Whole. Complete. Full.
All good sounding words, all words that we would like to say describe our souls.
We don’t start out on life’s journey feeling whole or complete or full. We’re always seeking, reaching, grasping, trying to find out what’s missing to make our life complete.
So, the question for today is: What is it for you? What are you seeking to make your heart whole, what do you think will complete you?
For many it is a person, whether you use the term “soul-mate” or “spouse” or “lover”— you’re looking for that special someone that will somehow sweep you off your feet (or that you can sweep off their feet), and you can gaze into each other’s eyes forever as you journey through life together.
For others of you right now it’s family that completes you: having children (or grandchildren) who you can love and who love you. Or maybe it’s career: finding the money or power or prestige or simply satisfaction that goes with that perfect job. Maybe your treasure is having that body that can sweat through a marathon or careen down a mountain bike trail, or maybe it’s just having a quiet, trouble-free life.
Whatever you are seeking to complete you, there are three problems with your quest:
Your first problem is that you may find your treasure unattainable. You may not be able to find that perfect mate or that perfect job or that perfect body. What happens when you decide within yourself you can never be whole without being married, and yet year after year goes by and you’re still single? You have no choice: you either live in misery with a big pit in the center of your soul, or you try to make a square peg fit in a round hole. You marry that person you really know wasn’t right for you, or you take that job that ends up emptying your soul, or you try to stop up the hole with some other pleasure or pastime.
Second, you may find that treasure didn’t complete you after all. You get your dream job or the children you longed for and you realize your heart is still empty. What do you do then? You either have to lead a disappointed life or toss away your first treasure in search of a better one.
Third, you may find a treasure that seems to complete you, but then the pressure’s on for life never to change. You get possessive of those children and wish they would never grow up, or control them so that they fulfill all of your dreams. You live in fear that you may lose your spouse to someone younger or richer or better. Your fears end up poisoning your treasure or poisoning your life.
If all that we seek to complete us will somehow fail us, then what’s the answer? Some people would say to look inward, to not seek any treasure outside yourself, that you are already complete if you would but realize it. That’s a fine sentiment, but it’s not a realistic one. We are all a mixture of beauty and ugliness, treasure and trash. We all have souls that are in need of healing and completion, and it cannot come from within ourselves.
By now, I hope you realize where I’m pointing: the answer is Christ. As 2 Corinthians 9:10 says, “For in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him.” In Christ we have a treasure that completes us like no other. Christ doesn’t just give us something that we want, He goes down to the core of our soul and remakes it.
Christ is the completion that we will never have a problem with. We will never have to worry that our treasure is unattainable: Christ has paid the bill, and He offers Himself to us freely. We never have to worry that Christ will not fully complete us: He is both our creator and completer for all eternity. And we never have to fear that Christ will leave us or forsake us: He has promised that nothing will ever separate us from His love and care.
Spouses, family, jobs, & health are all good things that we should enjoy if God blesses us with them. But none can take the place of Christ, the filler & completer of our souls.
Marcus Buckingham is great at putting a life-transforming concept into a simple, doable package with zing.
In his latest offering, The Truth About You, he returns to his core message: Learn Your Strengths. In the package is a 20 minute DVD, a book, and a memo pad. The DVD is a well produced film that dynamically drives home both the importance and the process of learning your strengths and then having the courage to order your life by them. Buckingham is an arresting speaker and he is in top form in the video.
The Truth About You book is a short read but is one you’ll take plenty of notes on which reinforces the film’s message about strengths, describes Buckingham’s model of finding strengths, and has several chapters on how to practically apply a knowledge of your strengths to your work environment.
The last part of the package is a little memo pad to record your strengths. Basically, Buckingham tells you to take the memo pad with you wherever you go for a week and jot down activities that you feel strong doing, and then use that as the basis for defining your own key strengths. Even though I had done a lot of work in the past few years at identifying my strengths, I actually found the exercise to be enlightening and empowering.
I really liked this package. It would be useful for anyone from teens trying to gain direction as to career choice to the person dissatisfied in their current job and wanting to get a better “fit” to the person wanting to really optimize his joy & his performance in a position that is already a good fit. My only criticism is the inflated price: if the publisher had simply marketed a paperback book and then linked to a website video it could have been much more affordable.
You can find out more about the book at Amazon.
And what came out of reading the book myself?
