Thursday, February 17, 2011

When we want something other than God...

In our months long look at the issue of idolatry both in the history of Israel and in our own hearts, we have repeatedly seen what results when our chief desire is for something other than the Lord.  Much of the depression, anger, frustration, fear, and anxiety we experience comes as a result of not getting what that idol promised.  It seems that there are times when God exposes our hearts by preventing us from having the things we want.

But there are also times when God exposes our hearts by doing the opposite, that is, by giving us exactly what we want.  1 Samuel 8 gives us an example in the life of Israel at the end of the Judges period.  Israel’s desire to be like the Canaanites had not subsided and came to manifest itself in their demand to have a king “like all the nations” (8:5).  Samuel took this as a personal slight since he was judging Israel at the time.  But Yahweh gave Samuel a more accurate interpretation, and told him how to proceed:

“Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.  According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you.  Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them." (1Sam 8:8-9)

The people wanted a king like the nations rather than having the Lord as their king.  So He gave them what they wanted.  Yet, this was not a gift, but a judgment.  We know this because of the warning that Samuel gave the people about how their new king would behave: 1) he would take their sons to serve in his army and farm his land; 2) he would take their daughters to be his personal servants; 3) he would take the best of their land and crops; 4) he would take the best of their servants and livestock; and 5) he would limit their personal freedoms (v10-17).  The result would be chilling: “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day” (v18). 

What is it that results from getting what we want when what we want is not the Lord?  It is never the happiness that we envisioned, but a situation far worse than that which we imagined would result from not getting what we wanted.  No matter what we want above God, it never turns out the way we hoped.  In fact, when we finally get what we wanted, we find that it doesn’t just disappoint, but it brings misery.

By giving us what we want, God shows us in living color the heartache that comes from trusting in other gods.  But our hearts are so deceiving that seldom do we learn the lesson.  We assume that the last false god was defective and we start looking for a better one. 

And it’s not like we haven’t been warned.  Scripture tells us clearly what results from the pursuit of false gods.  The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply (Psa 16:4).  Haven’t we seen this vividly in our studies in Joshua and Judges?  But like Israel, even though we have been warned, we plow ahead.

We want material things because they will make us happy.  We convince ourselves that we need them. We know what the Scriptures say (ex., He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income [Ecc 5:10 ESV]), but we are undeterred.  Many times we can’t afford what we want, so we buy it with money we don’t have.  And typically, the debt long outlasts the thrill of making the purchase, leaving us with nothing but regret.

We want the excitement of romance, maybe a sensation that has been gone from our marriage for many years.  An idol in the form of a co-worker, neighbor, family friend, or church member promises an answer to that “need”.  And although it is clear in God’s Word the destruction that lies at the end of that road (Pro 5-7), we proceed anyway.  The price paid in terms of the lives ruined by such a transgression is beyond steep compared to the happiness that was promised but never delivered.

There may be no greater chastisement than God allowing us to have what we want the most.  It is a haunting thought, when you consider the ramifications.  Though we in the church may not say it out loud, we tend to live as if getting what we want is the whole object of life.  We even invent a caricature of the One True God who is all about our happiness, ready to bend over backward to give us worldly success.  The irony is that anytime our greatest desire is something other than Him, to receive that thing could be the worst scenario possible.

It sounds like a strange question, but how can we avoid getting what we want?  How do we prevent the heartache that will result from God giving us our hearts’ desire?  The answer should be obvious: we need to change what we desire.  There are two components to this.  First, we need to determine what desires we have been pursuing.  It would benefit us all to take a few minutes to consider the things that have been occupying our attention and affection recently: What have I been wanting?  What has been dominating my thought life?  What has excited me lately?  Have any of these things supplanted God as the primary focus of my life?  If there are things that have become more important to us than the Lord, we must repent of those and ask forgiveness. 

Second, we need to agree with the psalmist, saying to the LORD, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you… You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psa 16:2, 11).  We must delight ourselves in Christ, knowing that what will result is the sure fulfillment of a desire for Him above all (Psa 37:4).

The only true satisfaction and joy to be found in this life is in the constant pursuit of Jesus Christ.  When He is our chief desire, we can be certain that even in the midst of the greatest trials of life, we will be able to rejoice with joy inexpressible (1 Pet 1:3-9).

Posted by Greg Birdwell

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