The Burdens of Life
A common theme we hear when talking with one another is that many of us are weary. We live a fast-paced life. We are not like Spanish cultures who say, “luego, hasta mañana (later, until tomorrow). We pack our weeks with events. As we scurry about being busy, we encounter burdens and roadblocks holding us back and slowing our progress.
When we think we are catching up on finances; the car breaks down, and we need to buy a new transmission. The heating oil truck drops off the first winter delivery and sticks the invoice in the door as a friendly reminder of the cold weather to come. The school calls and says they need to set-up a meeting to discuss our child’s progress (or lack thereof). A friend gives us the cold shoulder because of something we said. We receive a phone call telling us that our brother-in-law is in the emergency room.
Roadblocks take place in our spiritual life. Our Bible reading reveals yet another area we need to change. Or, our busy schedule gets in the way of helping someone in the church. We get angry because our pride leads us to sin all over the place. We neglect prayer. We hear a story of how someone is selfless, and we become disappointed because we recognize we fail to give enough or to love enough.
There is no end to the burdens of life. How much can our shoulders carry? When will we run out of strength? Is there a solution?
The Idols We Carry Are Burdensome
Not all the time, but most of the time, the problem is that we are tired because we are carrying around idols. We are carrying unnecessary burdens. What we don’t know is that those things we turn to for satisfaction and joy are adding unnecessary weight on our shoulders.
Chapter 46 of Isaiah speaks about the burdens of idols. God calls on His people and invites them to lay down their idols.
Two specific idols God talks about are Bel and Nebo. Both are gods of the Babylonian empire. The people of Babylon turn to Bel and Nebo as gods who control destiny. They call out to these false gods and ask them to help in their time of need and to make their future a success. The people in Isaiah’s day don’t have the same burdens as we do, but, their sin nature does have them look to the wrong places to have their needs met and hope for a good future.
Rather than turn to the Creator of the Universe, the people turn to idols. God is telling His children to beware of the idols of Babylon. Idols are constrained to the material realm. They are confined and not free. Idols cannot deliver but are themselves captive to the confines of a graven image.
In other words, if Bel is in the image of a cow, then Bel is confined to a cow. Bel is not free, but captive to the cow’s image. If Nebo is carved of wood, then Nebo is confined to a tree. Bel and Nebo are not free, but captive.
The point God is making is when people carry around idols, they are carrying around something that is captive and confined. An idol cannot deliver us but is the very image of what it means to be enslaved and confined.
Let me first say that I am guilty of idols just like the rest of you. Every one of us has idols. Isaiah repeatedly speaks on the ways our idols kill us. (By the way, if you are tired of hearing about idols, your complaint is not with me, it is with God’s word.) We need to heed Isaiah’s continuous condemnation on idolatry. We don’t carry around idols carved as wooden figurines, but we do carry around idols. Sometimes, the idols we carry are the biggest burdens we have in life. It is important for us to realize how much our idols weigh us down.
All of us are (or should be) in an unceasing, unwavering war against our idols. Our culture has just as many, if not more, idols than the people of Babylon. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The idols of today are deceptive, and in most cases, we don’t realize they are idols. Know this, the idols of today all promise power, riches, comfort, joy, and safety. Just like Bel and Nebo, we hope our idols will control our destiny.
We tell our children an ivy league school will control their destiny. We seek careers to control our destiny. We obsess with physical exercise to control our destiny. We rely upon things of the world to grant us success and satisfaction.
For example, let’s start with an idol which is easily identifiable, and that is the smartphone. Now, those of you who may not have a smartphone, don’t get too self-righteous. Your idol will be named shortly.
We get a new smartphone because we think it will improve our life (thereby, shape our destiny). But, think of all the ways smartphones are a burden. Have you ever panicked because you left your smartphone someplace, but you don’t know where? Do you find yourself constantly needing to check your phone to make sure everything is okay? Are we trained to respond to its whistles? How much is that smartphone costing every month? Does looking at your phone remind us that there is a newer, greater, version just waiting for us at the store? Think of how free life might be if we never had a smartphone in the first place?
Money is an idol. Do you continually look at your bank account or monitor your investments? Is the lack of money cause you to sin so that you lie or cheat (or fudge the numbers) on your income tax? Do you work overtime at the expense of your family? Will God say you are a cheerful giver? Do you give to the church? Do you support missionaries who are spreading the gospel? How much easier would it be if we never thought about money again? (Not because we are filthy rich, but because we are not consumed by it.)