Here is my list of strengths:
I feel strong when I create, craft, organize & build, especially when I bring ideas into reality.
I feel strong when I communicate truth, especially truth geared to leading a better life.
I feel strong when I connect with people, especially to help, share, support, & guide.
I feel strong when I’m learning, digesting information, making sense of it & rebuilding it in my mind, especially when I’m feeding my other strengths.
I was out enjoying a beautiful fall day when I saw a red Audi convertible drive past me. Immediately the thought formed in my mind, “That is a beautiful car.” Right on its tails came the next thought, “I would REALLY love to drive a car like that.” Then started a whole train of thoughts like, “Well, I am going to have to get a new car at some point.” “I would get a lot of enjoyment out of it.” “I’ve got the money.” Within the space of a few seconds, I had a focused desire for this car.
So, what do I do with this desire? How do I deal with it? For that matter, how do I deal with any desire? This is an important question, because all of us have desires— some trivial, others intense, some spur of the moment, others lasting for decades. To understand & deal with our desires wisely is a key to joy & peace, while to deal with them poorly or not at all is a road to chaos & suffering.
Four Ways to Deal with Desire
One way to deal with a desire is to ignore it. I think this is a common response of the heart that has been broken by hurt & past desires unmet, as well as the heart numbed by addictions or other soul destroyers. Unfortunately, this strategy often doesn’t work, for the heart is wired to desire. Simply trying to ignore our desires is like trying to ignore weeds— they will keep growing anyway.
Another way to deal with a desire is to reject it. Some would go so far as to say that desire is evil, and that no good can come from it. After all, the first use of the word desire in the Bible is referring to Eve’s sin, and even one of the four noble truths of Buddhism is that all suffering comes from desire.
Why not simply be done with desire and all its attendant problems? Why not reject it all? Because even if you could eliminate suffering by eliminating desire, you would also eliminate satisfaction, joy, growth and all that makes life ultimately worth living. There are multiple places where the Bible refers to God’s desires, so desire itself cannot be evil.
So, if desire is good, why not embrace it? Many self-help gurus would say if you want that Audi, then trust your heart, go for it, focus your intentions on it, attract it to you, and relish in it. As good as that sounds, a life lived embracing all desire ends in destruction. Any honest look at our hearts will tell us that we don’t always desire what is good for us, and that often we can be fooled as to how a desire fulfilled will actually effect our lives. The book of Ecclesiastes shows a man, King Solomon, who had perhaps greater opportunity than any other man to fulfill his desires, and yet struggled with the emptiness & pointlessness of his life.
What, then, are we to do with desire? What am I to do about my Audi? Do I ignore it, trying to keep it out of my mind? Do I reject it, along with my desire for anything else? Or do I embrace it, and head down to the car lot?
There is another path, a path of wisdom: to learn to discern desires. To discern means to recognize, comprehend, differentiate and perceive differences. In essence, to properly deal with a desire I must first discern, to recognize the nature of the desire. Once I know its nature, I will then know whether it is wise to embrace it or reject it.
Self-Focused vs. God-Focused
If we conclude that we need to learn to discern, then exactly how do we do it? What is the process, the criteria, the classification scheme for wise or unwise desires? The Bible actually has a lot to say about desire: the ESV translation has 150 references to it, and talks much about desire in both a positive and negative aspect. The simplest way to apply Biblical wisdom to dealing with desire is to discern whether a desire is self-focused or God-focused.
A God-focused desire is just that: a desire with a focus on God. It can be focused on God Himself, like a desire to love Him, to serve Him, to know Him, or it can be focused on glorifying Him directly in worship, or it can be focused on glorifying Him through service.
A self-focused desire, likewise, needs little explanation: it is a desire with the focus on myself. Fulfilling that desire does not lead me to God, but away from Him. It does not lead my heart to focus on God, but on me.
The “Heart” of Discernment
Which leads us to the real core of discernment: the heart. For you see, the real test is not the actual content of the desire, but the position of the heart. A desire for the exact same thing could be God-focused in one heart, and yet be self-focused in another heart.
An example: two women have a fervent desire to sing a solo during a worship service. For one, the real core of her desire is for her talent to be recognized & appreciated, for people to see her for who she is, & to fulfill what she sees as her purpose in life. When this woman has her desire realized, she is full of satisfaction, but she is also full of herself, her vindication & pride. If her desire is frustrated, she will become depressed, frustrated, or bitter towards herself, others, or God.
