identity and purpose
Idolatry robs you of your core identity – a beloved child of God. Beloved, that is who we are at the core. I struggle to explain what that means – at the core. Only the Holy Spirit can give you that sense – that if everything and everyone was removed from my life I would have value because I was made by God and I belong to Him. My life does not merely exist to work, marry, eat, drink, or even serve God; no. What gives our lives meaning is we have a relationship with Abba Father, and one day we will live in eternity with Him. If I was unable to work, serve, or if I never marry, my life will still have value because God made me and God loves me! God made me for a relationship with Him and that makes my life significant!
In idolatry, your emptiness grows. You feel a deep deep loneliness especially when you are alone. You have thoughts like – I am lonely because I am single. My life has stalled. I cannot be happy until I am in a relationship. In idolatry, you go to desperate measures to seek a man to love you and give you identity because you are not getting it from God. It is easy to allow yourself to be treated badly because you are seeking that identity so badly and outside of a relationship, you believe you have none.
Beloved, no man or woman or career or anything can do that! Only God can. Seek it from Him until it is settled in your spirit. Turn away from seeking it from a man. Believe me he (the man) too needs the Lord to give him identity. A man has no power or ability to give you identity, so stop seeking it in him!
Symptom #5 Extreme disappointment and anger when a potential relationship does not end in marriage
In idolatry, you are so focused on getting married, it becomes your sole pursuit. They say focus creates blindness. If your focus is on God, then His will is what will lead you. You will be blind to anything else. Similarly, when marriage is your idol, your key focus is marriage. When your plans are thwarted by a broken relationship, that person becomes an enemy. If they marry someone else, the one who was married also becomes an enemy. You feel extreme bitterness towards them and towards God. Instead of considering God may have other plans for both of you, or that you made mistakes along the way, you are angry that your plans towards marriage were thwarted.
The surrendered heart will want God’s will – even if that means you don’t end up marrying that person.
Symptom #6 Mind Consuming and Tiring
Idolatry is a mind consuming issue. Usually, our minds can be engaged at work or in a conversation. After that we switch to something else. The idolatrous heart automatically switches to thinking about the idol. Processing. Wondering. Worrying. Desperately praying. When marriage is your idol, the mind is constantly anxious. Who. When. How. Why? When marriage was my idol, I was often fatigued. I had restless sleep and would wake up several times in the night. The Bible says the carnal mind is death, but the mind led by the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6). Therefore, for the child of God, life and peace is the state of the Spirit-led mind.
Effects of Idolatry.. and the Cure
My heart empathizes with single men and women. I pray for you (us) often. Not merely to get married, but to be whole in the Lord. I know many who may be caught up in idolatry do not intentionally worship marriage. Often, as was the case for me, it was pressure (mostly unspoken) from society. I felt like a misfit because I was not married and I am 36 (soon turning 37). At some point, I could not even say my age. Now I make no apologies. God intended I was born on July 7 1980 and it was not a mistake. But I digress.
Usually we don’t realize that the enemy of our souls has deceived us and we have given him residence through worshiping marriage, for example. Beloved, elevating any other thing/person in life above the Lord opens a doorway to demonic torment. For me, although I was still seeking God, my life was marked with a deep sense of fear. Fear of losing my job. Fear of not getting married. Fear of making mistakes in life. Fear of making God mad. Fear has torment (1 John 4:18). I believe by making marriage an idol, I opened myself up to demonic torment.
