Sometimes, I wonder whether some of us who claim to know about this guy named Jesus, really understand the message of His Gospel… Even people who don’t have backgrounds in church have usually heard the 23rd Psalm. In Psalm 23 David writes, “The Lord is my shepherd…” and ends it with, “He restores my soul and He leads me into paths of righteousness for the sake of His name.” And just from this passage (along with well an overwhelming number of other passages in Scripture that all clearly teach this) we read that God loves you, God is for you, and God will provide for you, but the motivation behind all that is not your awesomeness, but rather God. God is ultimately for God. God is about God. What God wants is the praise of His name in the universe. It’s the reason that everything exists. You, I, animals, plants, the nations, the planets, and the entire universe exist so that we might display that infinite perfections of God Almighty.
Now that rubs against the air we breathe, because the air we breathe is that we’re the point, we’re what it’s all about and everything should be about and revolve around us. We breathe that air. Every commercial is pointed in that direction. “You earned it. . . you deserve it. . . why wouldn’t you have this?” Almost all marketing schemes are built around how worthy you are of [insert product here]. So the Bible teaches that in reality you are not the center of God’s affections. You are most definitely not the center of the universe. Ultimately God is the center of the universe. But that rubs most of us so raw that in our pride we refuse to even question how and why this is good news. How can everything not being about me, be good news?! As big of a deal that I may think I am sometimes, God being about God is infinitely better than God being about me, you, or any of us.
Three reasons why it’s the best news in the universe that God is ultimately for God: If God is after the praise of His glorious grace, then He is not at odds with my desire to be filled with joy. If God is for God, He is not after my begrudging submission. He’s not after me just doing what He says so He won’t destroy me. If His goal is to be praised, to be worshiped, to be enjoyed and in that enjoyment to show Himself to be glorious to the world and to the universe itself, then He is for my joy. Which means all the commands of God in Scripture are not about taking anything from us, but rather leading us into deeper joy than we can imagine.
Now I know many people immediately upon reading this want to sit down and have a drink so they can tell me how that’s not true for them. “You don’t understand my situation. You don’t get my relationship. You don’t understand the part of life that I’m in right now or how I’m wired.” Many of us would love to sit down and explain why that’s not true for us and how the commands of God shouldn’t apply to us because, if we were to do what God commanded, that would easily lead to our misery all the days of our life until we died. However, the fact is, that is really an unbelievably arrogant and closed-minded position. No one has been a greater threat and caused greater violence to your joy than you have. Now have people jacked with you? Absolutely. Do we live in a broken world? Yes. But how you have handled that, how you have responded to that is completely on you, not them. You’re the greatest enemy of your joy, not God. God is beckoning towards life, and you’re pulling toward death.
C.S. Lewis describes the state of so many of our hearts well, in his book The Weight of Glory. “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.” Now he’s talking about pleasure here. So Lewis is saying that he thinks God thinks that our desire for joy is not too strong, but it’s too weak. “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” I love this quote. Because it’s us! We don’t yearn for Him, long for Him. Why? Because Bravo and TLC have some cool shows about cakes and dresses. Because it’s March Madness time and teenage boys are trying to get an orange ball through a hoop. (Or insert the NBA Finals, Baseball in October, the Super Bowl, Olympics, World Cup, etc. etc.) Because if we can just meet this deadline at work then we’ll get to the next level and we’ll somehow obtain a greater identity. That’s why we don’t yearn more for God. Because after a long day’s work, there is nothing you would rather do except sit on your behind and watch television. Don’t fool and delude yourself with the worn out excuse “I don’t have time.” You have all the time there is. You have just as much time as the rest of us. We don’t because we don’t want to. There are not other issues. We sin because we want to sin, and we don’t pursue Jesus because we don’t want to pursue Jesus. There are other things to us that are more valuable than Him, and that is why we don’t pursue.
