Down here betwixt the Golfo de México and the Atlantic Ocean we’re smack dab in the throes of C.F.M.S. (Central Florida Monsoon Season)—and have been for a couple weeks or so (probably more like “or so”). Plus, with Tio Alberto doing a drive-by and adding his own brand of joie de vivre in the mix, the rain has refused to let up for any extended period of time and everything is starting to mildew. The mouseke-tourists have even been trying to use their Fastpasses to go to the head of the line to buy ponchos. (On the upside, a few pasty Yankees will probably be spared the threat of skin cancer.)
Don’t get me wrong—we need the rain. A few weeks ago, everything in my yard was brown. And not a pretty brown, like a Hershey Bar or a roast beef sandwich, but a given-up-the-ghost brown, kind of like old guacamole. The only greenness to be had in my yard was due to a big, lush patch of invasive flora—a/k/a weeds. From a distance, though, it still looked green, thanks to the weeds. I’m sure passersby were thinking, “That man has a nice green yard. I wonder what his secret is?”
Laziness. Laziness is my secret. Makes me think of a verse from Proverbs…
I went past the field of a sluggard…the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. Proverbs 24:31-32 NIV
(I don’t have a stone wall, but my driveway has a few cracks…
Right about the time all the sogginess was setting in, though, I decided to beat the summer heat and escape to North Carolina for a week. While there, I basically tuned out what was happening, weather-wise, back home. As long as I didn’t see the word “hurricane” on anyone’s Facebook status, I didn’t really pay attention.
So imagine my surprise when, upon arriving back home, I had my first view of a yard that had been watered both daily and profusely by the rain for over a week without seeing a lawnmower in all that time. At first, I wasn’t sure it was my house, as the grass was so tall I couldn’t see anything but the roof.
As I went on safari through the bright green jungle, though, I managed to part the undergrowth and find the house numbers. Yep, it was mine.
(It must have been an interesting week, though, ‘cause in addition to the usual collection of beer cans, fast food wrappers, and other trash pigs people casually toss out car windows that tend to end up in my yard, I also stumbled across a few unexpected things hiding here and there: a bright pink port-a-potty from “Pattie’s Potties,” a rusted-out 1950 Dodge Coronet, and a pair of giraffes looking like they had missed the last ark out of port.
That all took a while to sort out…)
The good news? The grass had pretty much choked out the weeds in most of the yard. (Giraffe droppings apparently make for great fertilizer.) But in that patch that was nothing but weeds in the first place, it was now healthy-and-well-watered weeds.
So, class, if you can nurture the grass and keep it healthy, it will choke out everything else and you’ll have grass. But if you let the weeds get an unchecked toehold, they’ll choke out the grass and you’ll have weeds.
From my experience as my own lawn boy, it takes a lot of effort to keep weeds out of the yard. You’ve got to pretty much get down on your knees, dodge the fire ants, and root those invaders right out.
This all reminds me of a prayer written by A. W. Tozer in his book, “The Pursuit of God”…
Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without rival.
(Tozer wrote that prayer back in 1948. Apparently, people back then thought they mayest outta talketh to God like King James did in the 1600s.)
All that rootin’ around kind of makes God sound like one of those truffle hogs, but think of Him as the lush, green grass…and all the junk in your heart as the weeds that tend to crowd Him out.
In Kelly Minter’s excellent (and recommended) book, “No Other Gods,” she talks about everything we—as one of our pastors phrased it recently—“give God-sized importance to” in our heart; a heart that, as a Christian, should only be occupied by the one who is of “God-sized importance.”
On my count, there are 725 references in the Bible of the word “heart” (and “hearts” and “hearted” and other variations). One might surmise—and one would be correct—that the heart holds a wee bit of significance for our spiritual condition. In the book of Matthew alone, Jesus had a heap to say about our heart…
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5:8 NIV
…along with several that pretty much make Ms. Minter’s case (and Jesus’…and mine) for things that shouldn’t—but do—take God-sized precedence in our hearts:
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:28 NIV
The mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Matthew 12:34 NIV
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21 NIV
The heart is where it all goes down.
