A ballad of breaking idols

I was mist-coating a wall the other day; Helen was plastering a ceiling.

A fairly standard Saturday in the Suffield household. We had some worship music on, which probably isn’t our norm for a hard work renovation day, but a change is as good as a rest.

A song came on and the lyrics caught my attention. They often do, I make some deeply insightful theological comment, Helen points out I’ve misheard the lyric. It’s a pattern. We’ve all done it, whether you are setting fire to Lorraine Kelly, or immolating the dyslexic, we’ve all got confused and thought “surely that can’t be what the song is about?”

So, I hear “I’m letting go of fake surrender; I’m taking hold of life eternal” and think that’s a very bold lyric. Hard to sing honestly. I began to muse about what would constitute “fake surrender”. Those aren’t the lyrics, its “I’m letting go. Brave surrender.” Which is all well and good but doesn’t have as much punch as my version. It’s not a song we sing at King’s Church, though I’m aware of the artist; the song is fine as far as it goes but doesn’t have much to it. It could fit the right response moment after the right message I suppose.

Back to my version. I’m letting go of fake surrender. We know that we belong to God. We delight in the opener to the Heidelberg catechism that my only comfort in life and death is that I am not my own. We sing and preach allegiance to Christ as King. We preach and act repenting from idols to serve only the most high God. We like surrender.

In principle. I’m starting to wonder how often when I discover a new idol to crush or a new hope or dream to surrender to God I do it half-heartedly. When is my surrender fake? Here’s the heart-stopping, blood-curdling truth: every single time. My surrender is always half-hearted. It’s always in that sense ‘fake’. All my idol crushing is fake because I affirm with John Calvin that my heart is a factory for idols. It’s a production line. Smash one and another pops up painted in piety.

My surrender is a sham.

That’s not true though. It isn’t, I mean it when I surrender. I want to not sin and turn to the Lord day by day. I often manage to do so. I notice progress in godliness that sticks when I do. It isn’t fake, it’s the real deal. If it were truly play-acting then I wouldn’t be a follower of the way of Jesus, because there wouldn’t be any following going on.

What I’m getting at is that it’s never the full thing. There’s always another one to go. Another surrender to make, another sin to repent of, another idol to shatter. There will be a day when there isn’t, a day is coming when surrender is complete. When I lay down the burden of my sin at the gates and stand up fully for the first time in my life as I walk into the city of our God. Then my allegiance will be complete and total, my surrender the genuine article through and through. On that day not only will the idols have been ground into dust, but the factory will have been mothballed. Perhaps one day we’ll wonder past that part of my heart together and I’ll remark that there used to be a factory there once. And we’ll find that someone has planted a garden.

Dear friends, let me tell you something that I need to hear, so I’m judging that you do too. My idol wrecking days aren’t over, but the King who I follow so imperfectly is a kindly King. He is gentle and lowly of heart. My ‘fake’ surrender doesn’t worry him, my attempt delights him. He spurs me on to greater sacrifice in following him, to fuller and fatter allegiance. In the words of Dane Ortlund his ‘posture towards you is not a pointed finger, but open arms.’ Amen and Amen.

When we try, he is delighted with us. When we fall, he picks us up from the dirt. Jesus is never accusatory to his little brothers and sisters. He won’t point out how far there is to go to make us ashamed. There is a long way to go. He might tell us to spur us on. He will warn us, so we keep going. But when we’re making progress in godliness? What we’ll find in the heart of God is deep abiding love for those who trust him. And when we’re not making progress in godliness? What we’ll find in the heart of God is deep abiding love for those who trust him, that spurs us on to progress in godliness.

Right this moment Jesus is only interested in the next thing. There are most likely ten thousand things wrong with your life and character. Ten thousand ways we don’t yet match up to the likeness of Christ. I know there are because there are for me. Jesus is interested in the next thing. If the weight of how far there is to go is weighing you down, then lift up your head: the gentle God is not a hard taskmaster, he wants you to do the next thing in God empowered by his Spirit. Repent of the next thing. Throw away the next idol. Surrender the next inferior love.

But there is a next thing, don’t doubt it. If you’re sitting pretty delighted in the love of God then I’m so pleased for you. What’s he telling you to do next? Where do you need to repent? Where do you keep idols in the niches of your heart? What do you love before Love himself?

Either way, do the next thing. You’ll find that Jesus is for you, with you, and loves you. Even if it goes really badly.

Let’s surrender again. You can’t lose.

Photo by Jackson Simmer on Unsplash