You may go on to say “Well, I don’t know how to read my Bible.” You read it. One word at a time. And there are an unbelievable amount of resources put out there for us. Everything from how you read it on a day-to-day basis to how you study it in depth is available for free on more than one website. But here’s the thing… Some of you didn’t know how to fly fish, garden, paint, sew, play an instrument, etc… but you do now, don’t you? Do you know how you did that? Well you bought some equipment, you got a book, and got all geeked up about it and spent time practicing. Why? Because we all love mud pies in the slums. You never see a grown man playing actively in the kiddie pool, do you? Not without his kids. Because if he’s without his kids, don’t we call the police? Why? Because grown men were meant for the deep end. They weren’t meant for the kiddie pool. So it’s a provoking thing to me that so many of us like to sit in that shallow warm water when the deep end is right over there.
So in Lewis’ great illustration, the prideful, closed-minded skeptical person hears that God is offering a holiday at the sea, but they want to stay in the slums playing with mud. They think that the invitation to the sea is robbing them of the joy they have making mud pies. In buying into the lies of this world, we miss out on the reality that God’s being about God is tied to our ever-expanding, ever-increasing joy. And that’s how God is praised and gloried in, in our ever-increasing joy in Him and in His perfections. What do I mean by His perfections? I’m talking about Him lining us up with how He designed life and the universe to work.
So, if you’re not the center of the universe, that frees you up in a thousand different ways. Because if I’m the point, then I have a whole list of things my spouse or significant other had better be doing. If I’m the point, I have a whole list of things that my kids had better do. They had better not represent me like I really am. And if I’m the point, then I view my money a certain way. If I’m the point, how dare you go 45 mph in the left lane. If I’m the point, if you cut me off, I’m going to have to follow you home and maybe punch you in the throat. If I’m the point, I’m easily offended. Because, “It’s my universe. How dare you intrude on my universe? I have a set plan for my day. How dare you get in the way of my day. Because I’m the point. My plans are flawless and anyone who would interfere with them is obviously of the devil. Because I’m the sun. This universe revolves around me. It’s all about me.” But if I’m not the point, I’m a free man. If I’m not the point, I’m hard to offend. If I’m not the point, I have been set free to love my spouse and not have a list of things they had better do. If I’m not the point, then I’m set free to love and shape my children with grace and not fear. If I’m not the point, then that frees up my finances and I’m not constantly worried about what I have and don’t have. If I’m not the point, then I don’t get as offended when life just happens.
You might be type-A and plan out your day to the millisecond, but it doesn’t always work that way, does it? And when things don’t go as planned we freak out and get angry, don’t we? All frustration is birthed out of unmet expectation. So if it’s not about us, that’s all a lot easier to handle. If it is about us, that stuff is very difficult.
But I believe, as the Bible teaches, God is ultimately for God and that’s good because, if God is infinite and He has always been and will always be, then that joy, regardless of time, is ever-increasing. There is a great book in the Old Testament called Ecclesiastes. Solomon, who was a king with more money, more power, more fame than we will all have even if we combine all our clout, writes a whole book on how everything in life is meaningless. It’s really quite a chipper little read. So he has all this money, and he says it’s vanity, it’s meaningless and it doesn’t matter. He literally says, “Even if you have money, you’re going to die. And your kid is probably an idiot because you’re rich and have spoiled him. It’s vanity. It doesn’t matter.” And then he builds. He plants forests and vineyards. That puts your little garden in your backyard with the Crepe Myrtles to shame. And he says, “It’s vanity. It’s meaningless.” He builds houses for his wives and concubines, he builds the temple of the Lord and says it’s meaningless. “Vanity, vanity. All is vanity. There is nothing new under the sun.” And the reality of God being infinite and for our joy means that our experience of that joy is ever-increasing to the point where we don’t hit that ceiling or finally get to the bottom. It’s ever-growing and ever-expanding.
Keep this in mind though when contemplating the great truth of the gospel: only the Holy Spirit can open a person’s eyes to the beauty and splendor of Christ. We can and should do our best to try to provide all the answers we can, and pray constantly for others on their behalf, but only God can soften hearts and enlighten minds. 1st Corinthians 1:18-19, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (cf Ephesians 2:1-10)