In the first few verses of Ezekiel 14, we read of a group of Israelite elders who came to Ezekiel. God tells Ezekiel that he will not hear their requests in verse 3, when He says, “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?” In verses 7 and 8 God says,
“For every one of the house of Israel, or of the stranger that sojourneth in Israel, which separateth himself from me, and setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to a prophet to enquire of him concerning me; I the Lord will answer him by myself: And I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.”
What a harsh word from the Lord! He certainly does not tolerate idol worship. And this isn’t just talking about physical idols, the ones made from silver and gold, but any idols that we set up in our hearts – anything that we place our trust in besides God.
In my last few posts, I’ve been writing about a few of the traps that we can easily fall into when we pray. In my first post, I wrote about the trap of putting self first, and in my second post I wrote about the trap of expecting God to make some special revelation of His eternal decrees. That brings me to my third trap: neglecting heart idols.
The events of Ezekiel 14 show that this is a very serious matter. When God saw that the elders of Israel had idolatry in their hearts, he refused to hear their prayer! So certainly, when we consider how we are to pray, it is important for us to examine our hearts and make sure we are not neglecting to root out any idolatry that has taken hold inside of us.
Heart idols are anything we place our trust in, anything we worship or serve instead of God. Why are they so harmful? We find the answer to this in Ezekiel 14:5, where God says, “They are all estranged from me through their idols.” Heart idols get in the way of our relationship with God and separate us from Him. Matthew 6:24 says, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” If we have idols in our hearts, if there are things that we are trusting in and worshiping instead of God, our relationship with Him will certainly suffer. And if we are not in a proper relationship with God, then our prayer lives are going to be affected as well.
What heart idols do you often find sneaking into your heart, taking God’s place and distracting you from wholeheartedly serving Him? Maybe it’s wealth or earthly comforts and pleasures, or entertainment. Maybe it’s pride or self, or the need to be accepted by others. It could be fear or worry, or feeling the need to be in control of the things that happen in your life instead of trusting in God to carry out His perfect plan. Heart idols aren’t necessarily even things that are bad of themselves – they could be anything, from sports to fashion to music to books – things that aren’t necessarily wrong in themselves but cause you to be distracted from your relationship with God. Even things that are important and necessary in life, such as work or school, can become heart idols if they get in the way of worshiping God.
When we pray, it is important that we first root out these heart idols, place God on the throne of hearts, and focus our hearts on Him alone. This is especially true when we pray for guidance or direction in our lives. If we neglect heart idols and allow them to linger in our hearts, it is easy for us to use prayer as a way to try to gratify our own desires instead of submitting our will to His. Instead of making our decisions based on what God commands us to do in His Word, we choose to take the path that lines up the most with our own desires, often without even realizing it.
If you are struggling with making decisions in your life and are looking for direction, pray! But make sure to do so in the right mindset. Don’t put yourself first and forget to submit to God’s will. Don’t expect God to give some supernatural revelation about His plan for your life. And don’t forget to root out heart idols that are interfering with a proper relationship with God.
That’s a lot of negatives – now let’s look at this positively. When you pray, put God first! Humble yourself before Him, acknowledging Him as the sovereign Lord who controls and directs all things according to His perfect plan. Remember that He is a loving Father, that He planned and determined all things with your good in mind and will carry them out to this end. Realize that following His ways and commandments is far better than seeking to fulfill your own desires and that no earthly happiness compares to the unspeakable joy of walking with the Lord. Devote all that you have to Him. Love, worship, and serve Him with your whole heart. Follow in the way that He guides by His Word and Spirit, trusting His sovereign plan with a thankful heart wherever He leads.