“Lord, why am I often so dull and undiscerning of spiritual things?” That was my prayer once. And I think He answered me, starting with the parable of the soils. This parable explains how all parables are a secret heart check-up. Some hearts are receptive to the truth of the kingdom of God; many hearts are dull to it. Dull hearts just hear the funny anecdote, the cute story, an intellectual sermon, or an entertaining message; open hearts embrace kingdom truth.
What makes the difference? Jesus quoted Isaiah’s lament:
Go, and tell this people:
“Keep on listening, but do not perceive;
Keep on looking, but do not understand.”
Render the hearts of this people insensitive,
Their ears dull,
And their eyes dim,
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
Understand with their hearts,
And return and be healed. (Isaiah 6:9-10, quoted in Matthew 13:1-23)
That message about unseeing eyes, deaf ears and dull hearts ties in with several passages in the Old Testament that diagnose the condition of God’s people.1 Other passages mock idols. Whatever clay or wooden representations of eyes, ears and mouths they might have, all are senseless and unresponsive.2 The psalmist summed it up:
The idols of the nations are but silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
They have mouths, but they do not speak;
They have eyes, but they do not see;
They have ears, but they do not hear,
Nor is there any breath at all in their mouths.
Those who make them will be like them,
Yes, everyone who trusts in them. (Psalm 135:15-18)
The psalmist’s damning conclusion leaps out at us: Idol worshipers become like the idols they worship—deaf and blind. And I think that is God’s answer to my question: To the extent that our lives are focused on idols, we are deaf and blind to the things of God. In this world we have a choice: to surrender to God or to be enslaved by a selection of other gods and idols carefully tailored to tickle our fancies. It’s a principle of the spiritual life that if we want to grow in spiritual discernment we need to ditch our idols and worship God alone.
The tiny idols that hide or camouflage themselves are the hardest to remove. Jesus shocked the religious leaders when He said they couldn’t hear God’s words because they were not of God.3 Surely those men devoted every inch and ounce of themselves to God didn’t they? But no, self-righteousness and spiritual pride are carefully camouflaged idols basking against a colorful religious backdrop. Such idols take many forms.
Then there are the sweet idols of our imaginations. They scamper around, excited about their potential contributions to God and His work. But all the time their noise and glamour distract us from the real-life workings of the God who does exceeding abundantly beyond all we ask, think or imagine. It’s Him we need. As Andrew Murray said: “How often professing Christians have, instead of a graven image, the more dangerous idol of a thought image—a conception of the mind to which they bring their worship.”4
Here’s another prayer: “Lord, illuminate the idols that hide in the dark niches of my life and reveal the disguised ones by contrasting them with your kingdom ways.”
When God exposes our idols it requires a two-pronged response. First we must cast our idols away; renounce them and repent of the sin. Second, we need to refocus our lives on God in worship and prayer and obedience to His word. Discernment and sensitivity to the King and His kingdom follow.
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