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Throughout the year I’ve been working through Tim Keller’s book God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs. The past four days he’s focused on four God-substitutes that every person confronts throughout their lives. I’ll list all four below, shine a spotlight on the “nightmare” of each God-Substitute, followed by a Scripture for our meditation, highlight the struggles unique to each of them, and conclude with how God’s Word assists us in putting these idols to death. This will help us repent intelligently and, by God’s grace, aid us in becoming more self-aware.

* Disclaimer: I’m distilling Keller’s thoughts and adding a few of my own.

God-Substitute #1: Human Approval

The nightmare of the approval addict is rejection.

“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe” (Prov. 29:25).

Struggles Unique to This God-Substitute:

  • Anxiety
  • People-pleasing tendencies
  • Susceptible to exploitative relationships
  • Inability to receive criticism
  • Overcommitting
  • Inordinate desire for acceptance
  • Afraid to discipline children
  • Afraid to confront others

Help from God’s Word

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18).

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).

God-Substitute # 2: Love of Pleasure and Comfort

The nightmare of the comfort addict is suffering.

“Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread” (Prov. 20:13). “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich” (Prov. 21:17). “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!’” (Prov. 26:13).

Struggles Unique to This God-Substitute:

  • Self-protection
  • An inordinate desire for a life free from hassles and inconveniences
  • An inordinate desire to associate only with affirming people
  • Give up on people or tasks too quickly

Help from God’s Word

“. . . through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:23).

“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).

These passages indicate that obedience to God is not always the path of least resistance and that adversity is not always a sign that one is outside of God’s will. However, if we prioritize comfort and ease above all else, we will assume the opposite and potentially disobey what God is calling us to do.

God-Substitute #3: An Inordinate Love of Power

The nightmare of the power addict is humiliation.

“A gracious woman gets honor, and violent men get riches” (Prov. 11:16). “A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might” (Prov. 24:5).

Struggles Unique to This God-Substitute

  • Selfish ambition
  • Careerism
  • Love of wealth
  • Highly opinionated, highly partisan (See Prov. 18:2)
  • Poor listeners
  • Argumentative
  • Haughty
  • Lack a disposition of humility, meekness, and docility

Help from God’s Word

“The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves” ~ Jesus (Luke 22:25-27)

God-Substitute # 4: An Inordinate Love of Control

The nightmare of the control addict is uncertainty.

“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring” (Prov. 27:1).

Struggles Unique to This God-Substitute

  • Thinking you can plan for every contingency
  • Overly confident in your abilities to avoid pain
  • Trouble sharing power and delegating
  • Tend to manipulate people
  • Use guilt and pressure to get people to do what you want
  • Prone to anxiety and panic attacks

Help from God’s Word

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:33-34).