Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Heart of Love: What am I seeking in Life? Does it Line up with my Faith?

We live to follow certain core desires that exist beneath the surface of who we are. It seems like many people live for self-gratification.  Many live for desires like pleasure.  That's fairly common.  Others live for the goal of success, and they pursue that underlying intention through the lens of that which they consider to be success.  Others pursue family, the ultimate desire of getting married and having children.  And they see their pursuits in life through the lenses of that desire.  

Though we don't necessarily realize what we're doing, it's beneath the surface.  Many pursue money.  I remember one time I asked a reporter who was about to interview me for an SA food drive, "Why do you do what you do?  What's your plan for life?"  And he seemed surprised by the question, and he said,"Really I'm just after money; making more money."  I'm paraphrasing.  But it's interesting that something within us so deep, probably from a very young age, can drive our entire life.

My mind was geared toward success for many years.  And then for many more years my mind was geared toward hedonism, abhorrently chasing after anything that felt good.  

Now a core desire in my life was to be a writer.  Why?  I wanted to be immortal.  I wanted my name to be remembered.  In my agnostic atheistic mindset in my late teens and twenties, I felt it was my only hope.  But it was also about self-aggrandizement.  I wanted to show the world that I was important and valuable.  I wanted to say, "Hey, I'm special, I'm unique, look at me, and see how awesome I am!"  It's a self-idol in more ways than one.  I wanted to be a celebrity I suppose.  I bet that's true for many of us.  

Many pursue various things, just as I did once. One you hear a lot is happiness.  They want to be happy above all else.  Others pursue fame, like myself.  And I think a lot of these core desires can accidentally transfer over to the Christian life.  

As a Christian now, a follower of Jesus, what should my core desires be?  How can we make a transplant and switch our core desires from based on self, and what we learned in the past secular world, and receive new core desires?  Well the truth is many of us already have.  This is of course a work of the Holy Spirit.  When we're regenerate, created anew in Christ, we have many new hungers that suddenly bristle up to the surface.  And if we water them, and respond in obedience to the Spirit's leading then those new hungers grow and flourish.  

Then again, if we insatiably feed the hungers of our flesh and indulge in the endless pleasures of the world, those new hungers can tend to dwindle and fade.  

I've asked myself recently about my core desires, and I've been considering which are most dangerous, as a threat to my Christian mindset.  And let me be clear: This whole search is a work of God, I'm certain of that much.  It's always a work of Him, even if I think it's my own idea.  

This is very difficult to admit, I must say, but let's delve into it: What have my core desires been as a Christian?  I think it's often been self-aggrandizement.  Not always, and not fully, but that is the great danger.  My name, in big shiny lights, and all the world thinking Justin is such a wise and useful theologian.  God forbid such a mindset!  This is truly a terrible thing.  And we see it a lot in the celebrity pastors of our day and age.  We see a desire for acclaim in the world, and the love of the masses, as the centerpiece I think.  They want to be known as great teachers of the law of God, but they fool themselves.  Just like I have often fooled myself.  

How many times have I written an article, or preached a message, or done a good deed, and I really did it to aggrandize my name, instead of glorify the name of God?  How often has my desire been to show my own value and usefulness, instead of the incredible working of God in the world?  How often has it been about me, when I touted that it was all about Him?  What a terrifying question!

The human soul is so prone to feckless endeavors such as these.  And as much as I wish I were above such things, I'm not.  None of us are.  It's so deadly.  And it makes me worry that all the work I put forth will be burned up like dross, and totally destroyed.  

What can I do but pray earnestly about this theme?  What can I do but struggle against my own self?  The "self" is the most deadly enemy of the Christian, as Spurgeon said.  It's like a hall of mirrors, because the "self" is essentially me, and it's the mindset I don't notice because I'm living it daily.  But if I turn my mind inward, then I can look upon it.  

Remember what Clarice said to Hannibal? "You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself?"  It's not easy to look upon ourselves unvarnished.  It's ugly and it's scary.  But what exactly are my core longings that guide and control my actions?  I must know, or I'm liable to destroy myself on the way to heaven.  There is far too important an affair, this journey of life, to botch it with self-will run rampant!