The second woman has the same fervent desire, but with a different object: she wants to glorify God and bless people. She really isn’t thinking of herself at all. When this woman has her desire realized, she is full of joy & gratitude that God spoke through her, people were blessed, and God was glorified. She soaks in God’s love & pleasure. If her desire is frustrated, she is able to accept that God did what was best for Him— and isn’t that what her real desire, deep down, was for anyway? For God? Although it will be difficult, she will be able to agree with the ancient Job that she trusts God even though her heart hurts.
But What About my Audi?
So with these principles in mind, let’s return to my potential Audi. If I examine my desire for this car, it is arising primarily out of a love for myself and my pleasure. What’s worse, in order to obtain it I would have to violate deeper, God-centered desires to use my money to minister to my family and to God. Conclusion: this is a desire to reject. It will lead my heart and my life out of my path of walking with God. I’m not going to be making a trip to an Audi showroom anytime soon.
Now notice this does not mean buying an Audi is a wrong desire for anyone. If someone with more financial resources than I knows that his wife’s heart would overflow with joy with that car, and he has abundantly given of his time and money to ministry, and the purchase price will not be a financial burden to him, then it may not be a self-focused desire in his heart.
One last example: my purchase last year of my beloved iPhone. Was this a self-focused or God-focused desire? This was honestly a tough call for me, which I thought & prayed for weeks before my purchase. Although I knew I was going to get personal enjoyment from it, it was more important that it would serve a purpose, & I saw the amount of money was not going to interfere with any other ministry to my family or others. And indeed, I’ve gotten a great deal of enjoyment from it, but I’ve been able to use it to connect with people, stay better organized, access the Bible and sermons whenever I want to, have pictures of my family to show off, and many other uses which all impact the Kingdom of God in a positive way. So what might have been a self-focused desire for some truly has been God-focused for me.
We all have to deal with desire every day. I hope these principles of dealing with desire help lead you to greater joy, peace & purpose as you walk with God today.
Have you ever prepared a recipe and accidentally added the wrong amount of an ingredient? I’ve certainly made my share of soupy instant mashed potatoes! For every recipe, there is an optimal level for each ingredient, such as water or flour or sugar. Putting in either too little or too much will give you a less-than-desired result.
This optimal level of input into a process for best results is sometimes called a ”sweet spot.” This simple principle holds true for more than just making mashed potatoes. There’s another sweet spot that affects you every day: the sweet spot of optimal resource investment into your goals.
Every goal, every project in your life, whether business or personal, requires an investment of your resources, such as time, money, planning, & effort. Each goal will have its own “sweet spot” of resource investment, the level that gives you the maximum accomplishment for the investment that you make. Finding your goal’s resource investment sweet spot is a major factor in its success and the satisfaction you will receive from it.
A Practical Example
Let’s look at a very practical example of the difference finding the sweet spot of a project makes. I know that some of you may think I am incapable of growing anything after reading my earlier post on passivity, but when I lived in North Carolina I had a garden that looked like this:
Now contrast that garden with this years’ attempt (I won’t even dignify it with the word “garden”):
Now, what was the difference between the two projects? It was my level of resource investment. With the first garden, I allocated an optimal level of resources. I did some reading & planning, tilled up a manageable plot (not too large or too small), bought the right number of plants, and gave it adequate attention through the year. The result: a garden that I really enjoyed and that was very productive. I hit the sweet spot for my North Carolina garden quite nicely.
However, with this year’s attempt, I did not allocate adequate resources. I tried to “get by” with a patio garden that used old potting soil that was probably contaminated with fungi and other nasty stuff. I thought to myself, “I don’t want to spend a lot of money, but I’ll make do and take what I can get.” The result: a project that gave me almost no enjoyment and almost no produce. What’s worse, this poor result brought in emotional discouragement and disconnection with something I’ve really enjoyed in the past, which could have made it much less likely that I would try gardening again.
On the other hand, I could have erred on the other side of resource investment. I could have bought & read a dozen books on gardening, and then went out and got a dozen of these very sweet but very expensive tomato growing systems:
If I had chosen that level of resource investment, I indeed would have had great tomatoes, but I also would have been frustrated and discouraged about the hundreds of dollars I had spent to get those tomatoes. Consquently, my end result would still have been sub-optimal because my level of resource investment would have been too much for the project at hand. Bottom line: there was a “sweet spot” of optimal resource investment for my garden, and hitting or missing that sweet spot had a dramatic impact on my level of success & satisfaction.
