I have been mulling this around for the last few weeks. I want to propose that there is a direct connection between your ability to be generous and your ability to address your idols.

Tim Keller defines idols this way: “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “if I have that, then i’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”

The Bottom line is this: idols bring security (or at least we hope that’s what they will do for us). If my idol is “being liked” I will do whatever I can do to be liked because I believe that will make me secure and help me feel significant.

In our society, security and safety tend to be a very popular idols. Of course, as any idol goes, they are a mirage. Our belief that safety and security that come through money, success, power, etc is completely false. Most of us know this but so many of us chase after it. Even the Christians do it (gasp! can you believe it?!).  Money, success, power – they are all terribly unreliable gods.

Generosity can be defined very basically as: “readiness or liberality in giving“.

I am guessing you can see the dilemma here. If what makes me secure in life is money, power or success I’ll spend my life chasing after those things and thus I will have little place for generosity. Why? Because generosity is the antithesis of that pursuit. The pursuit of significance in power, money or success is by nature a self-focused act. Generosity thus makes no sense (unless we find our safety and security in feeling loved by helping others!).

This is why one of the first acts of generosity should be confronting our idols. As we discern where we are finding our meaning and significance we will be be able to see where our idols are keeping us from being generous.

So, do you wish you were a more generous person?

Start by taking a look at your idols.

The more you find your significance in the One who gave his life so that the world would be made whole the more you’ll stop grabbing for significance through self-focused means.

  • Excellent stuff Todd. For me, I’ve found that before I can identify my idols, I need to pay attention to my emotions. Recognizing when I’m drawn to something and then addressing “WHY” i’m drawn to it has been huge. I often realize that my emotions are pushing me to fill my life with something that God is meant to fill. Emotions are clues to where God is growing you.

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  • Excellent post!

    Idolatry is what we do. Stifle one idol and other pops up in it’s place.

    But God knows this about us and in His external Word and in the sacraments, He constantly leads us to repentance and carries us back home…again, and again, and again. All throughout our idolatrous lives.

    Thanks, so much.


  • Great insights, Todd. Our idols directly hinder our generosity (and plenty of other redemptive practices). Or, we give lip service to generosity (Hey, did you see Bono’s awesome talk at Georgetown last night?) to feed our sense of moral superiority (another favorite idol of mine). Inevitably I start thinking of how nice it would be if my quest for money, success and power actually resulted in getting some…

    • ToddHiestand

      Dan, thanks for the response … we need to have dinner again soon!

  • Hi Todd, I am ken. I am a believer that struggles with generosity. Not with loving others so to speak, but i guess helping others. It seems I weigh helping others with what is convenient for me. I don;t know if that makes sense, but the idol ellimination sure makes sense. I have been trying to eliminate a few key idols in my life. So that theme was consistant with your article. The revelation though was definately the part of idols interfering with your generosity. That is beautiful. Thankyou for posting this. You are wise. maybe you would like to get together some time for coffee?