Driving down the familiar street where my family used to live I waved at our former neighbor who was standing in his yard. The next thing I remember was that neighbor pounding on my driver’s side window unable to open my door because of the collision. Another car backed out of their driveway as I was looking away to wave. The impact was severe slamming me into the rear view mirror lacerating my face knocking me unconscious for a few minutes. I spent several hours trying to be still as the doctor carefully removing tiny shards of glass from several cuts across my cheek and eyebrow. Finally stitched up I was ready to be taken home with half of my face bandaged feeling and looking slightly mummified.
Robert was one of my good friends. He stopped by to check on me asking if he could help in any way. He offered to get my things out of my car that was totaled inquiring where to find it. I told him where the car had been towed thanking him for his offer but explained it wasn’t necessary as we intended to take care of this after I had taken a few days to recover. Robert knew I had recently purchased an expensive new car stereo and his compassionate efforts were actually efforts to steal my system, which he did. It would be several years later before I would have a passing conversation with another “friend” who would mention to me what Robert had done. Robert would later have an affair with the wife of another one of his “friends.”
The most dangerous enemy to our lives is the enemy we count as a friend. Inviting somebody whose motives aren’t in our best interest into our lives leaves us vulnerable as we unknowingly empower their destructive efforts. The ability to determine what is helpful and what is hurtful is vital to our overall wellbeing. When you find yourself questioning what everybody around you seems to be embracing it can be confusing. Robert seemed like such a great guy who wanted to help and I was in such a state of need. Had I questioned his efforts it could have caused others to think I was just being paranoid or irrational.
As we begin this journey together of exploring religious confusion I need to expose one of your closest friends. I regret to inform you that this friend has likely gained full access to your life and when I question him it will likely be disturbing and your first response may be more of a reaction. This friend is “the pursuit of happiness” and it seems everybody in our modern day culture has invited him into the center of his or her lives. This idea is so central to our way of thinking our first response is to defend and protect the very thing that consistently overpromises and under delivers throughout all the years of our lives.
The pursuit of happiness appears to be a friend with our best interests in mind but this pursuit is never satisfied. In addition this way of thinking seeps into every area of our lives emerging in every attitude we hold. Life becomes more about my pleasure than it is about God’s purposes. The basis of religious confusion is allowing life to deviate from the ultimate goal of loving God and loving others. Don’t misunderstand. God is delighted when we are fulfilled according to his wonderful purposes. However, our fulfillment according to any other standard is a counterfeit that results in an endlessly unfulfilling pursuit.
TRUE HAPPINESS IS A RESULT NOT A PURSUIT. God designed us to experience pleasure but he never intended for us to make pleasure our priority in life. When happiness becomes your priority it escapes you. We are designed to worship God and God alone. Self-fulfillment as a focus becomes an expression of self-worship robbing us of our joy. Interestingly when I was perusing a bookstore I noticed the number one self helps topic seemed to be ideas on how to be happy and successful. Then I realized the next most prevalent topic I observed was how to conquer depression. When we exchange the eternal purposes of God for the temporal pursuits of this world disappointment and depression are inevitable.
Matt 6:31-33 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. NIV
When my daughters were six and seven years old we had an astonishing experience in our front yard. My oldest daughter, Faith, was just standing there looking at me when a butterfly landed on her shoulder. She stood very still as I took a picture. My younger daughter, Lexi, was filled with anticipation to have her turn with a butterfly landing on her. She ran, jumped, grasped and did all she could to coerce the butterfly in her direction but to no avail. I finally calmed her down and asked her to stand very still with her arms out to her side. Within just a few seconds the butterfly landed on her as well.
We no longer live “in want” when we discover the joy of resting in the presence of God. This is the place where good things begin “following us” in life and we stop grasping at the things we want God to give us. We don’t follow them but rather they follow us because they are results not pursuits. He is our loving shepherd who cares for our souls and fulfills our lives.
Ps 23:1-6 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want… 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. KJV
When we make results our pursuits confusion abounds. The Bible compares marriage interaction of the husband and wife to the interaction of Jesus and the church. In our society marriage has become one of the main tools we use in our pursuit of happiness. Its very common for single people to be in the pursuit of marrying somebody who will make them happy. There is a huge problem with this however. If we are relying on somebody else for happiness we aren’t loving them, we are using them.
What if we have this all wrong? What if God’s plan is not for marriage to be an avenue we pursue to make us happy? What if God’s plan for marriage is that it’s an avenue we pursue to become more like Jesus? This changes the primary purpose of marriage from happiness to holiness. A lot of modern day theology seems to be based on some idea that God’s primary concern is to empower us in our pursuit of happiness. Some churches have given weeks of emphasis to helping couples understand God’s desire for married couples to have great sex. I’m not sure God’s all that concerned with this as much as He is concerned with our having healthy marriages born out of wonderful friendship with God and with each other. The result of a wonderful friendship producing a healthy marriage will be incredible intimacy on every level of life. Again it seems this is reversing the order making results into our pursuits.
It’s true that God wants you to have the most incredible life you can possibly imagine. The confusion comes when we fail to realize that this amazing life doesn’t come from pursuing it but rather providing it for others. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive. The pursuit of blessedness involves the pursuit of giving more than receiving. The pursuit of happiness is about me while the pursuit of blessedness is about others. It’s interesting that the pursuit of blessedness, which is about others, does more for me than the pursuit of happiness ever could. Making the most of our lives doesn’t make other people’s pain go away but making other people’s pain go away does make the most of our lives.
Nathan, Renee and their four children are dear friends that have become family to our family. Their daughter, Aleah, has had to see specialists to address a physical condition she battles. In one instance they’d traveled to Baltimore for a week of treatment. The temperature outside was cold and the entire situation was inconvenient and uncomfortable. Aleah, age 8 at the time, was frustrated by the trip, procedures, weather, etc. On their way to their appointment she was voicing her frustration for having to be doing what they were doing. Something happened that day that completely changed her perspective. During her treatment she met another little girl who had had an accident where a swing set had fallen over landing on the back of her neck paralyzing her from the neck down.
Aleah befriended the little girl and began serving her trying to make her experience as pleasant as possible. Suddenly the inconvenience of her trip, the weather and her uncomfortable procedures lost their grip on her attitude. It was this other little girls suffering that was greater than Aleah’s that seemingly rescued her from her own frustrations. It was very impacting when they returned and her daddy, Nathan, shared this story. His words continue to remain in my heart to this day. “Jesus delivers us from our sin. Our willingness to participate in other people’s suffering delivers us from ourselves.”
We’ve raised up a generation of Christians who have a complete aversion to anything inconvenient having been trained that God’s foremost concern is their happiness. The problem is that happiness is the world’s substitute for joy! It’s this selfish pursuit of happiness that is flawed right up front with selfishness that keeps us from getting any area of life right. GOD’S GREATEST PRIORITY ISN’T FOR US TO LEARN THE HAPPINESS OF LIVING LIFE SO WONDERFULLY. GOD’S HEART IS FOR US TO DISCOVER THE JOY OF GIVING LIFE SO FREELY. This is what we see in the loving, serving, giving example of Jesus Christ. Jesus wasn’t born for his pleasure. Jesus was born for God’s purpose. You and I were not born for our pleasure. We were born for God’s purposes.
Chapter 1 from my book: Religious Confusion