Finding YOUR Sweet Spot
Ok, now it’s your turn: make a list of some projects and/or goals in your life, whether they be work, personal, or hobby related. For each one, ask yourself the question, “Am I in the sweet spot of optimal resource investment?” For instance, you could consider whether you are spending too little money trying to cut corners with cheap paint on that room remodel. Or are you smothering that love interest with so much attention (or so little attention!) that they’re being driven away? Or are you investing the right amount of prep time before that job interview? Or spending too much (or too little) time editing that blog post before you click the “publish” button?
For each goal on your list, make a decision as to whether your resource investment is too little, too much, or just right. Yes, I know, sometimes that’s hard to gauge, but that’s where you have to make your best judgement now, and then monitor the goal’s progress and be willing to revise your estimate up or down later.
If you have an area where you think you are over-invested, your solution is straightforward: cut back on your resource investment a little and see how it goes. However, if you have an area where you are under-invested, you have a choice: you can either ratchet up your level of resource investment to get optimal results, OR you can further reduce your resource investment to zero and drop the goal entirely.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably got too many projects that are all performing poorly because you only have so much time and money and effort per day, and by spreading yourself too thin you end up not being optimally invested in anything. The result: a whole series of poorly performing projects that don’t give you any joy at all. The harder, but smarter, course of action is to invest more resources of your finite time, money, and effort optimally into fewer goals, which will then give you optimal payback, whether in produce or productivity.
Some of you may instead find that you have the reverse problem: you’re so heavily invested in one goal (like getting ahead in your career) that you don’t invest in anything else. The danger here is that you have nothing else to fall back on if your results in that one area don’t turn out like you expected or you realize the goal isn’t as important as you first decided. The harder, but smarter, course of action for you would be to diversify your resources into several different goals.
Finding your sweet spot of optimal resource investment in your goals will help you achieve a greater level of success & satisfaction in multiple areas of your life. Why not make that list and start looking for your sweet spot today?
Is happiness important to you? Is there anyone that happiness is not important to? What could be more American? A Louis Harris poll showed that 97% of Americans listed happiness as their number one concern. So, today, we are going to talk about being happy. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to sing any songs encouraging you to “be happy”, we’re only going to talk about it. Specifically, we will talk about the pursuit of happiness, the problem, the paradigm, the preciousness, the precepts, and the practical results.
The Pursuit of Happiness
The Declaration of Independence declares that the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right. If it is our right, then let’s roll up our sleeves and get serious about pursuing happiness.
Uh, ok, so how do we pursue happiness? Why don’t we learn from the lives of others? Let’s look at someone who was really happy, who had happiness down cold. Here’s a quote from a guy who seemed to be really happy–
I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”
Now, does that sound like someone who’s happy, or what? In fact, this guy is in the Bible, in Luke 12:19. He was so happy that, well, let’s read what comes next–
But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul will be required of you!”
Hmm, well, that story didn’t quite have the ending I think we are looking for.
The Problem of Happiness
It seems like we have a little problem here with our pursuit of happiness. I guess what we need is godly advice, advice from someone who was very wise but still really pursued happiness with a vengeance, you know, like the Tiger Woods of happiness or something. Well what about Solomon? Hey, wisest guy who ever lived, right? Let’s hear the straight line on happiness from his autobiography here in Ecclesiastes 2:9—
So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, For my heart rejoiced in all my labor; And this was my reward from all my labor.
Hey, this is sounding pretty promising, Solomon retains his wisdom, and goes for all the gusto he can get, and he gets it all. So, Solomon, how did that make you feel? Let’s read—
Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; And indeed all [was] vanity and grasping for the wind. [There was] no profit under the sun.
Can you hear the pride swelling in Solomon’s heart, and then deflating as flat as a pancake? I think we are in big trouble here. Now if Solomon can’t be happy by pursuing it, what chance do you and I have?
Solomon said that all of his seeking of happiness was vanity, like grasping for the wind. How can you grasp the wind? You can try, but it always somehow slips through your fingers. And that is exactly the experience of so many people—they try so hard to obtain happiness in so many different ways, but they find that it is like grasping air or a mirage— what they thought was real, what they thought would make them happy, somehow doesn’t.
