Our God will be second to no other.
God wants all of our love. He will not be a mere add-on to our lives.
He is not simply one of our many sources of pleasure, significance, rest, safety, provision.
He is the source of all these things, and one day (sooner or later) we will meet Him face to face and acknowledge that nothing good exists apart from Him.
Putting the Cart Before the Horse
Even vibrant health, a flourishing career, and a beautiful, large home cannot satisfy. These are certainly blessings, but true health, life, completion, and shelter are found in the presence of God alone.
When we seek first temporal things and flawed humans for fulfillment, we shortchange ourselves and insult God.
It’s like ditching intimacy with a spouse to engorge ourselves 24/7 with pornography. Our vision narrows to one thing: satisfying our cravings. Never serving. Always taking, no matter what the cost might be to the dignity of the person on the screen, or to the one we leave behind.
It’s never enough. We always want more.
The rejected spouse is still in the bedroom. Still watching (even if we think we’re hiding our deeds pretty well). Still hurting. Still heartbroken. Although we can no longer see them – and therefore think ourselves unaccountable – we are still being watched.
The spouse continues to do the dishes, clean the house, prepare the food. And we consume. We enjoy the kindness of their hand, yet we no longer care about them.
So it is when we are myopically and singularly driven by our lusts. We lose sight of everything and everyone beautiful. We lose sight of God – the Giver and Lover – and get sucked into a vortex of selfishness.
Deep down, we know we’re the embodiment of misery. We know we’re lost. We know we’ve messed up. But facing up and acknowledging that hurts too much.
It’s easier to pretend the spouse (or God) doesn’t exist anymore.
Eventually, God smashes our “pornography”. If we are His children (saved), then He disciplines us. He brings us to a place of repentance.
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. – Revelation 3:19
He takes away the toys we’ve played with irresponsibly, so that we’ll come to our senses.
Why am I calling the allegorical pornography and the lusts it represents “toys”? Because everything God has created is good.
Sex is a good thing.
Beautiful women and handsome men are good “things”.
But these things must be handled responsibly – within God’s framework.
When we use these beautiful things outside of their proper context, we violate the Law of Love.
Why? Because every command God gives is rooted in Love.
Although God created these beautiful things, we’ve distorted and twisted His glorious creations to serve our lusts rather than Love. We’ve disobeyed His command.
God gave one commandment in the garden. “Don’t eat from that tree.” He even explained that obeying this command was for the good of humanity (“…for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die”).
But humanity chose to worship the flesh – the proverbial “belly” – as “God” rather than the God who created that flesh. We have traded respectful stewardship for reckless consumption.
Suffering Changes Our Priorities
In the reckless lust of the lost but religious, Christianity is often experimentally “tried-on” in pursuit of earthly comfort.
Sadly, because of this, Christianity is often perceived as a lousy sort of “get rich quick” or “improve your life” plan. This is a false gospel.
Walking through life with Christ is often painful, because you walk through life with a cross.
However, I can say that walking with Jesus has also brought me a peace and a joy I have never experienced without Him. I would not trade it to be well. I would not trade His fellowship for the fortunes of the world.
Don’t get me wrong. I would love to be healed.
But if God should choose not to heal me, that is okay. My lustful, childish, wicked flesh must perish. And suffering is a choice gift with which this can be accomplished.
Suffering destroys the perishable and reveals the imperishable.
It burns away the hay and straw with which I am building, to reveal the gold of the work of the Spirit of God. And the treasure of Christ Himself.
I have found spiritual life in physical death. I have found the Truth through the gory demise of the lies I once believed – the facades and trinkets in which I had hoped.
Cosmetics. Career. Cash. Sugar. Shopping. Social life. Formal education.
Maybe for you, it’s been video games. Your car. Promotions. Constant busyness.
I’m not saying these things are ever wrong. But we all know that we tend to misuse these sorts of things and become addicted.
Addicted to identity.
Addicted to security.
Addicted to pleasure.
Addicted to money.
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. – Jesus
Seeking fulfillment in the pleasures of this world rather than in God is like me eating bread at a bakery without ever making a transaction with the baker. Not only is that stealing, but eventually, the baker is going to stop making the bread available, because I apparently have no idea or appreciation of whose hand it comes from, won’t pay for it, and continue to use it irresponsibly. The baker will call the police and I’ll get thrown in jail.
I’m making myself sick and taking without giving in return. That hurts everyone. I am not acting in love.
Humanity has craved bread more than a relationship with the baker.
Our cravings become our captains. That which we cannot live without is our master.
In our myopic greed, we become abject servants of our flesh rather than our Father.
Pursuing goodness apart from God is taking without ever thanking. Drinking up the works of His hands while cursing His name is the act of a spoiled, ignorant, and blind child.
What good is a relationship which takes without ever gazing into the eyes of the giver? Of what nature is a union in which one member partakes without ever appreciating or expressing gratitude for the generosity of the other?
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
And Christ’s beautiful words leading up to that:
“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world. – C.S. Lewis
The Christian has died with Christ in the flesh. We are no longer identified by our flesh. But as long as our souls remain encased in these bodies, we still struggle with the sin which is so deeply embedded within the flesh.
Now that we are spiritually and legally severed from our flesh and alive in Christ, we hate the lusts and struggles of our flesh. But that doesn’t mean the struggle is over.
As long as we remain in the “body of this death” – as the apostle Paul put it – we struggle with sin, because the flesh is tied into sin and death.
Suffering is an antidote of this life which destroys our flesh (our addictions, our idols, our reliance upon our worldly identity), and compels us seek God more than the blessings which pour forth from His hand.
How does suffering accomplish this?
Suffering removes from our view the things which don’t matter. We are no longer distracted.
When our eyes can no longer be engaged by the toys of this earth, we begin to behold the glory, kindness, and blessings of our Father.
Little gifts and joys which we once took for granted now begin to stand out, as the flashier, gaudier diversions fade away.
Even “necessary” things – such as good health – can be dangerous, if we use our health to exalt ourselves. If our health is stewarded for self-worship and self-glorification, then that health has itself become toxic and sickening.
My disease is a gift. My poverty is a gift. They are burning idols I have worshiped for way too long.
My social image.
God supplies strength, success, identity, energy, and efficiency for the things that are important to Him – for His purposes. He will give me all I need to serve Him.
But sometimes, even that serving is accomplished through our stillness and surrender.
In Part 1, we explored the truth that God doesn’t want us to be strong for Him. He wants us to be strong in Him.
And usually, that means weakness on our part.
I’d love to get well if that enables me to more effectively steward this life that I’ve been given. (And…yes, I’d just like to feel better again.) But I trust that if I am not permitted to get well, there is greater purpose in my suffering.
You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have. – Corrie ten Boom
When we are in Christ and we suffer, the things that don’t matter – the things that destroy us – are burned away like dross, and we begin to awaken to the riches and joy that cannot and will not be taken away from us.
The things that harm us (social status, personal image, pride, selfishness, confidence in our own strength) are being blasted and obliterated, so that we will stop worshiping and looking for hope in them, and instead find true, lasting hope and joy in the Source of all good things – Jesus Christ.