Sports are an idol. We obsess over our favorite teams. There are sports teams for our children, high-schoolers, colleges, and professionals. We forsake relationships or family events so we won’t miss a game. We read stories about the players and the games. We watch highlights of the game after we have seen the game. Imagine if there was never such a thing as sports teams! How much of our time and energy would be lifted from our life if there were no sports?
Our children can be an idol. How full is our schedule because we feel the need to have our child involved in everything? We want so badly for our children to be successful. We want to be known as great parents. How much of our busy schedule with our children are trying to shape their destiny? We give them music lessons and take them to theme parks. How much do we obsess over our children’s decisions? By no means does the Bible advocate neglecting our children, but there is a fine line between caring for our children and making their success an idol.
Think of the many things in our life which use up our time. Our homes, automobiles, entertainment, Facebook, music, pets, jobs, hobbies, and many other things, are draining our time and energy. We are continually trying to keep these things going.
We need to sit down and have frank, discerning, soul-searching conversations with one another to examine our lives and the things which take away our time and energy. We need to ask difficult questions. We need to put down our defenses. We need to look at our day and see how many idols we have in our life.
None of these things are evil, unless they interfere with our priorities, or even worse when we look to them for joy and satisfaction. It doesn’t take much for a good thing to become an evil idol. When we turn to these things to find purpose and meaning, they become burdens we have to carry as idols.
God Will Carry and Deliver Us
We are seeking to go through life finding satisfaction and joy in carrying idols. We have it all wrong. Listen to God. He says, “stop being proud.” Humble yourselves and be carried by Him. Put our destiny in His hands and not in the hands of an idol.
God begins carrying us when we are born. Think of how a parent carries a baby. God wants us to have that image in our mind when it comes to our lives. He carries us from birth. A baby is foolish and proud when they scream at the parent insisting on doing things their way. A baby that is pridefully independent, and doesn’t want to be carried, is a baby destined for destruction.
It is foolish of us to refuse God’s offer. God carries us when we are born physically by giving us life. And, God carries us as born-again children when He awakens us with His Holy Spirit. What do we think when we say no, we’d rather turn to our idol than to turn to the God who lovingly forms us in the womb?
When we refuse God’s offer, we are like little boys and girls who refuse to climb on their father’s back so he may carry them up the steep mountain. Life is like a swift running river that we need to cross. God longs for us to be dependent upon Him and to crawl in His arms, so we don’t drown.
Remember what God says in Isaiah 40? He tells His people, “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes. (Isaiah 40:11)
Jesus is the great Shepherd of the sheep. He tends His flock and gathers the lambs to His bosom. His sheep hear His voice. He carries them when it is dangerous and leads them beside the still waters. He comforts his lambs with His staff.
God’s lambs say, “the Lord is my Shepherd who lays down His life for me. At my Shepherd’s right hand are pleasures forevermore. He anoints my head with oil. He sets a place for me at His table. He anoints my head with oil and clothes me with joy and gladness. His reward is unending devotion and love. He is my protector and provider, and His kingdom is forevermore.
Jesus says, come to me those who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. God promises to lift us and carry us as though we are on wings of eagles.
God is unchanging. He never will leave us or forsake us. As the psalmist says, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden” (Psalm 68:19). And, that God is “our God forever and ever; He will guide us until death. (Psalm 48:14).
God changes not, and His compassions fail not. There is no reason to believe God will carry us halfway through life, and then announce that He’s finished with us. He promises to carry us from birth until our hair turns grey (or falls out or both).
The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy with great confidence in God’s hand of deliverance. He writes, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:18)
We need to put down the idols of Babylon and allow our loving God to carry us. Rest in His promises.
What Idol Will Help Us in our Distress?
God gives us a reason to put down our idols. The reason is that they are of no help in our time of need.
Which of our idols may we compare to God? The point of the passage is the answer to the question of verse five, “To whom would you liken Me and make Me equal and compare Me,
that we would be alike?”
As we line up our idols, of which there are many, we need to ask ourselves which idols offer the same promises as God? Will we compare God, who carries us, to an idol which we have to carry?
Will the idol of money guarantee us eternal life? Even if we have trillions of dollars, we still die. Money never buys us what we truly need.
Fame and popularity will not bring happiness. Think of how many famous people commit suicide.
When we have that perfect car that makes us feel good about ourselves, will that car be what we remember as we lay on our deathbed? Will we say, my life is complete because I owned the perfect automobile. I am so glad I took that car with me everywhere I went. It gave my life meaning and purpose. Is that what we will say?
What about the idol of entertainment? Will we say at the end of our life, “I am so glad I watched all those seasons of shows on Netflix”? Do we give thanks to all the Oscar-nominated movies because they wash away our sins?
