Empty Promises, Book Review

Empty Promises: The Truth About You, Your Desires, and the Lies You’re Believing
by Pete Wilson

A preacher who tells the congregation that an idol is anything more important to us than God probably wouldn’t shock (or enlighten) anyone. Most of us have heard this before . . . countless times . . . in many different ways . . . in Sunday morning sermons, small group lessons, radio preacher segments, and more.emptypromises

So, we might shrug it off.  Is anything more important to me than God?  Nah.  Not me.  Yawn and start doodling on the back of the bulletin.

Pete Wilson, knowing our tendency to bored complacency on this issue, gives his own definition: “idolatry is when I look to something that does not have God’s power to give me what only God has the authority and power to give” (p. 5).  Ahh, now he has our attention.

Of course this isn’t about statues of stone or bronze.  Most likely, this is internal idolatry, a problem in our hearts.  It doesn’t have to be the idol of materialism (although it can be), or physical appearance (although that’s possible, too).  Wilson covers other potential idols that are more elusive and harder to identify, like power, religion and dreams.

He writes with vulnerability and a touch of humor, making it an easy and interesting read.  He’s also organized and challenging–including in each chapter some benchmarks to consider when deciding whether or not you struggle with this or that.

The most insightful moments of the book for me were actually quotes from commentaries  and other classic and modern writers like C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, and John Piper.  I don’t mind this.  It shows the breadth of Pete Wilson’s reading and his ability to present truth in an organized and challenging way.

This wasn’t a particularly life-changing book for me at the moment, but it has the potential to be so.  I did, however, discover some fresh descriptions and explanations that I’ve been thinking about even after finishing the book.  This is fitting since, as Wilson, says, “I don’t think being mature Christians means getting to a place where we never deal with idolatry.  Rather, maturity comes when we become aware that this is going to be a lifelong battle…and we make up our minds to engage in it on a daily basis (p. 196).

That makes the book worth a re-read whenever we’re struck again by feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction, if only for the reminder that some longing won’t be fulfilled until heaven, but it is always fulfilled in Christ.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Attack of the Mutant Christmas Lists

Their Christmas lists keep growing.

I thought we had it all settled.  In fact, being the slightly neurotic Type-A mom that I am, I turned my daughters’ wish lists into a color-coordinated spreadsheet in Excel that tracks what the girls want, how that corresponds to what her sisters are getting, and what store has the best prices for said item.

Then I’ve established a four-month shopping program charting which presents I can afford to buy during each of the months until Christmas.

Believe it or not, I love this.  I enjoy gift-giving, especially to my children.  I don’t just jot their lists down, I listen to their interests and likes and spontaneous desires for months.  In fact, I begin writing down possible gift ideas on my day planner in June.

Yes, June.

And I mentally categorize their verbal requests into:

A: That’s a great idea!  I wonder where I can get that?
B:  Hmm. . . I’ll consider this one, but I may need to change my plans for other gifts.
C. Maybe not for Christmas; maybe for a birthday.
D. Ain’t gonna happen, honey.

That last category is for all those gifts that cost more than anything else we own in our home or toys that will likely break after the first use or sit dusty and forlorn on the shelves the week after Christmas.  It’s for duplicates of things they already have (how many Pillow Pets does a child need?) and for gifts that just seem downright silly to me.

But still the requests come in.  Like video games and Nintendo DS systems and the iPod touches and Kindles that apparently every other first and second grader in our town owns.

Thanks to birthday parties, friends, and the ever-constant barrage of commercials, my children have mutant Christmas lists.

While it seems so childishly foolish to long for novelty slippers or a new video game, don’t we often want what this world offers?

Perhaps it’s material things that constitute our wish list or physical beauty or instant gratification.

Or maybe our heart’s desires are truly Godly things, but we want them on our terms, under our control, in our timing . . . ultimately looking for fulfillment in them rather than God alone.

…Like ministering because we’re dependent on praise and attention.  Or working and serving because we’re addicted to success and accomplishments..

Or the ever-alluring need to be in Control.

And the oh-so-tempting rush of feeling needed and useful.

These aren’t sticks and stones idols that sit on the shelves of our hearts, so obvious and easily tossed out with the garbage.

No, Tim Keller writes that, put simply, idolatry is “taking a good thing and making it an ultimate thing.”

So even the best, most honorable desires of our heart might turn out to be idols leading us astray—all because we’re dependent on ministry for our value or friendships for our worth or anything other than God alone for our identity and hope.

Kelly Minter writes, “It is so essential that the only true and wise God be exalted, not only above all religious gods, but over all the things we put in place of Him” (No Other gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols).

But sometimes we just don’t know what’s lurking in these hearts of ours, not until God takes an idol away or asks us to hand it over.  It’s then we start feeling the pangs of withdrawal and realize just how addicted we really were.

Like when He tells us a busyness addict to rest.
Or a success addict to step down.
Or an approval addict to handle criticism.
Or a relationship addict to walk alone for a time.
Or a control addict to strap in for a wild ride of His design and not their own.

If we were Abraham, a wealthy landowner with status and connections, and God told us to leave and go, would we?

And if we went, would we go willingly and cheerfully, or would we whine and complain and create wish lists along the way to refill the voids?

Abraham not only trusted God and obeyed, but he managed to keep his eyes set on eternal things.  He didn’t look for fulfillment here and now or even in good things that just weren’t God things.

Scripture tells us:

“For he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God”  (Heb 11:9-10).

What tent is God asking you to dwell in?  What has He asked you to lay aside?

Set your eyes on eternity.  Hand over the keys to your house, carry your tent on your back, and trust God to plan and build a city with a permanent home for you there.  He is, after all, all we need.

Check out these great resources all about this:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King