I like flattery. Not the super-obviously-empty kind of flattery, of course. That just feels insulting.
But I do like to be flattered.
Tell me something neat, exceptional, interesting, and wonderful about me, and I’m all ears. As long as it’s somewhat believable, I will take that precious bit of compliment home with me, admire it, pet it, and cuddle it close. Then, I’ll enjoy a nice, long soak in the validation while I meditate on what it means about the greatness of me.
Unfortunately, it never lasts.
I do live with me, after all.
There’s plenty of opportunity to see how great I’m not. And then there’s always someone better at that thing I was recently feeling so flattered about. The satisfaction of that last morsel of affirmation quickly fades, and I need more.
The only thing to do then is exploit my strengths, offer them to whomever or whatever will pay the highest dividends in success and validation.
This is spiritual prostitution.
A person who chooses a life of prostitution has decided that her body is the best way to get what she needs or wants. She offers something precious to someone unworthy. Do you see the parallel?
It’s a graphic illustration, but it’s not mine—it’s God’s.
It can be found in Ezekiel chapter 16. Israel is a baby girl born into mean and humble circumstances. She is vulnerable and has nothing until God takes a special interest in her and adopts her as his own. He clothes her, provides for her, and makes her into a thing of beauty and splendor. At some point, the attention she receives from the surrounding nations goes to her head. She begins to trust in her beauty and forget that it all came from God. She depends on her strengths as though they could be credited to her, and will be at her disposal unconditionally and indefinitely. This beautiful, cherished young nation gives in to insecurity and greed, and begins to court the affections of the nations around her. She flaunts and exploits the splendors that have been so tenderly and generously lavished on her by the one who loves her—and she offers them to unworthy lovers who only want to use her.
“But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame, and you poured out your harlotries on every passer-by who might be willing.” Ezekiel 16:15
Horrifying that I’m doing anything that strikes God this way. But I surely do. It looks like this:
My ability to be hospitable becomes a way to impress people instead of serve them.
My intelligence and insight are vehicles for recognition, rather than a tool to encourage or bless others.
Wealth (of any kind) is a means to comfort and elitism rather than a way to invest in God’s kingdom.
I could go on, but it is the same with any ability, resource, or opportunity. When we offer the precious things God has given us to something unworthy, it looks to him like prostitution.
It boils down to a question of what we trust in and live for.
“When I say to the righteous he will surely live, and he so trusts in his righteousness that he commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered ; but in that same iniquity of his which he has committed he will die.” Ezekiel 33:13 13
Because we started out with good motives, doesn’t mean we’re still operating with those same motives.
Can’t trust in that.
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act…” Ezekiel 36:22
Success isn’t necessarily a stamp of God’s approval.
Can’t trust in that.
To Israel’s enemies, God says,
“As you rejoiced over the inheritance of the house of Israel because it was desolate, so I will do to you. You will be a desolation.” Ezekiel 35:15
The downfall of those in opposition to us does not mean that we are in the right.
Can’t trust in that.
Nothing we’ve believed or done in the past will save us…if we don’t continue in the right direction. No amount of success or resources will make us valid. God’s love makes us valid. There is no status we can attain that will keep us satisfied. There is no good work or ideology that exempts us from the unending struggle to understand what God cares about, and be a part of what he is doing now.
We want to trust in other things because we feel that they will give us a place to stop and rest. Something to anchor ourselves to. And end our toil. But the approval of the world is a treacherous and ever-changing sea. There is no rest there. It only traps us in prostitution.
This may seem like a very negative post. It kind of is. It’s taken from a portion of scripture where God is grieved and angered by a people who have stubbornly and unrepentantly applied themselves to this vain pursuit.
But there is a flip side.
When I am grateful. When I am in love with my savior. When I thrive on the pleasure of God. When I rest in his love and trust in his character.
When I offer myself to the one who has proved he is worthy of my love. When I live for the one whose faithfulness I never have to doubt. When I trust my heart to him who knows all and loves still. When I put my hand to the plow with the one whose strength never fails.
Life will still be an adventure, and it will still be scary sometimes. But I will be safe. I will be free to use all the rich blessings of God for their intended purpose.
The more I pursue God, the less tempting those unfaithful and unworthy lovers will be. I do not have to follow in the footsteps of Israel.
After all—gifts, abilities, and resources can be misused, abused, exploited, or even taken away. It is our character that remains. It is our character that determines how we use what we have been given, and who we offer it to. If we are desperate for, and fight for godly character, there is nothing that can stop us from being who we are meant to be and glorifying God with our lives.