Reading through the Old Testament can be depressing at times. I've been going through 1 and 2 Kings and it's basically a long list of kings who seemed to completely disregard God. I was especially struck by the repeated phrase, "He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from the sins of his father, which he had caused Israel to commit." Even kings who somewhat had it together were described like this, "He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Uzziah had done. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there" (2 Kings 15:34-35). God repeatedly warned the people that this disobedience was damaging and would have consequences, which are summed up in 17:15- "They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless."
I've developed the habit of trying to see myself in the Israelite's behavior. It's so easy to distance yourself and dismiss their behavior as foolish, but this is to miss the Word's incisive application to our lives. Why would they put so much energy into worshiping gods of wood and stone when they had the living God? One of the keys in applying this to ourselves is the high places.
Most of us don't outright reject God, at least not consciously. We tell ourselves that we love and trust Him, and we make an effort to be loving to our families and involved in our local faith community. We may even cut out behaviors we know are distancing us from God- I hear a lot of people say things in couples sessions like, "What's the problem? I come home from work every night, I'm not drinking or having any affair or anything! What do they want from me?"
What keeps us from true growth in our relationship with God is that we're still holding onto our high places. Watchman Nee puts it this way:
If we give ourselves unreservedly to God, many adjustments may have to be made: in family, or business, or church relationships, or in the matter of our personal views. God will not let anything of ourselves remain...we admit that many of us still have controversies with the Lord. He wants something, while we want something else. Many things we dare not look into, dare not pray about, dare not even think about, lest we lose our peace. We can evade the issue in this way, but to do so will bring us out of the will of God. -The Normal Christian Life, 101.
It's an issue of complete surrender. The undoing of the Israelites is described this way- "Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols." Did you know that it's possible to do that? Often when a client gets stuck in therapy it is because they have hit a point where they are being asked to let a high place go and they don't want to. This is the sex addict who knows he is powerless in the face of temptation but still keeps the smartphone, internet, and television access, telling himself it's not necessary to go that far and he can stop any time or that being part of a recovery group is for other people but not him. This is the spouse who can't let go of the pride of being right about an issue and offer an apology. This is the person who holds onto bitterness towards those who have wronged them in the past. This is the person who cannot stop worrying about money. The list goes on and on.
A Positive Example
Finally in 2 Kings 22-24 we see a king who gets it.
Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem...Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did- with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.
It's almost exhausting to read the detailed account of all the idols, temples, and high places he went around to destroy. He killed pagan priests and after burning idols he scattered the dust over graves to defile the former worship sites. There were no half measures with Josiah. This is the kind of obedience that pleases the Lord, and it is the kind of obedience we're called to. (Side note: please don't kill anyone or scatter ashes in any graveyards after reading this)
I would ask you to genuinely search your heart and talk to God about this. Is there anything you're upset with God about or a prayer that is not being answered to your liking? What do you feel is keeping you from being truly content and happy in your life? Alternately, what do you have that you feel you couldn't possibly live without? Are you witholding something from God? What are you most defensive and easily angered about? What repetitive behaviors are you unable to stop? What do you get most excited about? What gives you hope for the future?
Each of these questions could be a clue to your high place. If you can't think of anything, I'm sure your spouse can point you in the right direction.
A Personal Closing Word
To give you a further idea of what I'm talking about I'll share a personal example. I've been asking myself a lot of these questions. What's popped up for me is that my high place is an expectation for the quality of life I should have, a belief that God owes me ease in my circumstances. It's about comfort. I shouldn't have to struggle financially or live far away from friends and family. I should be able to vacation where and when I choose. To hold onto this high place leads to irritation with my wife when she doesn't make my life easier, fantasies about living elsewhere that pull me away from my calling and purposes here, and keep me praying about selfish things instead of interceding for others or growing in holiness. To allow this high place to continue for years could lead to addictions, affairs, bitterness. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I project that out because I see it in my office all the time.
This is serious stuff my friends. Don't worship worthless things and become worthless. Let God talk to you about your high place (believe me you'll get an almost instant answer if you actually want one) and be ready to lay it down for something much better- the peace and joy that comes from loving God with all your soul and strength.