First, here's the question Lisa asked (thanks Lisa!):
Where in your opinion do you draw the line from something being a healthy longing or hunger, the thing you can't live without to it being an idol?
I learned this morning that Ken Sande in his book The Peace Maker defines "idol" as "when a desire has become so strong it controls our thoughts and behavior" and he says that you can tell when a desire is ruling your heart by how you react when that desire isn't met.
First of all, I just want to say this is a fantastic question, and one that every Christ follower must resolve in order to experience the full freedom and Life the gospel offers. Here's my take on it: A desire becomes an idol when it usurps God as the prime object of our heart's devotion. "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3) is, for me anyway, a fairly straightforward measure. Do I want my desire more than I want God and his will for my life? Is my desire causing me to lose devotion to God, or even to push him away? If the answer is yes, then I've probably put my desire before God; it has become an idol--something I serve above God.
I can appreciate the warning to avoid letting your desires "control your thoughts and behavior," and of course I agree. But some wrongly take that to mean that as Christ followers we should avoid feeling or desiring anything too profoundly or too deeply, for fear of it becoming an idol. The mandate of Scripture to be governed by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) does not mean that we should suppress our desires or minimize how we authentically feel about things. On the contrary, I think the freedom the gospel affords us (John 10:10; Galatians 5:1) calls us forth to experience life even more deeply and truly in every way than we did before coming to faith, allowing our hearts to feel the full breadth and depth of our deep desires (and please note I'm not talking about fleshly lusts here, but the deep desires of the heart), and to bring those deep desires into our relationship with God, inviting Him into them and fully submitting them to Him.
This is, at least in part, what I believe this well-known passage is instructing us to do:
Delight yourself in the L ORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalms 37:4)
He doesn't say "don't desire;" but rather, have your desires, and choose to delight yourself in God above all. In my view, this is a far more courageous and authentic way of walking with God than simply suppressing our desire out of fear and calling it godliness. But it isn't godliness. Suppression is a weak substitute for authentic surrender.
I'm reminded of this quote from John Eldredge's The Journey of Desire:
"To live with desire is to choose vulnerability over self-protection; to admit our desire and seek help beyond ourselves is even more vulnerable. It is an act of trust. In other words, those who know their desire and refuse to kill it, or refuse to act as though they don't need help, they are the ones who live by faith. Those who do not ask do not trust God enough to desire. They have no faith. The deepest moral issue is always what we, in the heart of hearts, believe about God. And nothing reveals this belief as clearly as what we do with our desire." (p. 59)
Other thoughts on this? Feel free to post.