Cleansing the Temple: Self-Worship – Intercessors for America

From the very beginning, there has been a cosmic struggle “for worship.” In the heavens, Lucifer’s attempt to usurp God’s throne resulted in his being cast out, along with one-third of those angels who joined him in his rebellion.

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At the foot of Mount Sinai, the Israelites worshipped the golden calf. Then, when they entered the promised land, they began to worship the gods they’d already been told to destroy, alongside the very inhabitants they’d been told to drive out. This cosmic struggle for our hearts and our worship continues to this very day. Idolatry is everywhere, and this includes in the Church. Many of us have some preconceived notion whenever we hear the word idolatry: We picture someone bowing or praying to a literal, physical image or statue. But this presumption is only partly true, because an idol can be anything or anyone that holds our affection and devotion above the Lord. It is a violation of the first and greatest commandment: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:36–38 NIV). 

Do we have idols in our lives — perhaps a coveted position, a ministry, a relationship, a title, our wealth, or our spiritual gifts and talents? Anything that is more precious to us than the Lord is an idol, though perhaps the greatest idol in our personal temples is self. Given all the social media, selfies, and “have it your way” stuff, modern men and women are encouraged to be in love with themselves and with getting their own way.

The Selfie Generation

Self is popularized in our culture as a priority. Self-love. Self-gratification. Self-fulfillment. Self-sufficiency. Self-consciousness. Self can occupy the throne of our hearts, a place only the Lord should occupy. We’ve all heard: “Follow your heart!” Those three seemingly harmless words are deceiving many Christians. The quote is not in the Bible. Jesus never commanded us to follow our hearts. He said, “Follow me” (see Matthew 16:24). The Bible warns us that our hearts are wicked (see Jeremiah 17:9). If we’re not careful, we can follow our hearts right into sin and straight out of God’s will for our lives. If our hearts weren’t prone to deception, we would not be warned to guard our hearts (see Proverbs 4:23). I’ve also heard, “Do more of what makes you happy,” another cutesy non-biblical quote. But in Scripture we’re told to pursue holiness, not happiness (see Hebrews 12:14).

There are things we pursue in seeking happiness that only lead us into sin. Don’t follow your heart — follow Jesus. When we’re being led by our own hearts or emotions, we’re in danger of being deceived. We’re told to be led by the Spirit of God (see Psalm 143:10; Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18). Trusting in our flesh is nothing more than idolatry. We’re admonished to trust in the Lord: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil (Proverbs 3:5–7).

Loving Yourself

It’s not wrong to love yourself — provided the understanding of that love is correct. We were created in the image of God. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. We should steward our lives and bodies well. That would be a wise way to love yourself. But there is a self-love that is sin and idolatry.

You may as well know this too, Timothy, that in the last days, it is going to be very difficult to be a Christian. For people will love only themselves and their money; they will be proud and boastful, sneering at God, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful to them, and thoroughly bad. They will be hardheaded and never give in to others; they will be constant liars and troublemakers and will think nothing of immorality. They will be rough and cruel, and sneer at those who try to be good. They will betray their friends; they will be hotheaded, puffed up with pride, and prefer good times to worshiping God. They will go to church, yes, but they won’t really believe anything they hear. Don’t be taken in by people like that (2 Timothy 3:1–4 TLB).

Let’s flesh this out and ask the Holy Spirit to convict us of our own sin so that we don’t judge only others we see doing these things. Look at these words in light of social media, online discussions, how we treat our families, act in traffic and when standing in long lines, or whatever else pushes your buttons. The J.B. Phillips translation of the Scriptures is an entirely accurate version that was designed to help people at the time of World War II understand that the early Christians faced very hard times as well. Here’s how this passage is rendered, and “men” is used here to mean humankind. We’ve rendered it here in a list form:

  • But you must realise that in the last days the times will be full of danger.
  • Men will become utterly self-centred,
  • greedy for money,
  • full of big words.
  • They will be proud and contemptuous, without any regard for what their parents taught them.
  • They will be utterly lacking in gratitude, purity and normal human affections.
  • They will be men of unscrupulous speech and have no control of themselves.
  • They will be passionate and unprincipled,
  • treacherous,
  • self-willed and
  • conceited,
  • loving all the time what gives them pleasure instead of loving God.
  • They will maintain a facade of “religion”, but their conduct will deny its validity.
  • You must keep clear of people like this.

While it’s easy to see this behavior among those who do not know Jesus, we Christians are hardly exempt from these forms of self-worship. The fact is, “these people” are unlikely to believe this passage applies to them. That means it may well describe us — and maybe not in total, but possibly in part.

