Christmas morning has come and gone. All of the presents that were once so neatly wrapped and displayed so picture perfectly under the tree have now been opened and scattered all around the house. And at least in our household, the toys that were greatly anticipated only two weeks ago, have now become just another addition to the growing number of items in our childrens, “must have” lists.
Not two weeks ago, my oldest son Andy appeared bored out of his mind. Lying around the house, watching cartoon reruns, he said that there was nothing to do except watch television. I tried to remedy his bordem with offers of playing outside or wrestling with his brother, but failed to spark any interest. Then we asked the question, “What if you had a brand new playground in our backyard to play on?” His little eyes seemed to come alive and the frown quickly turned into a teethy smile. From this moment on, all our kids could talk about was a brand new backyard playset. As if this playset would be the cure for a lifetime of bordem.
Every parent wants their child to be happy. And judging from the excitement that stemmed from the mere mention of this playset, Lacy and I thought this would be a great idea for their Christmas present. The playset arrived a short time before Christmas, so with the help of a close friend from church, we assembled it in the backyard while the boys were at school. When we picked up the boys from school, we had told them that they had an early Christmas present waiting in the backyard. They didnt even bother going in the house to put up their backpacks. Instead, Andy and Lincoln ran around our house to the backyard. And immediately, I was the recipient of praise and glory. You would have thought I was father of the year by the accolades I was receiving from our boys. Andy emphatically declared, “This is the best day EVER!!!” And as Phil from the television show Duck Dynasty would say, everyone was “Happy, Happy, Happy!”
Now let me take you one week removed from this happy day of play set bliss in the Parish backyard. The newly erected playset stands as the new center piece to our backyard, and our boys sit inside the house watching cartoon reruns as Andy declares on a Saturday afternoon, “Im bored and theres nothing to do.” Nothing had really changed, except that the newness of his playset had worn off. The smile returned to his little face when he saw a commercial for a new Lego Superhero toy. His eyes brightened and his smile returned as he shouted, “We need that, it would be so much fun!!”
The scene doesnt change much as we grow older. In fact, this is human nature in its most organic and basic form. We seek relief from bordem. We seek relief from an unhappy life. And so whatever catches our eye also captivates our emotions. And what tantilizes our emotions invades our hearts. As we once did in our youth, in order to fill this void in our lives, we follow our hearts. Thats the American way of life. The world will tell us that happiness can be attained if we only had a bigger house, newer car, more money, a different spouse, or someone elses life. And the world describes this with a phrase that seems sweet and innocent.
“Follow your heart, and it will lead you to happiness!”
The world tells us that following the desires of ones heart will lead to our happiness. In matters of money, relationships, marital status, sexual orientation, even in the termination of pregnancies, if its something that doesnt make you happy, then its not your hearts desire, so follow your heart no matter the cost. Because the world has conditioned us to believe that our hearts are the best indicators of what will make us happy. But here are some things I know for a fact that prove this worldly theory wrong.
Ive never met the married couple who endured trials in their relationships, stayed together and worked through them, and then regretted persevering in tough times. But I have met plenty of divorced people who have regretfully admitted that they gave up too soon. Ive also never met the child who was angry that his parents loved each other through difficulties and stayed together.
Ive also never met the woman who had aborted a baby who could look back and say it lead to her ultimate happiness. I have known women who as a result of their decision to abort, were mentally scarred for the rest of their lives knowing that they not only committed murder, but did this to their own child.
Ive never met the man or woman who got that new house or new car and their hearts were satisfied eternally. Quite the opposite, a hunger for newer and bigger things will never satisfy, only lead to more expensive wants and desires.
And Ive never met the person who followed their hearts into a lifestyle of homosexuality because it held the key to happiness. I knew a homosexual man who would claim to love his life on the outside. But he would drink himself into a stupor daily to mask the pain he was in, and it eventually cost him his life. He was my uncle. And along with his homosexual lifestyle, he was constantly on a quest for the finer things in life. But he didnt find satisfaction in his relationships, nor his worldly possessions. In fact, the more he followed his heart, the more depressed he became. And the more depressed he became, the more he drank. This continued until one morning, after he had been drinking all night, he drove to the store intoxicated and drove right in front of an on coming train that took his life instantly. He followed the worlds advice! He chased after his heart in all things! This is the propaganda we are sold! So why did it end so badly?
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” James 17:9.
How can this be? The world tells us that the heart is the epicenter for all human happiness and satisfaction, but the word of God tells us that the heart is wicked and not to be trusted? Its the American way to pursue the accumulation of great wealth and happiness of the soul! We are conditioned to believe this from a young age. From instilling Santa Claus in our childhood (who is nothing more than a man made idol that society has given the attributes of God, therefore breaking the second commandment in Exodus 20:4), to defining the American dream as the accumulation of materialistic things, we normalize things in our society that God strongly cautioned us against.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end leads to death.”
Maybe the reason we seem to be on this constant quest for happiness and only finding temporarily is because the Bible is true. Is it possible that Satan has made the word of God today seem strange and radical while at the same time making the things that will lead us away from satisfaction normal? Think about this. The enemy wants nothing more than for you and I to be separated from God, here in this life and eternally. He also is unapologetically against your joy! So what better way to make us miserable than to lead us away from joy by enticing us with a false and fleeting happiness! As long as Satan can keep our eyes focused on chasing after our hearts, we will be distracted from focusing on God. The one our world will curse and run from who is Jesus Christ is ironically the only source of the satisfaction our world so desperately seeks after.
