Acts 17:16 says, “Now while Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” This verse, I think just so powerfully depicts Paul’s heart. I mean, here he is, he’s in Athens, this tourist site in a sense, known for its history and you could just imagine in our day, people walking around, just taking pictures everywhere, wanting to see all the sites, check off all the boxes, I saw this or that, but not Paul. He’s there in Athens, and he is provoked, this verse says. His spirit provoked within him, because he looks around and he sees all these idols in the city, and he’s got to do something about it.
Immediately the next verse talks about he started reasoning in the synagogues and then in the marketplace, and then he got invited to talk with many of the philosophers, and he just started sharing the gospel, because why? Just think about it. Why was he provoked to start sharing the gospel? He saw that God was not being worshiped in that city, and he had to do something about it.
I read that and I want that kind of heart in me. I want a heart that, when I look around me and I see idols in the world, and maybe, you know, I think about places where it’s physical idols that I’ve been, when I’m walking in India or Nepal, and I see these physical objects that are set up, that people are burning incense to, or bowing down to, and I just … I see it and I think, “No, they’re not worthy of worship. Only God is worthy of worship.”
Seeing idolatry should provoke our spirits, by God’s grace, to proclaim the goodness and grace and glory of God.
But it’s not just India and Nepal where idols are. Those idols are all around us. When we see idolatry of all kinds of even good things around us. When we see idolatry of money, of sports, of family, there’s so many ways we can take good things and start to attribute greatness and glory to them in ways that rob God of the glory he is due. So this is where … Let’s just pray that God would give us a provoked spirit when it comes to idolatry in our own lives, first of all that we would be zealous to not exalt anyone, anything in our lives that takes away glory from God, and that we would be provoked when we see God not being glorified to do something about it.
What do we do about it? We proclaim the goodness and the grace and the glory of God. We say what we want, we want people to know that God alone deserves glory. This is what should drive, in a sense, every single thing we do in our lives, that we want to give God glory and we want to help others give God glory. Why? Because we know he alone is worthy of glory and our spirit is provoked when we see him not getting glory.
God, we pray for this kind of heart. “God, I pray for this, my own heart. I pray for brother and sisters who are listening to this, Lord, that you would help us. Help us to see idolatry in our own lives and for our spirit to be provoked by it, to realize this is not good. This is not good to give anything glory, to give attention and affection that you alone deserve to something else, or someone else. Help us to see you, alone as supreme, to worship you alone as supreme, to give glory to you alone, to desire your glory alone. Lord, help us to live for your glory and then help us in a world where all kinds of idols are set up around us. Lord, we pray for provoked spirits. We pray that we wouldn’t be entertained by idolatry around us, we be provoked by it and provoked to action, provoked to share the gospel, provoked to point people to you, to talk about how good you are, how great you are, how glorious you are, how you alone are worthy of praise and honor and worship and trust.
“Help us. Help us, we pray, in a Paul-like way to be provoked today, even by idolatry in our own lives and when we look around us. Help us to live, to speak, to work to make your glory known today. In Jesus’ name we pray, and for Jesus’ glory we pray these things, amen.