Let's see.  I want to be a minister of the gospel.  Fair enough, God has clearly called me to that.  I want to be married and have a family.  Alright, good enough.  I want to write books, and such things. Fair enough.  But what about those not so savory desires?  Like to be well known?  To be seen as a great man?  To be seen as a man of God?  Does that matter?  It most certainly does.

But are all these desires inherently evil?  No, not at all.  Well, some of them may be.  But to be respected and loved by our neighbors is not an evil desire. To desire to use skills like writing ability to create works of art and idea, that is not evil. Once again we return to the core imperative, and the proper first focus. We must consider the order of things.

What should be our correct mindset?  First of all, glorify God in all we do.  No matter if it be doing dishes or making a meal or preaching a sermon to 40,000 people or writing a book or talking with a friend, the mindset should be to do it to bring God praise, and to bring God honor!  That is a very, very high ideal.  And it's antithetical to how we live in America.  This is a "me" culture.  We have to recognize that and fight against it.  That "me" attitude seeps into every area of my life and it can just as easily seep into my Christian life and practices.  So let's fight it.

How did Jesus live?  Jesus lived a very humble life.  He didn't live to glorify himself, but He lived to glorify the Father.  Jesus of course was deserving of infinite glory, honor, and praise being the very son of God!  Yet He was setting an example for us.  He was showing us how to live, in humble service to the Father.  

It's not a theory, this life of Christ.  We have to live it.  Jesus was yielded to the Father, so much that his mission of dying on the cross was the ultimate insult.  He was mocked, spit upon, whipped, beaten, and murdered for our transgressions.  He yielded to all of it.  He didn't stand up for himself, as so often I want to stand up for myself and defend my "rights" in the situation.  I don't mean liberty in a political sense, I mean the desire to show my opinion and push for my viewpoint and selfishly defend myself.  I can hardly bite my tongue in that situation, yet Christ didn't murmur a word as they patiently drove nails into his wrists and feet. How can this be?  The horror!  And my own gall to live in such ego! Shameful, truly. Will we never learn to blush as humans?

So what does it look like to re-orient core longings of the heart?  That is the question!  It is the only question.  How can we change? This isn't for the faint of heart, is the first thing!  

Wow, this is really digging deep.  But it's good, it's great.  It'll really make us so much more effective for Christ.

1. Recognize what we push for in life that isn't in line with Christianity.
For me, this looks like selfishness, self-seeking, pleasure seeking, entertaining myself, and worst of all prideful self-aggrandizement.  Ancilliarily would be seeking happiness, true love with a woman, and cowardly running from conflict.

I'm not called to those things as first pursuits of my life! Those are not good things to have as the chief desires of my heart.

2. Identify the biblical opposites of the false pursuits of the heart that we struggle with.
And we're not talking a direct opposite here.  We're talking about the Christian worldview opposite, as exegeted from the scriptures. 

The opposite of selfishness is selflessness. But in a Christian concept, this would mean serving God first.  The outworking would mean that it should apply to all things of life.  

Then the real questions becomes: How far am I willing to go with this?  That is the question.  How wacky am I willing to be in my radical devotion to Jesus?  This pushes against materialism, capitalism, selfishness, and all the precepts of American culture.  

But what of it?  Dare we push into this ground as well?  We're getting into some serious sacred cows and brass idols of American society. We're talking inner room, holy of holies here, we've got our worship to God in the main chamber, but behind a curtain in the back there lay the true idols to self, that we really worship.  No one dares to go into the inner room, the secret chamber behind the curtain of that temple to self and knock over the asherah poles and golden calves. Dare we?  

We must. Yes, I must. Because Jesus has paid it all for me. That is a reality, not a slogan. Jesus is alive right now.  In fact, in reality, consciously, I will look Jesus in the eyes and He will judge my life and every decision I made.  It's not a theory, it's a reality.  And I owe him my all, not just some.  I abjectly refuse living as a cultural Christian, living toeing the line, one foot in the world and one foot in Christianity.  That is nothing, and death, and hell!

There is no halfway.  There is only the wide road to hell and the narrow road to eternal life.  It is more narrow than I had first realized in my early Christian walk.  This is indeed a very narrow road.  And antinomianism is preached all over the church, presenting the gospel as a free gift, without any need to repent or live for Jesus.  But that's not the message of the scriptures, not even close!