John Piper has coined one of my favorite quotes, but to hear it requires biblical examination to extract the point he is trying to make.
“God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him” -John Piper
There are two desires are contained in this one quote. The desire of all mankind is ultimate satisfaction. And the desire of God is to be glorified in all the earth. The world would look at this quote and say that the desires of God and man are contradictory. The world would conclude that man could never be satisfied in the things of God and God would never find glory in the worldly things in which we seek satisfaction. And so among people with this mindset, God remains unglorified, and man remains unsatisfied, hopping from one fleeting pleasure to the next. But the truth is that Gods glory and mans eternal joy are inseparably linked. And the reason we are never satisfied is because God is not glorified in our lives.
In short, no one is more responsible for unhappiness in your life than you are.
God wants us to be satisfied and joyful, and he wants to be glorified. But neither of these can happen separately. To begin to understand this mystery, we must first understand something that is quite offensive to most worldly believers. That God is not first and foremost for your joy! Our joy and satisfaction cannot exist without God being gloried in. Look at Psalm 23 to see this.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness” Psalm 23:1-3
If you read just these verses we can come to a false conclusion that God is all about our joy! He is shepherding us, watching over us, leading us into peaceful still waters and green pastures, restoring our soul, and leading us in righteousness. I mean it sounds like God is pretty into us! But why does he do this! Is it because he loves us so much and we are just so awesome! The next four words in this passage give us the reason why God seeks our joy.
“….for his name’s sake.” (Verse 3).
God is first and foremost after his glory in which joy results from our obediance. Therefore God is not after our begrudging, grumbling submission to him. He recieves glory from our delight in his commands. And we have joy in following his commands because our obedience leads our lives into greater joy! God being about God is what we want, because Gods glory always results in our abundant joy!
You see I can read the owners manual of my car and read where it tells me to use regular gasoline in order for my car to run well. And if I choose to put diesel fuel in the car instead of regular gas, it will run on that diesel fuel, but it wont be long until it breaks down. The designer of the car would tell me that he designed the car to be in its best condition when I follow the rules in the manual. It doesnt matter if I THINK that the car will run better on diesel fuel. The reality is that the designer of the car knows best because he made the car. Therefore, he actually knows what will keep the car running its best.
Did you ever think of the Bible in this way? That God designed marriage and said its a covenant between man and woman, and he commands us to be faithful to our spouses even in hard times, not because he is trying to take us from joy, but because he wants to lead us into joy!! Did you ever ponder that the reason God warns so often about the love of money is because a lust for money only will lead to more unsatisfaction? If you and I were stranded in the desert and in the distance we could see a water well full of cold spring water, and I told you we didnt need that water because we could get our satisfaction in building a well ourselves that looked the same but had no water, you would tell me I was crazy! Because a fake well, although it is built in the image of a real one, has no water, and therefore cannot satisfy.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Exodus 20:4.
Our society places money, sex, relationships, and so many other vices as the goal of our satisfaction in life. These things become of the utmost importance to people. They become Gods in our lives. We worship sex and money and in the end both only leave us wanting more. God doesnt command us not to build idols in our lives to harm us. He does this because in chasing after worldly pleasures, we seek to satisfy our thirst for happiness in empty wells.
Jeremiah describes it this way…..
“declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Jeremiah 2:13.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, whoever believes in me will never thirst.” John 6:35.
If we would subject our marriages, our relationships, our finances, and our pursuits to the Lordship of Christ and construct them by the blueprint God has laid out in scripture, we would find not fleeting happiness, but eternal joy. Even in the hardest of times, God has shown us through scripture that he is the deliverer, the mighty one, and the savior. If we follow Gods ways they lead to life. In John 10:10, Jesus declares that He came so that we might have life!! The implication is that without Christ, we have no life, only desperation! Why do we continually keep running to these broken cisterns over and over that yield the same disappointing results! Instead, Christ remains…to some untried and as a result they find his promises as untrue.
When we operate our lives according to the word of God, we find ultimate joy. Because that’s how we were designed….to find our greatest joy in obedience to Gods commands. If I tell my child not to touch a hot stove, Im not trying to hinder his joy, as exciting as his little eyes may think it would be. Im trying to keep him from getting hurt. And when my kids are obedient to me, others see that obedience. And when a child is obedient to his parents and others see this, the onlookers will say what a good parent the father is to have a child that obedient. The father receives praise for leading his child in ways of righteousness. The child doesn’t receive the praise for being good on his own, because the child is showing honor to the parent through his obedience.
God recieves glory when we live lives in obedience to him. And not only does he receive glory, but we come into the fullness of joy and satisfaction. Because in obedience to Christ, our lives work. A marriage, though trials may come, will never break apart when done to the glory of God. In fact, in trials, it will grow stronger. And this is true for every aspect of our lives. When we realize that Gods way is better than ours it brings us joy and satisfaction in Him. And in our satisfaction in following his commands, God is glorified to the world through us! God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him! Amen.