Maybe the most pathetic part of Israel creating their own “God” is that they now had the burden of caring for this “God.” He didn’t comfort them; they had to dance for him. He couldn’t even move himself from place to place; they had to carry him!

What a terrible trade! The true God had promised to supply all their needs, protect them when they were afraid, satisfy them when they were thirsty, and feed them when they were hungry. He promised never to leave them. One day, he would give his life to redeem them. They traded this God for an image of an animal assembled from leftover earrings and bracelets.

You can take one of two postures toward God. You can shrink him down and carry him, or humble yourself and let him carry you. If you attempt to carry him, you will retain a measure of control, but he won’t satisfy you. If he carries you, you must relinquish all control and be ready to receive all he says whether it sits well with you or not.

A few years ago, I was sitting in a crowded airport waiting area. Our flight had been delayed again, and I was trying to get some reading done. (Does Delta stand for “Doesn’t Ever Leave the Airport”?) I looked up to see the eyes of a friendly, older lady fixed firmly on mine. She asked me what I was reading, and I told her it was a Christian book about discovering God’s love. Her eyes lit up, and she said that she too was a spiritual seeker. She ran a shop on a beach in Florida where she sold religious amulets.

“All religions teach good things,” she said, “And I collect the best from each one. I find something good in them all, and I try to share the best parts with others.”

We talked for several minutes about what she thought those things were, and I shared with her my faith in Christ.

“Oh yes,” she responded. “Christianity teaches many good things.” At that point, she reached inside her bag and pulled out a small rosary ring with a crucifix attached to it. “This is what I’ve taken from the Catholics. It reminds me of God’s power, and I always carry it when I travel, because it keeps me safe.”

I was trying to figure out how to respond to that when an elderly lady sitting across from us turned to her husband with her newspaper in hand and said in a voice loud enough for the dead to hear, “Honey, our horoscope predicts that our travels will be safe today!”

The woman I was talking to immediately turned and said, “Really? That’s great news! My friend here (she pointed to me) is a Christian pastor, so he’ll bring us good luck as we fly too.” And then, out of nowhere, another guy—a guy I thought had been busy with his Sudoku puzzle—leaned forward and said, “I have St. Christopher right here in my bag.”

I looked at him and thought, “What bag? Can St. Christopher really ride along as a carry-on?”

Sure enough, he reached into his duffle bag and pulled out a foot-high statue of St. Christopher, the patron saint of traveling. The lady I was talking to smiled from ear to ear: “We are sure to have safe travels now—a positive horoscope, my rosary ring, St. Christopher, and a Baptist pastor!”

Seminary did not prepare me for this. The gate attendant summoned us to begin boarding. As we walked down the jetway together, she handed me the rosary ring and very kindly said, “I want you to have this rosary ring. Remember, if you’ll hold onto it when we take off and land, it will keep you safe.”

As she placed it in my hand, I couldn’t help but noticing the image of Jesus hanging on the cross engraved on the top. This is the God who promises to hold us in his hand if we’ll submit to him (John 10:29). I am in his hand when I take off, and I’ll be in his hand when I land. And if we happen to explode midflight, I’ll still remain in his hand.

If he holds me in his hand, you see, I don’t have to be as concerned about clinging so tightly to him with mine.

Our hearts yearn for the security and satisfaction that comes from knowing the all-sufficient, eternally wise, and all-powerful God. But the only way we can know him is to come to him on his terms—to receive him for who he is. And that means being willing to hear from him things that sometimes confuse you. As Tim Keller says, only the faith that believes God regarding things it doesn’t want to hear can believe God about the things it desperately does want to hear.4

We each have to decide if we want a fake god—an imaginary god we can carry around—or the real God, who is beyond our understanding and control, who carries us.

If you are searching for bold, world-transforming faith, a god of your own making simply will not do. Only by humbling yourself before God and receiving him on his terms will you encounter the God worth living for and a faith worth dying for.

The God behind all of creation is the God that you crave—a God large enough to satisfy your deepest desires and wise enough to rule our universe. He is a God whose love, glory, and majesty you’ve always yearned for, even if you didn’t know how to express it. And he is unwaveringly good, even if we can’t always understand what he is doing.

Greear, J. D., and David Jeremiah. 2018. Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

We have just released a new Bible Study based on J.D. Greear’s newest book, Not God Enough. These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.