When we get saved and God takes up residence in our heart, He moves in with packing crates full of everlasting, bubble-wrapped tchotchkes like love and joy and peace. Some of His furniture is comfy, some of it is hard—but it’s all good. But when we make other things more important than Him—possessions, entertainment, personal comfort, even good things like family—He, along with His boxes of blessings, ends up being shoved into the spare bedroom.
In other words, those little “g” gods keep the one and only capital “G” God from dwelling in our hearts, as Tozer put it, “without rival.” And, just like the weeds in the yard, it takes a lot of effort to keep them rooted from our heart. You’ve got to pretty much get down on your knees, dodge the fire ants (love that), and ask God to root ‘em out.
To quote Suzanne Sugarbaker from TV’s Designing Women circa 1990: “It isn’t pretty. I am, but it’s not.” ‘Cause when the great I AM starts rootin’ around, it AM gonna hurt.
Important to note that, when discussing little “g” gods, I’m not talking about primitive, pagan cultures who worship statues with animal heads—I’m talking about modern-day Christians:
- Born-again-ers who can’t get the spiritual hierarchy right. (God first—everything and everybody else after that.)
- BaptiPresbyCostals who sacrifice to the gods of new and shiny while also (often begrudgingly) dropping a little something-something in the offering plate on Sunday morning.
- Evangelicalistas with Jesus in their heart who put Him on hold until after the last binge-watched epi on Netflix or the end of football season.
When speaking about this sort of idolatry, Paul was going for the big-bad-wolf stuff when he wrote…
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5 NIV
…but he could have easily added any number of other people/attitudes/things we put first in our lives besides God. Because if we look for strength through anything else—from something as obviously destructive as substance addiction or sexual immorality or something not-as-obviously destructive as our family or our spiritual status—then it becomes a space invader, taking up valuable real estate in our heart. And if we’re going to continue in a right relationship with the Lord, there will have to be some rootin’…
…and “It isn’t pretty.”
Here are some little “g” gods that can easily get an unchecked toehold in our hearts if we’re not careful…
…huddling up in that carefully crafted cocoon of our comfort zone that keeps us from sharing the gospel with others; being more wrapped up in ourselves and our needs than in others and their needs.
…never going without and having plenty to spare but barely doing anything to significantly further the kingdom.
…prioritizing family over God and His kingdom: sports instead of church, entertainment instead of family devotion time.
…if life as a Christian is more about what we’re doing for God than it is about the one Who made us a new creation so we could do it in the first place…if our impressive collection of Christian books is more about feeding our intellect than about making us better disciples…if time spent in prayer and Bible study is more about checking “Read Bible and Pray” off your daily to-do list than it is about nurturing your relationship with the one whose biography you’re reading because you love Him and owe Him everything and can’t get enough of Him…if any of these sound familiar…little “g”.
We all struggle at some point with surrender and making God the sole focus of our lives. I certainly do. But just know that, if the heart/idol business gets too out of hand, God may not just politely move to the spare bedroom and wait for you to come to your senses. He may just start rooting and ripping. And, just like the hairy guy with a Band-Aid, you’re gonna feel it when He does.
But there’s hope. David—adulterer, murderer—realized that, regardless of the chaos he had created and the harm he had done to those around him, the One he had truly sinned against was the very One who could deliver him…
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…Create in me a clean heart, O God… Psalm 51:4,10 ESV
(There’s the heart again.)
David and Tozer both knew what they were talking about: God deserves to live in a clean heart, and to live there “without rival.” And He can’t do it with a heart full of junk and clutter.
So to review:
- If you want a lush lawn, root out the weeds.
- If you want a clean heart, let big “G” God root out the space invaders and you’ll have a heart so full of Him and His tchotchkes you’ll need to close the garage in.
And even if he decorates your heart with a duct-taped Barcalounger and paintings of dogs playing poker, He’s worth it…
“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” Isaiah 46:9
“So get your stupid, smelly idols out of my house.”
“…and go walk the giraffes.”
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