The Word of God is filled with so many inspirational truths but as I mentioned in my last post, there are a ton of passages that really tend to slap me awake in a good way. For years I would read the Word and only hold it at a surface level without diving deeper. This led to a numbing of my heart over time which began to prevent me from having the Word penetrate my heart in a way that would bring about radical change. I feel like this is a common trap that most of us who have grown up in the church will face. We have heard the stories over and over again and unless we are careful, that is all they become, stories rather than life saving realities.
Towards the end of 2015, God opened my eyes to see one of the "stories" that I had grown up with in a new and challenging light. I'm sure we have all had those type of light bulb moments where the answer or truth becomes plainly obvious to us. It came about during a time when I was wrestling with the direction of my faith. While there was a deep inner belief in the Gospel of Christ, my outward motions seemed to be stuck in an empty cycle of comfortable "Christian suburbianism" (a made up term for our middle-class, work during the week/church on Sunday mentality). The challenge came from Jesus' parable about a man and a field.
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." - Matt. 13:44
There is so much depth in this one verse but for years I had passed right over it. In connection with my previous post on Matthew 7, this verse challenged my conventional thinking of what a Christian life really looks like. For years my idea of living a life for Christ was framed by a series of rules and regulations that left me feeling barred-in and missing out on joy as defined by the world. This falsehood is only amplified in the age of advertising and social media.
So is that it? Is the choice to align with Christ, to gain the kingdom of God, a choice to do without; to walk in a posture of melancholy contentment? Maybe so if all we have is "he goes and sells all that he has", but wait...he buys the field!
Finally it hit me, a radically transformed life by the power of the Gospel is not about losing/missing-out on the good and pleasurable things in life but rather trading them in for something INFINITELY GREATER. The man who sold all his things didn't do it to have nothing. Neither were his things intrinsically evil or wrong. He sold it all because the value of this "Hidden Treasure" made everything thing he owned look worthless in comparison. And what's more, he sold it all in JOY!
It started to become obvious to me that living a life for the glory of Christ was not about losing joy but gaining it. Even though the world says that I need this thing and that thing and this pleasure or that sin to make me happy, the words of Jesus speak to a different reality, a reality that is shaped by sacrifice in order to gain. Jesus even addresses this more in Luke 18:28-30 when Peter begins to complain about the things they have given up to follow Him. Jesus response to Peter and us is that there is no real case of sacrifice on our part because of the infinite reward we gain in Christ.
This may seem obvious to most but for me, coming from a background of rules and regulations, joy was not one of the first things that came to mind when it comes to following Christ. It is still a battle for me to see things of this world in their truly lacking form. I can easily be sidetracked and caught up in the things the world says I am missing out on by living a life under the leadership of Christ. Even my own flesh betrays me by wanting things that are contrary to the new life I have in Him. C.S. Lewis paints a compelling picture of this battle between worldly and Heavenly joy...
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but 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."
For years I have been far to easily pleased with the wonderful things of this world. I have run myself ragged chasing the "American dream" only to find it to be a never ending cycle of short-term happiness and continual frustration. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit within has begun changing the way I view the world around me. While far from perfect, my heart is being transformed to a place where I desire the joy found in Christ over anything else. My prayer is that I would be able to say, along with Paul...
"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I might gain Christ." - Philippians 3:8