Prayer : The Antidote To Idolatry and Isolation



According to Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest commandment in the Bible is to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind; and to love your neighbour as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). At some point or the other, every Christ-follower has to grapple with the tension of these two loves. When we are so caught up with the glory and beauty of the Lord in our private moments of devotion, we invariably find something in us leading our minds to consider other aspects of true piety like caring for the poor and loving the unlovable. Or when we are so enjoying an awesome relationship with a fellow believer, a fear always lurks around pestering us to consider the possibility that we are loving that person more than the Lover of our souls. In both cases, we mostly then struggle to do a balance act.

In this struggle to do a balance act, we can fall on either sides. Either we fall into the pit of idolatry, where we forget God and spend all our effort, time and love pursuing someone other than God. We find our identity, meaning and purpose of life in their love for us. Having them in our life is functionally heaven for us and to loose them is literally hell for us. On the other hand of the balance act, we can fall into the pit of isolation, where a faulty sense of devotion to God makes us shut all fellow believers from our life. We see our zeal for God best manifested in our willingness to walk the lone path before us, without seeking any meaningful relationship with the body of Christ to whom we belong. On closer look however this is not any zeal for God, but religious pride masquerading as passion for God.

Reconciling the two seemingly contradictory loves of the great commandment is essentially a theological issue and goes beyond the scope of this article. However avoiding the pits of idolatry and isolation in a practical way is shared here. The reason why the practical outworking is shared here is because I have seen many including myself who may be able to theologically solve the issue but have no insight into the nitty-gritty of dealing it. We can read a book like 1 John and say loving our neighbour ought to be an evidence of our love for God and thus assert that if we truly love God, we will also love our neighbours. Or we can read the gospel of John and say we prove we are true disciples of Christ when we love one another. These are all true. But what do we do, practically speaking, when we find we are wrestling with our love for God and our love for another person? In my life, at one point, my love for a fellow believer was challenged by that same person as me committing idolatry. I struggled with it and spend quite a lot of time and effort in seeking the Lord. I only but reacted against it and fell into the pit of isolation, only to find that I cannot be a true believer without the other members of the body. Having a meaningful relationship with the body of Christ is not a luxury, but a necessity for all members of the body. So I need to love God like no other, yet have to have others. However how do I avoid the pit of isolation in all my zealous pursuit of God and how do I at the same time avoid the pit of idolatry in all my benevolent engagement with the people of God? I struggled with this in my mind.

One day I was interceding for a fellow believer I love so much. That day I suddenly realized that my love for this Christ-follower grows when I pray. And what is prayer, but me communing with God in love. It dawned on me that here is love for God and love for neighbour crossing each other, in intercession. I sat down and reflected prayerfully before the presence of God as to what He was teaching me. I then realized I have found the answer I was looking for. The practical solution to avoiding the pits of idolatry and isolation in our pursuit to obey the great commandment is prayer.

Before I delineate on how prayer solves this issue, it is important to explain what I mean by prayer. By prayer is meant, communion with God. In other words, we are not talking here about a dead, ritualistic routine that many religious people indulge in their spare times. We are talking here about prayer as Jesus did, a heart to heart communion between the Father and the Son, marked by integrity, intimacy, affection and devotion. In other words, it is praying with an eye on communion, both as its means and end. Prayer thus is not simply talking to God. It is talking to God with our hearts engaged to God’s heart. Most of the time we have pray into this kind of prayer. Moreover we are not talking here about petitionary prayer to God to help us avoid these pits. Such prayer is important and good. We should supplicate to God to help us from falling into these pits. However when I say prayer is the solution to this problem, it assumes supplication but also goes beyond supplication.

Such communing prayer overcomes the pit of idolatry by always keeping God before us as the object of our worship. For idolatry is not enjoying good things in life, but enjoying them, forgetting God. Thus if I remember God while enjoying the love of my neighbour, giving all thanks and praise to God for him and communicating it all in my communion with Him, then I have overcome the pit of idolatry. So when I am with my dear believer friend, I am not just fellowshipping with him, but through prayer, I am also communing with my God. Everything that brings me joy from this relationship, I immediately turn it into a matter of praise and thanksgiving to God. I thus constantly remember it is God who should be praised and rejoiced over for all the good flowing from this relationship. Soon the relationship, instead of being a challenge to my worship, becomes a channel for my worship.

Such communing prayer overcomes the pit of isolation by stirring our hearts with the love of God for people. For it is impossible to commune with God who is love and not have our hearts stirred to love others. Hardness and coldness of heart towards others is only possible by indulging in mere religious prayer with no real communion with the heart of God. However when one is careful to commune with God, one can hardly keep oneself from loving others as He does. Like I mentioned earlier, I found I love my Christian friend more, when I interceded. Thus by pursuing communion with God in prayer, our love for others will only grow higher and never diminish. It is intercession for people, while communing with God that fosters and fuels true, lasting love for people; one that does not die when reciprocity ends. Thus when true prayer is sought to fight the pit of isolation, it is God’s love for people that fuels my love for them. Soon my relationship with God, instead of being the tomb to my love for others, becomes the womb of my love for others.

That day after prayer when I turned to the passage for my daily Bible reading, I found myself in the book of Philemon. There I saw this flushed out in Paul’s words. In verse 4, he says “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers.” First of all, note Paul remembered Philemon in his prayers. He loved Philemon through his prayers. Secondly, Paul thanks God when he delights in Philemon. He turned around everything good flowing from this relationship to be a reason to commune with God. Thus Paul was loving God by offering thanks to Him, however the cause of it was his loving delight in Philemon. Thus love for God and love for people are friends when reconciled in communing prayer. This is not just found in Philemon, but in almost all the epistles of Paul. He constantly remembered his dear ones in prayer, growing thus in his love for them and he also turned every good and praiseworthy thing flowing from these relationships to be a reason to rejoice in God.

Communing prayer alone is thus the only way to delight in people with a God-ward stance. It alone can simultaneously avoid the pit of loving people over God (idolatry) and the pit of loving God minus people (isolation) and make us truly God-centred, yet other-focused. No wonder the Bible calls us to pray without ceasing (1 Thes.5:17; Lk.18:1; Rom.12:12).

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By Jay Dharan
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