Will a six-pack of beer take away our sorrows? Will that porn site help us to be the best father to our children? Does our gluttony improve our outlook on life?
Which of our idols gives us an anchor of hope? Which idol do we turn to when death is knocking at the door? When the doctor tells us we have cancer, will we say, “but, doctor, I have the best smartphone money can buy, everything is going to be okay.”
Do we pray to our favorite sports team for help in time of need? When our child is sick or hurting, will we turn to the sports page and cheer them up with the latest scores? Dear child, be happy, the Red Sox won.
Do you get the point? We may cry to our idol in our time of need, but it cannot and will not answer. It cannot deliver us from our distress. Our idols only give short-term pleasure. For the most part, they are a huge burden.
Remember, and be Assured, God Accomplishes all His Good Pleasure
Idols have a purpose, but their purpose is not for our good. Idols are self-serving. Idols need us to keep them going. Imagine people not watching sports, not buying the latest technology, not overeating, buying only practical vehicles, deciding the Bible is the best education, and deciding that success is not measured by our talents but by our character. Imagine a world without idolatry. Sounds like heaven!
We need to give idols our money, time, and energy. When we don’t support the idols, they die. The purpose of idols is to have people to carry them around, bow down to them, and keep them alive. The purpose of idols is to lead people to death and destruction.
God gives us a different message. God tells us, “Remember, recall it to mind, remember the former things.” God wants us to remember because He proves Himself worthy. God carries Noah and his family in the time of the flood. God carries the Israelites from captivity in Egypt, across the wilderness, and into the Promised Land. God promises the people of Jacob that He will deliver them from Babylonian captivity, and He does. In looking back at history, we see God’s faithfulness and we know He will be faithful in the future. He will carry us all the way to heaven’s New Jerusalem.
Unlike the idols, whose purpose is to destroy, God’s purpose is to give life. Jesus says; I come that you will have life and have it abundantly. He came to seek and to save the lost. Everything about the purpose of God is good.
Remember, and be assured.
As we remember, God wants us to be assured. When we lack assurance, it is not because God’s Word is lacking. It is because we are failing to see and remember the faithfulness of God for generation upon generation.
If our assurance is in our idols, we have reason to worry. If our assurance is in our performance, we are in deep trouble. But, if our assurance is built on the foundation of remembering the faithfulness of God, we will always have great comfort and security.
We need to have assurance in the person of God. He is God, and there is no other. There is no one like Him. We know He is the one true God because He proves Himself by declaring the end from the beginning. God says, I will do this, and God does it. He reveals in His word what He will do in ancient times things which have not been done, and then He does them. As He prophecies His work, He says, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.”
Everything God will do is revealed in His holy word. Look at the confidence God gives us in this passage of knowing His Word will come to pass. He says, “Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it; surely I will do it.”
God says that He will bless the descendants of Abraham. He swore by Himself. God is not a liar. God wants us to believe the unchangeableness of His purpose. We who take refuge in God have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. Our hope is an anchor of the soul. It is a hope both sure and steadfast because it is bought for us by Christ, our Savior. (Hebrews 6:13-20)
God Carries Us to Salvation and Glory
God knows that we are stubborn-minded and intent on our own selfish interests. Our thoughts and our motives lack purity. When it comes to idols, we can dig in our position and fight off anyone who dares tell us to put them down. Our sin nature is like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, holding onto to the ring and refusing to let go even though it cost him his life (spoiler alert).
God is telling us we need to listen to Him. We are far from righteous. What we need most is not to be rich, more comfortable, more entertained, better looking, or that our children attend Ivy-league schools. What we need more than anything is righteousness.
Righteousness means to be completely right. It is being morally upright, and it is about making wise choices. Righteous people make the right choices about what is right and wrong, good and evil, and best and worst. Our lives are filled with opportunities to make choices about what to believe, do, think, and say. When we choose the idols of the world, we are making an unrighteous decision driven by our fleshly desires. (It is a battle of two natures).
God calls for us to listen. He desires to bring near His righteousness. It is not so far away that it is unattainable. The Bible says, the message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it (Deuteronomy 30:14; Romans 10:8).
The word of faith is what brings us righteousness. If we confess with our mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved. With our faith, we receive the righteousness of God. God is calling us to stop trusting idols and put our trust and faith in God.
God promises that He will not delay in granting His salvation. It sometimes feels like God delays, but we may have faith that God’s timing is perfect. He pours out His glory upon those who put their faith in the Messiah.
God is calling us to live in glory with Him. There is no higher calling!
Let us put down our idols and remember that our God carries us to salvation and glory.