What’s your idol? What’s the thing that is most likely to compete in your heart with God? What’s the thing that presents itself to you as your deepest identity? What’s that thing you hope (even if you know better than to admit it out loud) will bring you the most lasting satisfaction?

It might be something you already have—perhaps a career—that continually challenges and rewards you and assures you of your value. Or it might be something you wish you had—a romantic relationship, for example—that glitters at you like a far-off star. Or it might be something you are working towards—some project or possession—that continually preoccupies your mind.

We all have one (or more than one). The question is, what do we do about them? If our idol is straightforwardly sinful—like an extra-marital affair—then the answer is pretty clear. Give it up. Jesus’ instructions about eye gouging and hand chopping (Matt 18:8­–9) make the point with lurid clarity.

But many of our idols are gifts from God. They appeal to us because they are good, and they appeal to us in particular because of the way we have been made and formed. We aren’t able to just shake them off, nor should we, necessarily. We have to find a way to value them as gifts of God without letting them be God.

I find this pretty challenging. For most of my life, my principal idol has been my own creativity. Invention is my happy place. When I should be listening to a sermon, my mind will be working away on a technical problem to do with something I’m making; I’ll be problem solving computer code or joinery. This year, I’m likely to find it will be working away on a story I’m writing.

And there is nothing wrong with making things or writing stories. With the last, in particular, I am seeking to serve and glorify God. I don’t want any of these things to be idols. I want to do them as acts of service “for the Lord and not for men” (Col 3:23).

Unfortunately, it seems, these facts aren’t enough to keep me from idolatry. My heart still overvalues what my head knows should be secondary. The ups and downs of the creative endeavour still affect me too deeply. I still care too much about what other people say (or don’t say) about my work.

But just recently, in preparing for a discussion on this problem with my writer’s group, I found something that has helped me a bit: prayer—who would have thought?

This is the exercise. I wrote out three prayers to pray about my writing:


An Everyday Prayer for Business-as-Usual

Lord God, thank you for the joyous gift of creativity.

 Please help me to write well today.

Help me to do it as serving the Lord.

Help me not to waste time.

Please help me to write truthfully as I make up things, remembering that you are the true Creator of worlds.

Please help me to write stories that will encourage and bless people.


A Prayer for When Things Are Going Well

Lord God, thank you for blessing my creative endeavours.

Thank you for the gifts and opportunities you have given me—I acknowledge that they all come from you.

Heavenly Father, I know that writing does not define who I am.

I know that my words will pass away along with heaven and earth, but that your eternal word stands firm.

I thank you that I have been born of that word through the gospel and that through the saving mercies of Jesus, I trust that my name is written in heaven.

Please help me to remember this infinitely greater blessing.

Finally, please help me to honour you with the short life and time you have given me.

Please teach me to glorify you with all my words and thoughts, and actions.


A Prayer for When I Am Discouraged About the Work and Its Chances of Success

Heavenly Father, today I am discouraged about my writing and feel like I have been wasting my time.

I hoped to glorify you through my writing, but now I suspect that this is not part of your plan for me.
Thank you that this makes no difference to the most important things about my life.

Thank you that I am still part of the story you are telling through your son Jesus—and that this is a story with a good ending.

Thank you that you have forgiven my sins and promised me a redemptive arc.

Thank you that this disappointment is an occasion to remember these greater realities.

If you want me to spend less time writing, please help me to see what you would prefer me to be doing.

Otherwise, please make me persistent.

Help me to be patient, able and content to serve you with my writing—even if it never bears the fruit that I hoped it would.


Prayer as a Cure for Idolatry

I found the process of composing these prayers clarifying and encouraging. It aired me out a bit. The exercise of putting my hopes and fears into words brought my head and heart into a better conversation. Saying these things to God reminded me that he is not separate from the things I love, but that is their author.

It has been encouraging to go on praying these prayers too. I have found that as I speak to God (and myself), he helps me feel what I know. He takes away some of my anxiety and tamps down some of my over-excitement and enables me to quietly enjoy the gifts he has given me. Although I am not cured, he has been helping me manage the chronic disease that is my besetting idolatry.


What Prayers Could You Write?

Maybe you would like to try to doing something similar. For example, if your idol is something that you don’t have—like a job—you might find it helpful to work out some prayers that:

  • acknowledge the struggle that unemployment represents;
  • ask God to provide you with work;
  • ask him to help you believe that your worth is not tied up with your career;
  • ask him to help you use your time wisely;
  • bless other people who do have work;
  • thank God for the ways he has looked after you despite this difficult situation;

This list might sound glib coming from me, how could you write it to better suit your experience? You want to be raw and honest with God, but you should also be seeking to remind him (and yourself) of the promises he makes about your life and situation. In general, I think you will find that Romans 8 will provide a great source for hard-times prayers and James 1:10–11 will give you some healthy perspective when things are going well.

P.S. After publishing an earlier draft of this post on my own blog, one friend pointed out that my prayers reminded her of Douglas Kaine McKelvey’s Every Moment Holy.

I think that this is a sharp observation and that I might have been partly influenced by McKelvey’s prayers, since I have read and enjoyed some of them. Given that acknowledgement, let me commend Every Moment Holy as another source of encouragement alongside the prayers of Peter Adam on this website (my more conscious inspiration).