1997-08-22 - Personal Satisfaction
I am taking a break from the current series we are working through on our way to the cross. We will return to the Upper Room with Jesus and the remaining eleven disciples next week.
I had several encounters with stories of people, both celebrities and every day folks, who had achieved a major goal, attained a certain wealth or stature and had yet remained so empty and barren inside. This complete lack of satisfaction lead, in several cases to depression and suicide driven by hopelessness. What a wretched, horrible feeling it must be to be so completely without hope that ending your life seems better rather than continuing. I know a few people who have gotten to the point of trying, and a few who have passed from this life by their own hand. The incidents that seem to strike us more as a surprise are the people who have seemingly everything going for them. It is a shock to many when the one who has somehow killed him or herself has 'arrived' by the standard of this world.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, in his epistle to the churches attacks the standard that this world establishes. He shows how it fails and only generates division and draws us to sin.
James 4:1-2a What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. (NAS)
The question is put to the reader, "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?". The question is answered with a very leading question that drills deep into the heart of the matter. The term members is often used to speak of the parts of a body, in this case the body of Christ. When we go after the things of this world to please ourselves, the litany of sorrows that follows is frightening. Verse 2 reminds us of David and Bathsheba. But they were not alone in this through out history. They were both attracted to each other. Bathsheba was not innocent in this, and David certainly was not. And when they decided that their lust was more important, Uriah was murdered. Uriah was so loyal to David that he carried the note himself to the front lines of battle that lead to his death. David knew Uriah would not read it, and the King of Israel banked on that loyalty to betray his friend to death. The remaining list is equally telling. Envy leading to fights and quarrels in a group of people that Jesus asked to love each other so completely that the world would know that we are His disciples. We are each capable of living down to this level. Coming to grips with that fact is the first step in learning to lean of Jesus totally in every aspect of our living.
James 4:2b-5 You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? (NAS)
Jesus wants to give us the desires of our hearts. He also desires to have our hearts, so that He may mould them to match His flawless character. The saddest part of all is that the Christians doing the desiring had never asked God for what they wanted. And when they did ask, it was out of a selfish, self-centered heart that only had its own purposes in mind, not the eternal view of God. Is having things wrong then? Not at all. But when the things, or the desire to have things,.control you, that is wrong. And it leads only to sin and frustration. James pulls no punches in driving home his point. With authority he derides the readers as adulteresses. As most of us know, adultery was a capital crime in Israel at this time. Friendship with this world, keeping up with the proverbial Joneses; power, money, control. Even sadder still, all this things are illusions. Jesus died to save us, and sent the Spirit to fill us and to continue the work of conforming us to His image of perfection. But this kind of selfishness is poison to that spiritual heart and its' growth. James points out that the Scriptures have informed us of the solution, and yet we close our ears to it.
James' frustration reminds me of a passage from Isaiah.
Isa 55:1-3 1 "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 "Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. 3 "Incline your ear and come to me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David. (NAS)
I hear this from the Lord with a lament in His heart. Why? He asks. I have such wonderful things to pour out on you. And yet, you spend your time and effort on garbage for your soul to eat and for the things this world tells you will make you happy and leaves you desolate and broken. And yet, if you will hear Me you will feast on sumptuous food for your spirit and I will grant you the abundance of a full heart. And at the end, here again is David. Even after his heart breaking sin with Bathsheba and the murder of a loyal friend, David repented truly broken by God and remade. God still referred to David as "a man after God's own heart". God was merciful to David, and when David had repented, God was standing ready to restore their relationship. He will do the same for you today. Just ask.
The biggest lie in the whole mess is that it is possible to live up to this worldly perfection of beauty and money and power that is flaunted in our faces. No one can possibly maintain that. Age and wrinkles will creep in in spite of all the creams and lotions. Homes at the beach will be devastated by storms of the relentless pounding of the waves and movement of the earth that consumes mansion and shack alike. And, if you manage to survive all that, death will one day call one by one on friends and relatives, and eventually you will be called to stand before God and "No!" will not be accepted.
James 4:6-8 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (NAS)
James also clearly calls for repentance. If you try to take off on your own and in a direction that leads to trouble, God will not honor your self-seeking ,proud heart. Submission and humility before the Lord are called for, and how these chafe against what the world says. The battle cry sounds "Look out for number one!", and 40,000 children die everyday while grain rots in our streets. "You deserve it!", and the lust to have that thing burns a little deeper in our hearts. James urges us to resist the enemy who dangles these things in our way. If we can see the hopelessness in the game he wants us to play, if we can learn his tactics, then we can learn to say no, and he will have no power over us.
If we learn to desire the things God has for us, these temptations will fade into oblivion. It has been said that if you focus your attention on Jesus, the enemy can only be a faint shadow in the periphery. Give the world something compelling to see that simply calls. The love that Jesus wants us to have for our fellow Christians, and the peace that only He can give that passes all understanding are compelling to a world without hope. Give them something more desirable than the Presley, Joplin, Hendrix, Dean, et al. legacies. They had the world at their feet, and they died unsatisfied and without hope. The call of the world was a sirens song, and their lives were dashed upon the rocks. Desire the love and peace Jesus has for us and become a lighthouse safely steering the seekers home to the Lord.
Lord Jesus, Give us the courage to swim, often against the flow of the world, and search out the good things You have for us. And when we are satisfied in these things, make us examples of what the world wants so badly they can not resist. Teach us to identify the nets and snares of the enemy, and to avoid them. Fill us to overflowing with You so we spill out into the lives of those around us. Amen.