What the Rich Young Ruler and I Have in Common

Catch “Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl” today through Friday on Revive Our Hearts as Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Paula Hendricks have a candid conversation about the idol of relationships.

Like most Type A personalities, I had my life pretty well planned out. I would go to the college of my dreams where I'd meet the man of my dreams, and a few years later I'd have the children of my dreams. I'd also have the ministry of my dreams, and my walk with the Lord would be a perpetual state of mountaintop bliss.

Fast-forward almost a decade later, and I now stand as a newly-dubbed thirty-year-old and have only checked off a few of the items on my imaginary list. Life has not gone the way I had planned, even with the best of intentions and the heartiest of efforts.

"You don't know what idols you worship until Jesus says, ‘I want it.'"

I often struggle to trust and believe the Lord when my idealistic dreams are shattered. I've poured out my heart before Him, persistently asking for a change, only to get a curveball or a longer waiting period. At times, I've let a root of bitterness creep in (Heb. 12:15), and I've doubted His character. I've spent many days and nights trying to make sense of the Lord's plan, clinging to biblical answers in my head and willing them to transform my heart.

Recently, the Lord used the light of His Word to reveal how He is at work in these seasons. My pastor is preaching through Matthew and made his way to the story of the rich young ruler. You may remember that the ruler thought he was doing everything right according to the Law. Yet Jesus revealed the true state of his heart when He said,

"If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Matt. 19:21).

I think the ruler's response is one of the saddest verses in the New Testament:

"When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions" (Matt. 19:22).

Then my pastor made a statement that pierced my heart: "You don't know what idols you worship until Jesus says, ‘I want it.'"

Jesus was demanding from the rich young ruler the same thing He's demanding from this twenty-first century, thirty-year-old American woman—death to "my" self and unadulterated worship of the one, true God and Savior.

  • As Jesus has said through His Word and circumstances, "I want your singleness and desire for marriage," it has revealed that I worship the god of romance rather than the Lover of my soul.
  • When He said, "I want your health," it was revealed that I worship the god of the here-and-now rather than the God of all eternity.
  • Then when He said, "I want all of your accolades," my doubts uncovered that I had been worshiping my fading glory rather than the Name above all names (Phil. 2:9).

My unmet expectations, my shattered dreams, my deferred desires, and some of my deepest hurts have been intentionally fashioned by my Father—not to hurt me, but to love me. He is using them to reveal areas of sin that lie dormant in the crevices of my heart and drive the "my" mentality to the cross. Some of God's greatest mercies to me have been the very things I haven't wanted, because in them, more of the idolatrous me is revealed. He is slowly opening my eyes to an impure love for my Savior and a soul that worships at the feet of lesser gods.

The Lord Jesus has laid claim to every part of my life, and He has every right to do so (Gal. 2:20). My hope is that despite my frequent resistance and ignorance, the Father's grace will see to it that I'm thoroughly sanctified (made holy) until I'm conformed to the image of His Son who doesn't worship false gods (Rom. 8:29; 1 Thess. 5:23–24).

Amazingly, I'm learning about the preciousness of Christ through the letdowns in life. The rich young ruler missed this truth—like I often do. His ears were so plugged up with a wealth of possessions that he didn't hear what he would gain after he gave everything up:

"You will have treasure in heaven; come, follow me."

The gracious God we worship will have no rivals—not even things that seem like the best-laid plans. He has told us He will not give His glory to anyone or anything else (Isa. 48:11). When He opens our eyes to this glory, everything else begins to shrink in the presence of His incomparable worth, and we are one degree of glory closer to what we were made for—worshiping Him alone.

What is it that the Lord is putting His finger on in your heart and life that you've been worshiping instead of Him?

So what is it that the Lord is putting His finger on in your heart and life that you've been worshiping instead of Him? Though it may not feel like it, it's His Fatherly love that's using something painful to lead you to the greatest gain you'll ever know: intimately knowing Him forevermore.

"Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life" (Matt. 19:29).

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About the Author

Lindsay Swartz

Lindsay Swartz

Lindsay serves at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) as the managing editor of content. She completed her Master of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. She's navigating single life in her thirties and loves movies, traveling, good food, coffee shops, girly things, and sports. She lives in Nashville, TN and is loving every minute of living in Music City.

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