The love chapter, as it’s sometimes called, in 1 Corinthians 13, illustrates what love looks like and is an opposite view of the dangerous ways we are to avoid. The most pure and sacrificial love is evident in Jesus. We’re called to love others as He did. Upon reading 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, one verse that jumps out is: “Love is not self-seeking.” That one verse sheds light on whether we’re worshiping God, or ourselves. Whom are we seeking? Do we live to please the Lord, or are we living to please ourselves? 

Thy Will, or My Will?

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus uttered the most powerful seven words ever recorded. He knew the loneliness and suffering that awaited Him at the cross. He sweat drops of blood as He prayed for the cup to pass (see Matthew 26:36–39). Yet He prayed: “Not my will, but Yours be done.” Whose will are we praying to be done? Often we pray presumptuously for God instead of praying to God. We presume we know the outcome God wants in our prayer. Instead of praying Thy will be done, we pray that “my will” be done. Our lives and prayers should reflect His heart’s desires, not ours. The will is the part of our soul that is hardest to tame. We were created with the freedom to choose to worship God. We have the free will to choose obedience or disobedience. The decision is ours. This is why we should pray and seek His will over ours. Praying for our will to be done leaves us susceptible to what I call “witchcraft praying”: It’s imposing or forcing our will on someone else in prayer, which may not be at all God’s will for that person. 

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8–9). 

Checking Your Heart

Here are some helpful questions to consider as we examine our hearts before the Lord. And these are questions to consider regularly.

The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Does He have all of me, or only part of me?
What has been consuming my mind and thoughts?
What consumes my time?
What motivates me?
We’ve been given gifts from God to serve others. Whom have I been serving?

Just Die Already!

To truly live for Jesus means we must die — not the physical death we will all experience one day, but the daily putting to death of our selfish ambitions and motives (see Mark 16:24). This means choosing obedience over feelings, and humility over exaltation. It is living completely dependent on God. It is choosing to live as servants who no longer live for ourselves, but for others and our Master. It is laying down our earthly rights as citizens of heaven. We no longer live for ourselves, but for the sake of the gospel. We put to death our desires to fulfill God’s. We are choosing to do His will, to build His kingdom, and to do this in His way, not ours. Just as Satan opposed the Israelites and tempted them to worship other gods, he also tempts us. He knows that idolatry is a snare. His desire is for us to become consumed by pride and selfishness, because that is what caused his own fall (see Isaiah 14:12–14). Don’t take the bait! 

The Way to a Crucified Life

The word: When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness he answered: “It is written.” The word of God is your sword, and it helps you discern truth from error (see Matthew 4:4–6; Hebrews 4:12).

Prayer: When in doubt, pray like Jesus. You will never go wrong when you pray for God’s will to be done, whatever your petition. Intercession is selfless because we pray to God on behalf of others. Every time Jesus prayed in the Bible, it was for others, even when He was on the cross. And He continues His intercession even now (see Romans 8:34).

Fasting: This is a  great way, combined with prayer, to crucify your flesh. You’re denying your body its most basic need. Jesus said, “when you fast” — presuming that it would be a practice, like prayer, that would always be part of our lives. It is a great way to prepare your heart to receive from God and to empty yourself before Him. 

Obedience: So many of our problems would never have existed if we had only obeyed God. If we truly love Him, we will keep His commandments (see John 14:15).   

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20 NIV).

Let’s pray together:

Father, we come to ask You to examine our hearts. If we’ve been inclined to put our feelings before obedience, forgive us. If we’ve made ministry about us, forgive us. It’s not our ministry, it’s Yours. If we’ve been too busy building our own kingdom and not Yours, forgive us. Reveal any gods that have got hold of our hearts besides You, even if that god is ourselves. We invite the Holy Spirit to work in our lives and to remove everything that is not of You. If You don’t want it for our lives, we don’t want it either. We don’t want to put our hands on anything that You are not a part of. Show us where we’ve been given to selfishness. Show us where we’ve sinned through self-sufficiency and have relied on ourselves and not on Your grace. If our prayers are not in alignment with Your will, show us. Teach us how to pray Your will. We lay down our need to be right all the time and our “right” to be offended. These do not exist in Your kingdom. Have Your way in our lives. We invite the Holy Spirit to work in us. Cleanse our hearts, our minds, and every part of us. We surrender all to You. We don’t want anything between us and You. Help us to live a crucified life, one that is pleasing in Your sight. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Share a prayer in the comments section.

This article is the second installment in a series. Read part one here: Cleansing the Temple: The Religious Spirit.

IFA contributing writer Gloria Robles is a passionate intercessor with a prophetic voice for today. For more from Gloria, go to Spotify or Anchor and listen to her podcast, Something To Share. Photo Credit: ninjaMonkeyStudio/Getty Images.

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