God in his mercy mercifully showed me that I was in idolatry. What was the cure? Repenting and worshiping God alone. Getting a fresh revelation of His love for me. Not equating His love for me in him giving me a spouse. It was in knowing I have a purpose as a single woman because I am in God’s kingdom! I don’t know what that looks like for you. For me this is what it looked like. It meant going back to the truth. Can God give me joy apart from a spouse? My theology was correct (yes) but my heart screamed nooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!! I was humbled to realize God allows me to choose my thoughts and then He changes my heart. So I chose to change my mind. That is, to renew my mind in that area (Romans 12:1-2). I admitted that I had worshipped marriage and looked to marriage to satisfy me more than the Lord. I admitted that I cared more about society than being in God’s will – ie, I wanted society to validate that I am ‘marriageable’, more than I wanted God’s will even if it meant being single. I was seeking the honor of man, instead of the honor that comes from the one true God (John 12:43). I admitted I had put my will before God’s will. I asked the Lord to grant me repentance and Godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10). I asked for this because I realized it is not enough to merely feel bad that you are caught up in idolatry. Without Godly sorrow, there will be no change of heart. God in His mercy began to heal me. I spent time with God intentionally renouncing the lies I had believed and speaking truth.
- My primary calling is not to be a wife but to know God and be conformed to the image of His son (Romans 8:29).
- No purpose is lesser – whether single or married (Jeremiah 29:11).
- I renounce the lie that I cannot be happy single. God shows me the path of life and fills me with joy in His presence (Psalm 16:11).
- I give thanks in all things for this is God’s will for me in Christ Jesus (1 Thess 5:18).
- There is a purpose in me being single and God is working out all things for my good because I love him and I am called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
- I acknowledge no savior except the Lord (Hosea 13:4).
- I am complete through my union with Christ (Colossians 2:10)
- I make it my goal to please the Lord whether I am married or single (2 Cor 5:9)
And many other verses. God began to change my heart. I began to see that first, God is not unable to bring me a spouse. Our God is in heaven, He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). And ….The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations (Psalm 33:11) and “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted (Job 42:2). God mercifully began to reveal to me – what if there was nothing wrong with my life? Sometimes singles are in a frenzy to marry because we feel as if something is wrong. What if there is nothing to fix? What if I was smack middle in the center of His will, yes, single at 36 going to 37? What if His purpose for me right now does not involve marriage? Would I embrace His will, would I trust Him or continue to cling to what I wanted?
I talked to God openly about my fears: I am afraid surrendering to your will, i.e. being single in this season, will hurt so badly. I am afraid surrender means I will never marry and I don’t have grace for that. I feel stuck because I cannot go without you into marriage, but I don’t think I have the grace to sincerely be content as a single.
Beloved, God can handle our fears and deepest insecurities. He does not intend us to hide from Him. As I admitted my fears, I realized I was afraid of the cross. I was afraid of pain. And the Lord began to show me the cross will indeed hurt. Yes it will hurt. Jesus felt the pain. But it was only by going to the cross, by dying, that we experience resurrection. And so we have a choice – to allow idolatry to continue to kill us, or to die to self, at the cross. For me it meant giving my life to the Lord and His plans– Lord, I surrender my dream and desire to get married. Just like Jesus did not prioritize his will but humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8), I prioritize your will for my life. May you be glorified in my life, whether married or single.
It was not as pretty as it may look in the above sentence. It hurt like crazy. There was real and raw pain in my heart. But it was a sweet pain. I knew I was finding life. I felt like I yielded to God’s surgeon knife and said yes, remove the cancer of idolatry because it is killing me. I give you permission to do what you want in my life. In His mercy, this kind and loving surgeon, He removed the cancer, and again in His mercy, began to stitch up the wound. Oh how loved we are when we are chastised by our Father (Hebrews 12:6!) How precious and kind He is – the one who wounds and then binds up. ‘For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal’ (Job 5:18). So it will hurt – laying down the dream of marriage, but the Lord will not leave you there. For sure He will bind you up.
And so as He stitched me up, I found that He does fill and satisfy. I spent weeks listening to sermons on relationship idolatry. During my times of prayer and devotion, I just talked openly to Him, but also yielded to the truth of His Word (the scriptures I shared). I started to enjoy my devotion time more. I have noticed that my heart is no longer fearful or anxious about marriage. I am able to relate to brothers as brothers without looking at them as potential husbands. I seek to be a blessing to them, and to be an example as a sister in the Lord. This I must say, has made my relationships more enjoyable because I don’t have an end in mind. I am also able to let go where a friendship does not flourish because I have learned, God is my source, and He provides even for friendships. He is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want (Psalm 23:1).
