Idol Prayers

John Calvin famously declared that humans are, by nature, always creating idols. I’m afraid to say that is especially true for people like me who find that creativity itself is our chief idol. I am tempted to find my own invention more interesting than God’s. I am tempted to find greater satisfaction in the things I might make or write than the infinitely greater things God has done for me. I am disproportionately attracted to ideas (even theological ideas) that I have worked out for myself.

I don’t want to reject my creativity—it’s a good gift of God. But nor do I want it to have free rein over my thoughts, affections and ambitions.

I find it hard to know how to resist these tendencies. I don’t want to reject my creativity—it’s a good gift of God. But nor do I want it to have free rein over my thoughts, affections and ambitions. I don’t want to live for my own creativity. I want to offer it as an act of service “for the Lord and not for men” (Col 3:23).

And yet … 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. The problem is more acute this year as I pursue some creative writing projects.

Some Help

But just recently, in preparing for a writing-group discussion on this problem, I worked out an exercise that has helped me a bit. I wrote out three prayers to pray about my writing:

  1. A prayer for business-as-usual, to use every day;
  2. A prayer for when things are going well;
  3. A prayer to pray when I am feeling discouraged about my enterprise and its chances of success.

My goal in each case was to first to acknowledge the good things and bad things about my creativity and my response to it; then to use the Bible and God’s promises to counter the habitual errors in my thinking; and finally to remind myself and God about what he says about me and my creative projects. 

Here’s what I came up with:

1. Everyday Prayer

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.

2. A Prayer for Good Times

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.

3. A Prayer for Disappointment

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.

I found 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 he is their author.

God has been helping me to manage the chronic disease of my besetting idolatry.

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 gets things back into perspective. He enables me to quietly enjoy the gifts he has given me. Although I am not cured, he has been helping me to manage the chronic disease of my besetting idolatry.

Try It

Maybe you would like to try to doing something similar. Of course, you will have to adjust it according to your idol. 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;

Or something more appropriate. This list might sound glib coming from me, so write it yourself. 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.

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Andrew Moody lives and writes in Melbourne, Australia. He sometimes works as a lay theologian, sometimes as a graphic designer, and was the inaugural editor of The Gospel Coalition Australia from 2016 to 2023.* Andrew is married to Jenny and they have two grown-up children.

* You can see some more of his old TGCA posts here.