Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Greatest Delight.

During our church's sermon last week, I took note of what portion of scripture we'd be covering the next week. In some ways, I love Matthew 16:24-28 and I was excited to get to it. But in my heart, I was also a little nervous to dive in.

"Then Jesus told his disciples, 'If anyone should come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.'"

That last verse is odd, and our pastor addressed some of what Jesus might have meant by it, but I'm not going to talk about that part today (sorry). 

What I really want to talk about is losing our lives. 

It is not a surprise to many of you that I've been struggling a bit since we moved. Nothing serious, but just learning to cope better with the daily grind after having such a chaotic, unpredictable summer that ended with a bit of disappointment. In one sense, our family was not disappointed with how our move ended up, but it would be a lie to say we weren't frustrated to not have found a home to purchase. We really do strive to love whatever life God has for us, but notice the word I used: strive. Our goal is not always achieved, not something we always feel like doing, but we honestly desire to be content with God's plans over our own. 

I have certainly been wrestling with contentment. I have searched for peace in my circumstances, sought out solutions to my problems, and even tried to change how I do things all in order to achieve a greater sense of happiness with the way my life is right now. I often feel like I am failing, or maybe that I am incapable (without medication) of being that content. Then I struggle with feeling extremely guilty over my lack of joy when almost every need I have is met. It often feels like a problem I have no right to complain about. 

During our time of worship this past Sunday morning, a few phrases from a song stuck with me and got the wheels turning in my head. Psalm 62 says things like "for God alone my soul waits in silence" and "pour out your heart upon him" and I instantly knew that this Psalm does not describe my own heart or my own actions. In the song we sing at church (which is a variation of Psalm 62) the chorus says "O praise Him, Hallelujah, my delight and my reward" and again, I was struck by how true this ought to be in my life and yet how false it has been. 

What is my heart set on? What joy am I pursuing? Is it death to self and life in Christ? Is it really to know God and make Him known? 

It has become obvious that I have been trying to pursue a lifestyle of sacrifice but I have been unwilling to let go of my personal desires. I hang on to the idea that I can sacrifice for my kids without actually giving up certain things I want. I strive to merge this self-sacrificing task of homeschooling with still having all my personal needs met, and it just isn't working. 

Jesus said that I cannot pursue self and pursue Him. 


I see what I'm pursuing, and it's really hard to give it up. None of it seems bad, or wrong, but I cannot love the world or the things in the world and still serve God with all of my heart. I have to follow Him with no strings attached, with no personal agenda. Only God can revive in my soul the joy and faith needed to pursue the glory of Christ above my personal gain. No self-help book (no matter how religious) can accomplish this, no amount of meditation nor medication can deny the extent of my selfishness, and no noble endeavor can compensate for putting my goals for self above my love for Jesus' kingdom. 

Our pastor said some very helpful things today about how we can move forward when we see our lives headed in a direction that opposes losing our lives for Jesus. He said number one, repent. Admit your pursuit of self is wrong. Note here, that most of the world will tell you it's fine, healthy, and needed for our sanity. Come back for that can of worms later. Second, he said, we need to trust God to change our hearts. There's no way around that. You have to love God more than self in order to be willing to endure handing your dearest hopes over to Him. You can't grow to love Him on your own but He wants you to love Him. When you ask Him for help and He stirs that love up in your heart, your selfish ambition will seem juvenile, pointless, maybe even silly. He does not disappoint.

This month I have been wresting against my own soul but have been unable to put it all into words. Now that I can see my folly clearly, I am actually relieved. My own ambitions make me miserable. God knows my heart better than I do, and I can trust that giving up my ideas of success will result in greater joy and fulfillment, even if it results in less money or prestige. The world will oppose the thought of giving up what you love in order to serve, sacrifice, or share. Certainly, you can serve Christ and still have good things, but you cannot serve Christ and set your hope on your own fulfillment and desire. 

It is good to consider what your delights and your rewards really are. What do you ultimately want? If you could gain peace today, what would that look like? In my mind recently, delight has been clouded with uncertainty and frustration as I could not name a single thing that would make me feel at peace. But now it has become clear why. My idea of delight revolves around feeling a certain way, which is silly, because feelings are fuzzy, unpredictable, and often totally out of whack. What a comfort it was to be reminded that taking delight off of myself and onto what Christ promises is the only way to life. 

The practical reminder that following Christ is a road of self-denial is actually a great comfort. You are not responsible to find great delight in your life. Any good you can comprehend is from God and found in God. He contains immeasurable amounts of peace, delight, freedom, fulfillment, and more. While here on earth we will be denying our own ambitions and serving those around us, but the delight we find in His presence is more than worth the trade-off. If you believe the gospel, you will find only frustration and regret in a life of selfish pursuits. But by setting your desires aside and trusting in God's beautiful redemptive plans, your soul will be saved. The peace and delight you will find along the way will cause your soul to thank you. 

*I want you to know, dear friend who takes depression medication, that this post is not intended to address your needs. If you need to analyze whether you are following self or Christ, by all means, do so. But this post is not in regards to the medical needs of those struggling with clinical depression. 

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