Billy Graham once wrote, “Americans have more wealth, more two-car families, more private homes and write more books on how to be happy than any other country.” There is obviously something wrong with this picture: people are living their lives thinking they know how to be happy and pursuing it vigorously, but they’re not happy.
The Paradigm of Happiness
Maybe part of our trouble here is our paradigm, how we are viewing what happiness is. Maybe if we change our view of what happiness is, the solution to this problem will become apparent. Let’s look at how the Bible defines happiness.
In Hebrew, there is actually no word that really corresponds to our English concept of “happiness”. The usual Hebrew word used in the book of Proverbs that is translated “happy” is “esher”. However, this word is more often and more precisely translated into English as “blessed”. It comes from a Hebrew root meaning “to walk straight”. So, in the Hebrew language, the whole issue of happiness was closely tied to (1) a blessing (put another way, a gift, not something you get on your own efforts) and (2) traveling along a straight path.
Now, what does Proverbs say about this “esher”, this blessing, of God? The prime passage that teaches about happiness in Proverbs is Proverbs 3:13-18. First, let’s consider verse 13. It says, “Happy(Blessed) [is] the man [who] finds wisdom, And the man [who] gains understanding.” A companion passage is Proverbs 8:32, where God, speaking as wisdom personified states, “Now therefore, listen to me, [my] children, For blessed [are those who] keep(or obey) my ways.” God is saying that the esher(happiness, blessing) of God comes from gaining God’s wisdom and obeying it.
Biblically, happiness, or the blessing of God, is the fruit of God’s wisdom, the fruit of walking straight in God’s paths. This is the paradigm that will result in a true and lasting happiness in our lives. Biblically, happiness is not a giddy emotion nor a result of pursuing any set of goals or things—happiness is a gift of God that comes from walking straight in God’s paths and in his wisdom. God’s happiness, God’s blessing, comes directly from the action of God’s wisdom in our lives.
The Preciousness of Wisdom
After setting the proper paradigm for God’s happiness, Solomon next reinforces just how precious godly wisdom is in our lives. In Proverbs 3:14-15 Solomon says, “Wisdom’s proceeds [are] better than the profits of silver, And her gain than fine gold. She [is] more precious than rubies, And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her.”
The words proceeds, profits, and gain all are literally about investment and trading in the Hebrew. God is saying, “If you want the best return on your investment, invest in godly wisdom and then happiness, blessing, will be the return on your investment.” In fact, God so vividly wants to make the point about how precious wisdom is to us that he repeats Himself in Proverbs 8:10, 8:11, 8:19, 16:16. In Psalm 119:72 he says “The law of Your mouth [is] better to me than thousands of [coins of] gold and silver.”
The Precepts of Wisdom
Now that we have the right paradigm and the proper regard for the preciousness of God’s wisdom, let’s look deeper into Proverbs for some specific precepts that are tied to God’s blessing in our lives. There are five places in Proverbs where Solomon specifically links righteous actions with God’s blessing:
1. Listening to God
First is Proverbs 8:34: “Blessed is the man who listens to me, Watching daily at my gates, Waiting at the posts of my doors.” This one is obvious, but key to all that follow. Daily listening to God in prayer and Bible study, daily watching, daily waiting, brings blessing. See also Psalm 84:10 and Luke 11:28.
2. Fearing God
After He has our attention, God next wants to deal with our attitude toward Him. In Proverbs 28:14 he instructs, “Happy(blessed) [is] the man who is always reverent, But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” Look at the contrast here, blessing on the man who is reverent—this reverence actually in Hebrew is a very strong word for fear, strong fear, overwhelming fear and dread. We must fear God. Our alternative is to harden our hearts against God, and along with a parallel passage in Proverbs 29:1 God warns that this hardening will result in sudden destruction. This is the same word used of Pharaoh when his heart was hardened against God.
3. Trusting God
After we have listened, and after we have a God-honoring fear, next we must trust God, as Solomon says in Proverbs 16:20: “Whoever trusts in the LORD, happy [is] he”. Five times, here and in Jeremiah 17:7, Psalm 2:12, 34:8, 40:4, and 84:12 God explicitly declares that we are blessed, we are happy, if we will trust in Him.
