Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Show of hands: who bows to peer pressure?

I was standing there alone in the middle of the room, and everyone was waiting for me to decide.

Although it happened more than two decades ago and a full two thirds of my life has since passed, I still remember the incident vividly. I was in second grade and the teacher had written a brain teaser up on the chalk board along with two different answers. One answer was on the right side of the board, the other on the left. One answer was right, the other wrong. Then she had everyone stand up and gave one simple instruction.

"Walk to the side of the board that you think has the correct answer."

One by one my classmates made their decision. And one by one, they all walked to the same side of the board. But I stood at my desk frozen. Frozen because no one stood by the answer that I was knew was the right answer. I was certain I was right, which meant I was certain all of my classmates were wrong.

And my second grade brain exploded. Not only with the logic problem on the board, but also the sociological problem forming before me. I was weighing risks and rewards. Being right all by myself would be awesome, but being wrong all by myself would be humiliating. Siding with the rest of my classmates would be safe, whether they were right or not.

In the end, I sided with the crowd.

I played it safe. And I hated myself for it. Sure enough, the entire classroom (myself included) had walked to the wrong side of the board. The bag of candy for the students with the right answer instead went back into the teacher's desk. But the agony of missing out on some free candy was dwarfed by the angst I felt at the realization that I'd made my decision based not on what I thought was the right answer, but rather based on what I thought was the socially safe answer.

My heart idol is human approval.

Lee just preached on idolatry this week, and I realized that I've still got the same idol that I had all the way back in second grade. When you're a kid, they call it peer pressure. When you're grown, they call it being a people-pleaser. But now I see it for what it really is. For me, it's an idol. It's my functional savior that I run to to find my self-worth, my validation, my meaning.

When I worship at this false god, I want the approval of my peers more than I want what I know is right. Nowadays it's not so much that I'm choosing to be wrong with the crowd rather than be right alone. Instead, I make the decisions that are socially safe, rather than the decisions that I know are best. Deep down, when I worship at the idol of human approval, my first question is not "What will God think of this decision?" but rather "What will others think of this decision?"

All of us have our own idols.

Most of them aren't bad things. A job. Your spouse. Your kids. Even "sex, power, and money" aren't bad in themselves, despite what you may have heard. But as Mark Driscoll has memorably said, "When a good thing becomes a god thing, that's a bad thing." When we look to a created thing to provide for us what only the Creator can provide (meaning, significance, acceptance, approval, ultimate joy, comfort, security), not only do we set ourselves up for disappointment, but we commit idolatry in the process.

Do you know what your idols are? Do you know how to go about finding them? In closing, I'll share a clip from my pastor's sermon on how to find your idols.

As you discover your idols, however, don't despair. There is an answer and it's the one Pastor Lee closes the video with. We worship our way into idolatry, we must worship our way out. But more on that next time.

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