#redefine

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is permanent and what is temporary, and how the truth of that doesn’t necessarily show very deeply in my life, but especially not very deeply in my attitudes. I realize that what I’m about to write is all very rudimentary in the spectrum of Christian Theology, but it’s something that I keep coming back to, and I can’t pretend it’s not affecting me, no matter how simple it seems. Let me explain.

I spend a huge amount of my time chasing happiness. See if any of these ring a bell for you, personally. They’re all true for me. Some are things almost everyone wants. Some are more Josh-specific.

  • I want to be good at my job.
  • I want to have fun, interesting relationships with other people.
  • I want to feel like I’m a good spouse and friend.
  • I want to have fun little gadgets with which I can entertain myself.
  • I want to be a talented musician.
  • I want to live in a cool/interesting house with cool/interesting stuff.
  • I want to experience new and interesting things regularly.
  • I want to be (at least) reasonably respected wherever I go.

That list could go on and on for quite awhile. When I hold the entire list (not shown here) in my head, and I think about the percentage of my time I invest in achieving those things, I come out to a figure that is almost 100%. And that really disappoints me. I think some people will say, “Well, most or all of those are good goals, there’s nothing wrong with that,” but I think that response is ignoring a larger fact. All those things are attempting to bring just a moment of happiness, a miniature “high” from which I will eventually come back down, at which point I will simply repeat the cycle and try to get back up there again. It’s kinda pointless, isn’t it?

I think we’ve all experienced and chased after this kind of thing. When you buy something, you feel a mini high from the fascination of it, using it for whatever it was made for. And that high is really part of the reason you purchased it, isn’t it? When you do well at work, and your boss says, “Great Job!”, you feel a mini high. If you’re a musician and you’re playing/singing in a group, and you feel you really nailed a particular performance, you feel a mini high. When you’re really good to your spouse or friends and they notice and say something to you about it, you feel a mini high. Think about all the little mini highs that you experience in life. There are hundreds. When I think about how much time I spend achieving those things, or preparing to continue achieving them, it doesn’t match up with this:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?

Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.

The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.

All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.

There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.

Ecclesiastes 1:2-11

Ecclesiastes used to be my favorite book of the Bible. It’s getting back up there now. I think that quote, “All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full,” might be one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard in my life. Doesn’t that describe human nature perfectly? I constantly desire something, whatever it is, and I want it, and I pine for it, and I think about it. But when I get it, one of two things happens. 1) I keep it, or 2) I have it for awhile, and then it goes away. In case 1, I get over it and want something else. In case 2, I want it again after I’ve lost it. And that describes the things on which I spend the vast majority of my time. Seriously, what’s the point?

Then, I stop and I think about the Eternal. I think about Jesus, and I think about His goals for us on Earth. I think about His Kingdom. It suddenly seems comparably impossible to waste my time working on those things. Everything you do to influence God’s Kingdom is permanent. Even after death, the effects of that work will not fade. There are so many Bible verses that talk about that idea that it’s almost pointless to list them all. This drives home a point I was thinking about recently, too, because it shows that one of the only things that makes my time on Earth worthwhile is my influence on other people. If I influence them for bad or for good, that sticks with them permanently. “Kingdom work” is real work. The trick is to identify what work is part of that Kingdom and what isn’t.

So I guess what I’m getting at is that I think I need to redefine myself and my pursuits by this criteria. Honestly, I don’t think about this stuff nearly as often as some might guess. I’m usually mostly concerned with getting through the day and getting set up for the next day, so that I can repeat the cycle without falling behind. But I don’t often stop to really question why I do all the things I do. And I think I need to do that a lot more often, or risk living an irrelevant, wasted life. That’s pretty serious, but it’s also pretty realistic. And I’m not talking about human relevancy, but about relevancy from an eternal perspective.

What are some thoughts you guys have had about this subject? Do you find yourself easily caught up in the impermanent?

(By the way, Steph just pointed out a cool song called Something to Believe In by FM Static [iTunes] [lyrics] that is very applicable to this topic. Check it.)