4. Obeying God
The next blessing in Proverbs we need to consider is found in Proverbs 29:18: “Where [there is] no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy(blessed) [is] he who keeps(obeys) the law.” This verse again speaks for itself: by obeying God’s moral law we keep ourselves within the path, within the boundaries that God has prescribed, and receive blessing. James 1:25 instructs, “He who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues [in it], and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” Otherwise, if we do not hear & obey God’s revelation, we will cast off the restraints that God has lovingly designed for our good and suffer the consequences.
5. Showing the Mercy of God
After our relationship with God is secure and our obedience is assured, our last precept is in Proverbs 14:21, “He who despises his neighbor sins; But he who has mercy on the poor, happy [is] he.” God wants us to be agents of His mercy to our neighbors and the poor. This is emphasized over and over again, dozens of times in Scripture, probably because it so so diametrically opposed to what our human nature sees as the way to happiness. See also Proverbs 14:31, 11:24-5, 19:17, 28:27.
The Practical Results of God’s Blessing
Finally, Solomon describes the practical results of the esher in Proverbs 8:16-18–
Length of days [is] in her right hand, In her left hand riches and honor.
Her ways [are] ways of pleasantness, And all her paths [are] peace.
She [is] a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy [are all] who retain her.
In verse 16 we have a word picture of abundance, with wisdom showing both hands full of abundant blessing. First is length of days—wise living will keep the wise person out of many situations and lifestyles which could result in a premature death.
But to add to simple longevity, wisdom offers riches and honor. In Proverbs 8:18 we find that this is a special type of riches when it says, “Riches and honor [are] with me, enduring riches and righteousness.” The word “enduring” in the Hebrew specifically refers to something that endures through thick and thin and that can be passed down to the next generation. As we learned from the rich man in Luke, riches without God can be destroyed in a moment, but what God gives endures, and for the believer will endure for eternity.
In verse 17 we read about the pleasantness and peace associated with the way of wisdom. Even in the midst of storm and trial, we can have peace if we are walking in Christ’s footsteps, for He will be before us and behind us and at our side. The straight and smooth path that the Hebrew word esher implies is realized in our lives if we choose the path of God’s wisdom.
Finally, in verse 18 we find that wisdom is a tree of life if we will only take hold of it. The parallel passage that amplifies this is Psalm 1:1-3:
Blessed [is] the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight [is] in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,that brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.
In God’s wisdom we have a tree of life that can truly bring the happiness we seek. In closing, can you say that God’s esher, God’s happiness, God’s blessing, rests on your life? Have you taken hold of God’s wisdom? Do you see it as precious? Are you following its precepts? If so, then you shall be like a tree of life, bearing fruit and prospering, and you will experience God’s happiness in your life.
We are creatures ever seeking fulfillment.
It is the continual quest of our lives, from our first cries for milk to our last gasps for breath. We live to be fulfilled.
This continual longing takes many forms, all familiar to us. The apostle John divided them by three: the lusts of the flesh such as our desires for food, drink, sex, comfort, and drugs; the lusts of the eyes with all our devotion to materialism and possessions, and the pride of life with our searches for power, prominence, and significance.
We are all looking to all three daily to fulfill us. There’s only one little problem: they all fall short. Some turn out to be just temporary and fail us, and some turn on us and attack and enslave us, and some just fill us up part way or turn out to not be all that fulfilling after all. To some extent (take food, for instance), they can fail in all three ways.
Yes, every source of fulfillment we can possibly turn to will in the end be the “broken cisterns” that the prophet Jeremiah once warned us against. Every source of fulfillment that we can possibly go after is doomed at some time, on some level to disappoint us.
Except one. God.
God’s infinite wisdom guarantees that He knows what is best for His children. God’s infinite love guarantees that He will choose what is best for His children, and God’s infinite power guarantees that He will bring to pass without fail what is best for His children. And more than any other type of blessing God can bring to us, our most sweet and lasting fulfillment from God comes from God Himself, the gift of His perfect presence.
God is the one and only source of fulfillment that not only will not disappoint, but cannot disappoint by His very nature.
That is how God is fundamentally and supremely different and superior to any other source of fulfillment we can look to. God both is and will always be able “to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)
If we know this to be the truth, then let us live it. Let us take every longing, every desire for fulfillment in our souls, and turn away from every broken cistern, turn away from every source that can only end up disappointing in the end, and turn toward our Loving Father in faith and trust that He will never disappoint.