Selfishness, and self-seeking must become God-first living.  What does that look like?  How does that feel? What does it mean for the ways of my life?  I'm not sure yet.  I'm wrestling with it.  But it must be a beautiful way of life...

What about pleasure seeking and entertaining myself?  That seems to be how I spend 99% of my free time.  I entertain myself, I enjoy the pleasures of vanity fair, the worldly cities of plenty.  I go about the places of Babylon, the secular kingdom of the world and I indulge in all manner of pleasures, delicacies, rides, events, movies, music, foods, and so on.  Is that how God wants me to live?  I often wonder about this one.  Because on the one hand, God wants us to enjoy things in life, right?  God wants us to enjoy food, and nature, and artistic works, and music, and architecture, and the various good things of life, right?  I suppose that's probably true.

Though I don't see a lot of that in the book of Acts, or the gospels, or the pauline epistles.  I don't see a lot of verses to back up that sort of indulgent mindset.  I really don't.  Especially when it becomes our chief concern, and let's be real, for most of us it is our chief concern.  I would say quite a bit in the church as well.  We play church, we rush through our devotions and prayers and then head off to a fancy restaurant, or put on a movie, or play video-games for six hours.  

What we do with our free time is quite telling I think.  Is our first concern God or self-pleasuring?  This is a tough one.  Once again it goes to chief concerns.  Is self-pleasuring at least secondary to God?  Or are they co-equal?  Or is God, in your heart, secondary to seeking pleasures?  It's a good question to wrestle with.  

What is the opposite of pleasure-seeking?  Maybe that's the wrong question.  Perhaps the right question is where are we seeking pleasure?  Are we getting it first in God, and then in the gifts God provides in the world?  That is the right order.  Our pleasure-seeking should be centered on God, as John Piper calls it, Christian hedonism.  We should desire to take great pleasure in God, by glorifying His name. 

Lastly, self-aggrandizement.  This one is the most deadly I believe, by far.  It's rooted in pride, selfishness, and ego.  And one of the worst and most terrible displays of this awful sin is when a pastor goes from yielded servant of God, to a self-serving self-glorifier.  It's insidious I think, and it can happen over a short or very long time.  And pretty soon it's not so much about the scriptures, but about how the pastor explains it so well.  And over time the ministry is all about glorifying the man or woman behind the podium, instead of glorifying the God who reigns the universe.  God save us from such a deadly nightmare as this!  Pride always leads this way.  And it's the sin that ruined Satan, who was once Lucifer, the light bringer.  Pride leads to selfishness, self-aggrandizement, self-glorification, and the awful desire to place myself above God. And that happened with Satan.  And Satan lost everything.  Let us not fall into that deadly of deadly trap!  The key to victory is humility, laying flat before a holy God and participating in my own infinite surrender to Him.

3. Prayerfully practice the Biblical Principle until it becomes the new normal.
The answer to these false longings of the heart is to fight, fight, fight.  First of all, we must fight in prayer before God.  God will help us.  God will deliver us.  Just like anything else, God will save us from these evil desires.  We'll always be tempted to sin in these ways, be sure of that, but God can lead us so far from those desires, and toward Himself that we hardly entertain the thought when it arises.  God will lead us to himself and so we must seek His face.  We must seek God to overcome these sinful longings that we struggle with.  It begins in steadfast daily prayer, crying out to the Lord!

Secondly, practice the new attitude.  If we want to be set free from selfishness, we'll have to try to practice service to God first.  If we want to be free from pleasure-seeking, we'll have to practice taking pleasure in God first.  If we want to be free from self-aggrandizement we'll have to watch our motives closely and practice lowly, meek self-effacing surrender. And a humble attitude to bring glorification to God.  

It doesn't sound easy does it?  It isn't.  But we can do it, because of the first step, wrestling constantly in prayer with God.  God will help us.  God will do more than help us, He will deliver the victory on a silver platter.  Because God wants us to be conformed to the image of His son Jesus.  So He will help us overcome self.  That's what all of this is about, it's about overcoming self and glorifying God.  And we should do that, if we really want to be authentic disciples of Jesus Christ.  This isn't easy.  But God is mighty to save.  

Don't give up.  This will be a journey of days, weeks, months and longer.  Keep fighting, and keep struggling for the victory.  God will provide.  Trust in Him. Amen. 

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