7 thoughts on “#redefine

  1. Here’s my two cents (and a quarter):

    I agree with most of what you said. I think it’s so important to question things you do, but that also can be done in excess. It’s good to reflect an think about what your pursuit is, but at the same time if you are “seeking first His righteousness” then what you “do” will matter. Even if you impacted a million people’s lives it’s not you who does it. You can sit and fret over all the things you haven’t done and how you seem to pursue mini-highs and even change what you do, but if it’s lacking Love it means just as little as playing video games.

    I would definitely say that you are NOT pursuing these mini-highs 100% of the time. Yeah, it’s a big chunk, but you are an amazing and loving man. I don’t think that you are simply being a good husband because you want to feel good. You’re not that shallow. I know you love your friends and family altruistically and you do things that prove it. That’s SOMETHING under the sun! It’s God using you.

    I don’t think theirs anything wrong with redifining your pursuits; it’s probably God-sent. The problem can be in that that can become your focus over pursuing Him who will change you. I think you were saying this, but I think you were also saying, “what can I do?” when you should be saying “here I am”.

    I totally have this problem too. This is a huge thing I struggle with. I constantly am thinking, “What’s God’s will? What’s God’s will?” And He’s saying, “Relax, Eddie. Relax. Give in. Let me take the reigns.” I don’t think theirs any “trick” to finding God’s will. I don’t even think it’s something you can find. You pursue God and He gives it.

    How can we not sometimes catch ourselves caught in the impermanent? Until we die we’ll have this struggle. It sucks. I just read somewhere that like our sufferings our desires are also meant to lead us to God who is permanant. Your sister was just talking about this the other day in Sunday school. She struggles with finding too much joy in Elise and not in what’s permanent. I think those joys are God’s hints of whats to come. There’s nothing wrong with them. But you’re totally right when you say that a pursuit of that pleasure shifts focus to what can never be fulfilled.

    “Then, I stop and I think about the Eternal. I think about Jesus, and I think about His goals for us on Earth. I think about His Kingdom. It suddenly seems comparably impossible to waste my time working on those things. ”

    I think if you “do” anything do that. I think either your dad or Amy’s dad recently spoke on the beauty of “wasting your time” reflecting on God. The world sees that as a waste of time because it doesn’t look like your doing anything. But look at the Psalms! David, the king of a nation, “wasted” his time reflecting.

    Man, I need to take some of this medicine.

  2. Some very good, deep thoughts.

    1. You are very young. When I was 25 I wasn’t even in the ministry yet. I still had half a year of Seminary left. When I finally did get into ministry I discovered that impact comes at a very, very slow pace, but I also discovered that’s OK. Erwin McManus, a thinker-pastor in L.A. said that most ministers vastly overestimate what they can accomplish (or God can accomplish through them…don’t quibble over the wording) in one year and vastly underestimate what will be accomplished in ten. That is if they are patient enough to remain faithful for ten, or twenty or thirty.

    When you are young the progress seems to be sooooooo sloooooooooow. Some can’t take the pace and leave the calling. Some self-destruct. When you are young many of the things you find yourself doing learning life’s ropes are very repetitive and tedious as well and seem so insignificant (but here’s the secret, in Christ, they AREN’T! Yet with human eyes, and particularly young eyes, we can’t see that. It can all look so futile. But then you get to 28 or 32 or 40 and turn around and see what the Father has accomplished in what looks like your wake. Josh, your mother, who I think you’ll agree is a pretty fine mom often felt when she was raising two little kids dear to me that so much of her time was at times just tedious, repetitive fluff and yet she loved being as stay at home mom. What’s your assesment of the way she invested her 20+ years of fluff with you? Meaningless or crucial?

    Some sage once said that 95% of success is just “showing up” consistently. That’s really true. For the Christian we daily make the tiny offering of our few efforts…our fluff. They flow out just a few grains at a time, like sand through an hour-glass, hardly perceptible, but then God uses those grains to make huge impact.

    You know it’s God because only He can do so much with such an insignificant commodity day after day as a few paltry grains of sand.

    2. Since only people and souls in this world are eternal, that’s really the place to invest the limited energy we have. The closer the person is to us (family and friends) the more responsibility we have to them to pour our grains into their lives.