In the excellent movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a shallow, self-obsessed television weatherman who gets stuck in a mystical limbo, having to repeat the same day, Groundhog Day, in Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania over and over again, hundreds of times without any seeming way to break the cycle. The movie portrays his frustration and his fruitless efforts to escape his “prison” of time.
Although Phil can do and get most anything in the town during each repeating day, he ends up fixated on getting the one thing he can’t connive or buy: the honest affections of a woman. He repeatedly tries and fails to lie to her, befriend her, & seduce her, all to no avail.
But slowly he begins to change. He starts to realize that he can simply live this repeating day the best way he knows how. It reminds me of how The Message paraphrases Ecclesiates 9:9-10:
Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange
For the hard work of staying alive.
Make the most of each one!
Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!
This is your last and only chance at it.
In the movie, it takes Bill Murray hundreds of tries until he realizes Solomon’s wisdom— to make the most of each day, “whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!” And when he finally learns that lesson, God allows him to wake up to a new day the next morning.
Have we learned Solomon’s lesson? Really? And what’s more, do we realize that we don’t get hundreds of tries to get one day right? We only get one chance to get today right, to live heartily and to the Lord. Make the most of your one chance today.
This film documentary could be titled “Extreme Extreme Famiily Makeover.”
It shares a basic premise with all of the “reality TV” shows— fairly typical American dysfunctional family gets thrown into lifestyle and situation totally foreign to them.
But then the REALLY extreme happens— God shows up.
Not in a fire or earthquake, but in a still small voice.
In plowing a field together. In sharing meals and reading stories.
In playing in fields and ponds. In conversation at a country store.
In living a radically different life, not for money or a new house or to be ogled at by millions of people, but to walk with God.
Six years before this film was made, Tommy Waller left his suburban job and suburban house and suburban income and suburban lifestyle and took his family to a house without electricity in a remote Tennessee Amish community.
The results? A Journey Home– a journey to a true home, to a place and a lifestyle that became a lot closer to God’s original intent for a home and a family than many of us in Western culture today experience and live.
Is this video telling you to sell your house and give up electricity and have 11 kids?
No, and neither is God.
Am I going to sell my house and buy a horse and plow?
No, God isn’t telling me that either.
But am I willing to listen to God, to the still small voice that is so hard to hear in the midst of this awful din of Western culture, to carve out whatever time and space, whatever lifestyle that would help me best walk with God and glorify Him, no matter how counter cultural or difficult?
I think that’s the question this video is asking, and the question that God is asking me too.
Interested? This award winning documentary is available for purchase here.
One of my favorite early Dilbert panels shows some space aliens coming down to Dogbert saying that they want to share their advanced technology to rid the Earth of disease and bring peace to the world. Dogbert’s reply is “What’s in it for me?”—which prompts the aliens to get back into their spaceship and take off. Dogbert then muses, “I’ll always wonder if I could have handled that better.”
“What’s in it for me?” is the core question in every human heart. The whole structure of our soul is built on our total devotion to our own self interest, ever since the Fall. That is the core question that Adam and Eve asked themselves when they first disobeyed God, and their children have asked it every day since. Whether it is what food we eat, or how we treat someone else, or our goals or aspirations, our natural devotion is irrevocably “what’s in it for me?”
The problem is, humans weren’t designed to live this way—with our programming fixated on the self. As Douglas Wilson once said in a post, with every step we take focused on “what’s in it for me”, we become more hollow, empty, and wretched.
What’s the alternative? It is what we were originally designed for, to be devoted to the glory of God. Our souls were originially designed to continually focus on “What’s in it for God?” Devotion to God was meant to guide our every thought, our every word, our every deed. Through having a life solely and purely focused on God we were meant to live in freedom and love and joy and peace and fulfillment.
Only through Christ, only through the new birth, do we gain a new nature that can shift our paradigm from self to God. This paradigm shift is one part of being in “the kingdom of God”. If you are in a kingdom, if you a subject of the king, your life is consummed with whatever the king’s business is, whatever will benefit and glorify the king, and your joy rests in being a good and faithful servant. When we enter the Kingdom of God through regeneration, then we gain a new heart that is inclined to God, that lives and works and dreams unto God. Living in this new state of “God-devotion” vs. “self-devotion” frees us from so much that brings confusion and pain into our lives and allows us to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.
If we have a new heart, we don’t have to be slaves to self-devotion anymore. We can choose to live from our new heart, to live joyous lives of devotion to our God.