I heard a message some time ago that I was reminded of recently. The part that arrested my attention had to do with natural desires that every human has. Every human has to varying degrees a desire for pleasure, a desire for possessions, and a desire for power. How one might choose to fulfill those desires is the debate that has raged on from the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.
The question has been poised many different ways in many different contexts. When you “boil down ” the circumstances and the individuals involved to arrive at the crux of the matter; you have a question of choice. Do I choose the temporary or the eternal?
In his first epistle John writes admonishing the saint of God and all that would hear him, “Love not the word, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever. “(1 John 2:15-17)
To the natural desire for pleasure the world ‘s (Satan) solution is Lust of the Flesh. The mantra here is “If it feels good – DO IT! ” For the desire for possessions the world offers the lust of the eyes. The theme song for this is to the tune of “He that dies with the most toys wins “. We find that with the desire for power the offering of the world is the pride of life. For this the motto is “If you can ‘t run with the big dogs ” stay on the porch.”
The problem is that these things are not of the Father but a part of a system that is temporary and spiraling down to ultimate ruin. Do we leave the temporary security of our homeland to pursue a city whose builder and maker is God? Do we struggle past the circumstances that define our life when our name means “pain” (Jabez) to push through to the eternal hope in God and ask him to do something about “me?” Do we have the intestinal fortitude (guts) to authentically state, “not my will but your will be done” in honest communication to God? Can we move past the many opportunities for offense and soberly tell our offenders, “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good?”
I am intrigued at the sliding away from distinctives. It seems, from my vantage point that we are struggling to lay aside the temporary in a desperate pursuit of the eternal.
We find in the book of Matthew God’s path to pursue these natural desires. Notice (perhaps turn to and highlight) where in chapter 6 of Matthew’s gospel it states, “when ye give”, “when ye pray”, and “when ye fast”. These three disciplines are vehicles of fulfilling the natural desires – not building on the sandy foundation of the temporary, but on the rock of God’s eternal principles. The end of the chapter reference in Matthew (verses 25-34) admonishes us, “Don’t worry”. Don’t worry about life, don’t worry about sustenance, and don’t worry about clothing.
Over concern about life distorts our priorities. It also reflects the presence of the pride of life. The righteous king Hezekiah was informed by the prophet Isaiah, “get your house in order you’re gonna die.” The king was naturally concerned and took to praying and crying out to God. God in turn was moved at his prayers and sent the prophet back. “Hey Hezzy, you get another 15 years”, Isaiah says. Hezekiah then asks if there is going to be peace in those 15 years. The reply was a yes, but your children will be carried away to serve another nation’s king and become Eunuchs.
Hezekiah’s response is alarming. He was content to let his children suffer the humiliation and shame as long as in his lifetime there was peace. How often do our children pay the price for our desire for peace, ease, or convenience? Hezekiah’s concern about life turned into over concern, which skewed his priorities.
Job said, “thou he slay me, yet will I trust him.” (Job 13:15) He also said in chapter 2, verse 10; “Shall we receive good at the hand of God and not evil.” When we are over concerned about life we get a distorted view of God’s love. I know that He loves me – not by the blessings and toys, raises and promotions, or sunny days and starry nights, but in that while I was a sinner Christ died for me. Over concern about the comforts and conveniences of life robs me of my trust of God to provide for me.
Jesus continues in Matthew 6, “Don’t worry” about what you will eat or drink. Our obsession with satisfying the cravings of our flesh puts us at odds with what the Spirit is at work to produce in our lives. Paul described it in Romans 7 as a “war in his members”. Following the desires of our carnal appetite takes us down the road of the lust of the flesh.
Consider the parable that we find in Luke 12:16-23. A farmer has a bumper crop. His fields have produced so much that he doesn’t have room to contain it. (This reminds me of a promise from God that Malachi states). He decides that he can take it easy now, he can just build bigger barns, and party. His bent to satisfy his flesh distorted his priority and purpose. How many churches have there been that decided to just “build bigger barns” (you know the kind with padded pews and steeples) and lost their purpose and calling?
Listen to what James preaches to us, “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:15)
Jesus further tells us not to worry about what we will wear. Perhaps it is not clothes that you’re primarily concerned with. Maybe it is jet skis and campers. Maybe it is that impulse to have the latest and greatest tech gadget. Associated with this struggle is the vanity that comes with the lust of the eyes. An unhealthy pursuit of things puts us in opposition to the unity of the body of Christ (how can we have souls knit together and be worried about “keeping up with the Smiths?”). This type of dysfunction in our natural desire to have possessions can kill the compassion that is a part of being Christian.
Achan wanted to get a jump-start on everyone else. (Joshua 7) He assumed that everyone else would dutifully obey Joshua’s directive from God. Though everyone else obeyed and refrained from looting Jericho, Achan decided to act in rebellion to God’s plan and take for himself some gold, silver, and a goodly Babylonish garment. The drive to “gotta have” not only affected Achan, but his whole house. It even reached into the nation as thousands of women and children were made widows and orphans.
Ahab was smitten with the “gotta have it” bug too. He was content to let his wicked wife have Naboth killed in order to obtain a piece of real estate. (1 Kings 21).
It aches to think about the children and homes destroyed by the “gotta have it” bug. Parents working themselves absent borrowing money they don’t have to obtain things that they don’t need. Chasing their natural desire for possessions through the vehicle of the lust of the eyes.
There is; however, something that we can do. God has given us a means to build on things eternal and not walk down the road of lust and vanity. To fulfill the desire for pleasure we lay up treasure in heaven by fasting, in the stead of laying up hay and stubble on earth through the lust of the flesh. To fulfill the desire for possessions God gives us the means of giving as an alternative to the lust of the eyes. Lastly, satisfying the desire for power we admit we don’t have power in ourselves and pray to the One with all power and He enables us to do “all things through Christ”. In this we say “no” to the pride of life in order to say “yes” to eternal life.
It may well be time for revival of “Christian Disciplines”. The cure for the “gotta have” is to give. The solution to the power struggle is to tap into power on high. The remedy to feeding our flesh is to submit our body to not eating. These are three resources to build on the rock.
We really need to be intentional with growing in God. It won’t just happen because I want it to. Setting growth goals is one means to accomplish this. Setting a study time goal or a prayer time goal gives you focus on something to reach for. Another powerful tool to grow is to have an accountability partner – and then being accountable. This is not to just prevention from doing wrong – but focusing on doing right.
Time to build. Build on the eternal rock or on the sifting sand – we all must build.
Paul Giertz a Pastor in Athens, Ohio.