    For an absolutely brilliant analysis of the very cryptic book Ecclesiastes, I recommend J.I. Packer’s “Knowing God” chapter 10 titled “God’s Wisdom.” You are wondering how God is fitting all the sands of your life together. Listen to this quote from that chapter, “For the truth is that God in his wisdom, to make and keep us humble and to teach us to walk by faith, has hidden from us almost everything that we should like to know about the providential purposes which he is working out in the churches and in our own lives.” In other words, to make us into the faith-filled, God-trusting people He desires us to be, God purposely, graciously, lovingly leads us in ways which He intentionally prevents us from totally understanding. Why? Maybe because the more we (seem to) understand, the less we rely on Him and the more messed up we become.

    That’s just a quote to whet your appetite. Find the book and ponder deeply.

    POP

  3. It kinda depends buddy, some of those things on your list would be good pursuits to have if you saw them not as a way to get a mini-high, but as part of your calling for God and his work.

    Really, life at its best for the Christian is oftentimes a struggle (at its worse, there’s no struggle, as they’ve given up). Look at Paul, CS Lewis, and other big guys in the faith: they all had their problems, and it’s easy for any human to get caught up in the day to day stuff surrounding us.

    However, struggling to live the life that God wants you to just means you giving as much as you can. Some days it’s more, some days it’s less, but as your Dad said, in the end, it adds up to a lot more than you think it will.

    I don’t know if I’ve ever told you how much I changed from 7th to 9th grade: my youth pastor still comments on it when he looks on it, and it was all God doing stuff in me. I can’t point to any one thing, and I don’t remember those years altogether fondly, but God did something in me there.

    For me right now, I’m struggling with feeling purposeless, and have since senior year at Bethel. I feel a bit like Moses the 80 years before he got sent to save the Israelites, in training for something, but I really want to know what RIGHT NOW. I hate floating, not having a permanent occupation, etc., and it gets on my nerves sometimes, but then I often just get tied up in little day to day stuff, reading, playing games, or whatever, and these bigger struggles seem not so true. So I kinda know where you’re coming from. Hang tough.

  4. You are ahead of the curve. Most folks don’t realize these truths until they are at least 35, many don’t see it until they are retired. Just rejoice that you have the potential of spending many more years on the permanent and learning the delicate balance of the two for “contentment” (preferred as more substantial than “happiness”.) This means you should look back at age 75 with fewer regrets about wasted years.

  5. It’s so great to be surrounded by such a wonderfully wise group of people. Dad, I found the idea that God might keep us in the dark to keep us relying on Him to be extremely believable. That’s very in-character for God, I think. And also very in-character for us as humans, too, since it makes perfect sense that we would screw it up as soon as we start relying on our own understanding. It’s just like Eddie said, “You pursue God and He gives [you His Will.]”

    Neal, I feel the same way you do, as though you’re in training for something. I had that sense strongly put upon me a few weeks ago. I felt God saying, “Put on your armor.” I don’t know yet what it was all about, but I’d better listen! It sounded urgent.

    As far as what my mom said, I don’t know that I’m so much “ahead of the curve,” as much as I’m somewhere in it, and then I’ll fall back out of it, and then I’ll get back in it again. That seems to be how my spiritual life goes. I’ll feel very connected to God for a few weeks, and then it will seem like I’ve lost that for another few, and then it comes back. I don’t know that it means anything, so I just try to keep going, but it’s a cyclical thing. I’ve already had all these exact same thoughts years ago, and I’ve already dealt with them. But then I get “reset” and I have to do it all over again. I don’t know how or why that happens, but I’m trying to pay attention, to see if there’s something I’m not catching.

  6. Joshua, I love that you think about things. It’s so awesome. Many of the people I spend my time with day-to-day don’t step back and think about things before responding. I’ve sat in meetings where someone presents something and everyone’s like, “YAY! I AGREE!” Then I stand up and say, “Well, what about THIS?” Then everyone’s like, “Oh…We don’t agree.” And it goes back and forth like that. It’s so frustrating to see people jump to conclusions so quickly without thought.

    I love that song you posted, partially because it’s really fun and catchy, but I also love the lyrics. The first time I heard it, I reflected on the last lines, “I missed the point now it’s over.” And I thought, “Man, I don’t want to think that at the end of my life.” It really hit me. So, it was cool to read that you’ve been thinking similar things…just more deep than me listenting to a song.

    That’s part of why I made you that mug that says “Look Deeper.” You had a picture that said that and a necklace that symbolized that while we were dating…but I haven’t seen them around for a couple of years. Keep looking!

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