I have also noticed that my mind is sharper and quicker at work. In my season of idolatry, I was often mentally fatigued, distracted and bored. I also have renewed energy and focus in my ministry in the body of Christ. I have also realized that a huge chunk of the feelings of loneliness is gone. I can spend days alone in my house and not feel lonely. I also sleep more soundly, and I am at peace. I am able to be all there – when with friends, with my sweet nieces and nephews, when serving…etc… instead of being distracted by a future (when I get married) that is not here. Actually, God gives no grace for the future- grace is for the here and now. I am enjoying a more intimate walk with the Lord. There is such freedom in simply joining Him in what He is doing, not pushing my agenda (when will you give me a spouse?). I am desperate for His glory manifest in my life.
The Book of Jeremiah
I also began doing a study of the book of Jeremiah. I have read it before and I knew it talks a lot about idolatry. I began to see two things; 1. Who God promises to be. 2: The effects of idolatry. If you have never studied it, do a study. It is amazing to see the heart of God. At first I was having a hard time relating to the Israelites worshiping wooden or golden statues. Then I began to see what we had in similarity: it was a state of the heart. They were looking for someone to rescue them. Someone to meet their deepest need. Someone to give them significance (eg, the gods of fertility that were said to bring children).
The heart that is in idolatry is looking for meaning, significance. All that God promises to be.
Lessons from Jeremiah
- Idols make you worthless: They followed worthless idols and become worthless themselves (Jer 2:5)
- The Lord alone is our Glory: But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols (Jer 2:11)
- The Lord is the only spring of living water: My people have committed two sins, they have forsaken me, the spring of living water and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jer 2:13)
- Idolatry brings plunder from the enemy (Jer 2:14-17)
- Idolatry hinders prayers: Therefore showers have been withheld and no spring rains have fallen (Jer 3:3)
- Idolatry hinders God’s blessings: They did not say to themselves, let us fear the Lord our God who gives autumn and spring rains in season. .. your wrong doings have deprived you of good (Jer 5:24-25)
- Worshiping Idols brings curses : Jeremiah 17:5-6
There is hope
- Stand at the cross roads and look and ask for the ancient paths. Ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls (Jer 6:16)
- So I went down to the potter’s house and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands. So the potter formed it itno another pot, shaping it as it seemed best to him (Jer 18:4).
If this long post (thanks for reading by the way) resonates with you, there is hope for you. 1. Admit that you have worshipped an idol 2. Turn to God, for He is merciful and eager to forgive 3. Dig through your Bible to renew your mind 4. Ask God to help you see He is our Number 1 treasure 5. Stop seeking your idol. Let God give you what He wants if He sees it fit.
I continue to walk with the Lord in this journey. I don’t count myself to have arrived, but I am not where I was. Almost every day is a conscious choice to seek the Lord and not to seek marriage. Now, having said all that, it does not mean I do not want to get married. By all means I do. But it is not my number one priority. I do not pursue it because I am confident when the season comes, the Lord is faithful to ease me into it. I do pray for the Lord to bring it about, but I mostly pray for the Lord to be glorified in my season of being single. I am convinced He has a purpose for this season. And when I start to feel the longing awake, then I turn to him in simple prayers. Father I trust you. Father I thank you that you are a sun and a shield, and you are not withholding anything from me (Psalm 84:11). Father be glorified in my singlehood. May my life point others to you.
I now realize that marriage works best when both know their identity in the Lord. Therefore, I am not looking for a man to complete me or to complete one. I am believing God for one who is following hard after God and passionately living his life as a single man. And so when we come together, it will not be because we are starving for love; but because we are so full of the Lord, and desire to enjoy together what we have received from the source of true life.
Little children, keep yourself from idols (1 John 5:21).