Advent – Enjoy God Today ~ 20111211 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
Advent - Enjoy God Today
Is the holiday season ever frustrating for you? Life is busy and the season snuck up on me once again. There were several projects I wanted to get done before the snow flew, and, well, here we are. The house is not as clean as it should be. I don't have as many lights up as I would like to have, and the ones that are up are not as straight as I want them to be. And there must be one bad bulb somewhere that's keeping half that string from lighting! I wanted to have all the shopping done by now. Half the kids have terrible coughs, and all the kids are half as obedient as they should be... For that matter, I'm not the person I wish I was. Things are not as they ought to be. Things are not the way I want them to be. Do you ever feel this way? Frustration. Dissatisfaction. Disappointment. Discouragement. Merry Christmas!
Is this what Christmas is really all about? For many of us, this is the unhappy reality. In a moment, we'll turn to God's word to see why this is such a common experience, and what to do about it. I want to pass along some very practical advice that has helped me out this week, and I pray it will be useful to you not just during the holiday season, but every day of your life.
First, I want to ask the question 'Why?' Why is life so often not what we had hoped it would be? In the words of the Dread Pirate Roberts “Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” Why is life interspersed with frustration and disappointment?
The feeling we sometimes have that things are not the way they ought to be is one of the few times that your feelings are telling you the truth. In the beginning God created everything, and he said it was very good. And then he put us right in the middle of it, and we were quick to make a mess of it all. God said 'I know what's good for you. Follow my instructions and you will live.' And before we had tasted a fraction of the pleasures of God's good garden that he freely gave to us, we went after the one thing that was off-limits. We disregarded his instructions, as if we knew better. We disregarded him. We brought entropy and death into his perfect world, and we reap what we have sown every day. Things are indeed not as they ought to be. We were created as the image of the invisible God (Col.1:15), to reflect his glory to each other and to all creation, to bring him praise. We were created to enjoy his presence. Instead we dishonored him. We disobeyed.
This is what is wrong with the world. We are. We were made for so much more. But we have opted for frustration and disappointment rather than finding fulfillment by living life as God designed it. We are without excuse. We did not honor God as God or give thanks to him (Rom.1:20-21). The whole world is accountable to God. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom.3:19, 23).
Now praise God, he did not leave us without hope in this desperate situation. He intervened to give hope where there was no hope. God the Father sent his one and only Son Jesus into this world to become a man, to take our place, to take our guilt on himself, to pay the price that justice demands, and to secure forgiveness for all who would come to him and trust in him. God justifies the ungodly by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom.4:5; 3:24). That is what Christmas is all about.
But why is it that for us who are his, who have received his salvation and who are reconciled to God, who have our sins forgiven and are restored to a right relationship with God, life can still be so frustrating and discouraging? Why do we still experience dissatisfaction and disappointment?
The Bible tells us why. The Bible tells us that if we are followers of Jesus, our citizenship is in heaven (Phil.3:20, Eph.2:19). We are strangers and exiles on the earth (Heb.11:13, 1Pet.1:1,17), sojourners (1Pet.2:11). Paul said “indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2Tim.3:12). Jesus said:
If you are a follower of Jesus, you are no longer of the world. You don't belong. Your citizenship is in heaven. You are a stranger, an exile, a sojourner here on this planet. You will naturally feel out of place.
So part of our frustration comes from the fact that we don't belong and we aren't home yet. We should not be content here. We have an unfulfilled longing for our true home. Paul describes it this way:
And in 1 Corinthians:
The apostle John tells us:
The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of our true home:
Diagnosing the Problem
Part of our frustration and disappointment is because we don't belong, because we aren't home yet, because we are longing to see our King. But, at least in my experience, that is not my major source of discontent. I wish I could say it was. So much of my frustration is stupid and self-imposed. I choose to be frustrated when I don't have to be. If I'm honest with myself, I would see that it is a self-centered discontent that things aren't the way I wish they were. I get upset that the world doesn't revolve around me. I'm failing to be content with what I have been given. Jesus warned us in his parable about the different soils that:
Desires and cares choke out the fruitfulness of the word like weeds. I love this world and its pleasures too much. I want something that I don't have. I want things to go my way, and they seldom do. I am too self-centered to be truly happy. My affections are in the wrong place.
Paul warns Timothy of the deadly danger of dissatisfaction.
Here the severity of this issue – it is a snare, a trap. They never saw it coming. It is senseless and harmful. It plunges people into ruin and destruction. It has caused some to wander from the faith. It is a self-inflicted injury. Dissatisfaction is deceptive and deadly.
Taking it Even Deeper
Jesus said “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). But here is a more subtle danger. Even this can be twisted by my selfish heart. I can give in such a way that I am celebrating my own generosity, deriving enjoyment out of what a benevolent person I am. I get pleasure by my ability to give to others. I am giving ultimately to get. Which means that my joy is still dependent on my circumstances. I cannot be happy if I have nothing to give. I am frustrated if my gift is refused, or if the recipient of my gift does not respond the way I want them to. This is self-centered giving.
Let's go back to 1 Timothy for help with a solution. In the context of warning against the danger of dissatisfaction, it says this:
Here is the key: contentment. Godliness with contentment. Here we find a focus on character, not circumstances. If I am focused on circumstances going the way I would like them to go, I will be disappointed and frustrated most of the time. If I am focused on building character, I can look at any and every circumstance as an opportunity to deepen godly character. I can be content with whatever circumstance I am given as an essential step in the work God is doing in my life. This is how James can say:
Because trials produce character. Peter takes us behind this joy to its source.
The joy is not in the trial itself. It is in this you rejoice. Peter has been recounting the treasures that we have in Christ: God's mercy toward us in new birth, our living resurrection hope, our inheritance that God is keeping for us, God's keeping and preserving power at work in us, our final salvation that will be put on display in the end. When circumstances go the way you don't want them to, choose to rejoice in this – in all that God has done and is doing and will do in you and for you. Cultivate gratitude by recounting what God has done for you in Christ. I am Forgiven. Justified. Redeemed. I am being sanctified. I have been set free. Reconciled to God. Adopted. Loved with an everlasting love. Given eternal life. I am a recipient of God's mercy.
God Does Not Change
Circumstances change. This is why it is frustrating when we make our joy dependent on our circumstances. But God never changes.
If our joy comes from God alone, we will never be disappointed. In contrast to changing circumstances and fickle people,
God Commands our Happiness Be in Him
This is why God commands us to seek our happiness in him
When we find our joy in the unchanging faithfulness of our great God, our happiness is totally independent of our circumstances. We can say with Habakkuk
With Job we can respond to the most terrible circumstances:
We can say with Paul:
We can sing with Isaiah
Frustration and enjoying are alternative choices. Remember Martha and Mary.
What is the one thing that is necessary? What was the good portion that Mary had chosen?
Circumstances come. How will you choose to respond? Will you be ruled by your immediate circumstances? Or will you choose to enjoy the fact that you have been chosen by God, purchased with the blood of Jesus, your sins, all of them, were nailed to the cross, that this life is short and you will spend eternity in the presence of God with great joy? Will you choose to enjoy the presence of Jesus with you right now in the middle of your circumstances? Will you be irritated and irritable, or will you enjoy sweet fellowship with your Creator, Redeemer and Friend?
Choose to enjoy God today!