One of my personal pet peeves is when an advertisement tells me I deserve something that their product can supposedly provide for me. How do they know I deserve it? For all they know I’m some puppy punching, kitten kicking psycho who derives a perverse pleasure in making the lives of everyone around me miserable.
What really riles me about playing the “you deserve…” angle is that it reinforces a lie that virtually all of us have bought into to one way or another; the lie that I deserve to be happy. I’ve also heard it expressed as a right, as in “don’t I have a right to be happy?” The pursuit of happiness and/or things or circumstances that contribute to happiness is possibly the most prevalent form of idolatry in our society. And believing this lie has created a lot of miserable people.
I believe a personal illustration is in order.
One of my greatest happiness’s in life is the affectionate touches I get from Wendy. I love it when she rubs my bald head, or glides her hand up my arm as she walks past me or any number of loving things she does. But every now and again the demands and stresses of life become exhausting and she just doesn’t have the energy to even think to do those things.
It hasn’t happened very often in our 28 years of marriage, but when it does my first response is to be patient and caring. This sounds noble, but if I were to be honest at times my motivation is that I hope it will cause her to be attentive and affectionate towards me. If it doesn’t work frustration and the “I deserve’s” begin to creep in. And if the demands of children, and work, and ministry continue to drain my sweet lady that frustration can bloom and consume me, robbing me of sleep and contentment and joy and peace.
I remember one sleepless night in desperation I finally prayed “God, I don’t want to feel this way anymore I need help.” His answer? Develop your longing for Christ till it’s greater than your longing for happiness and the things that make you happy.
Undoubtedly this idolatry of happiness is one of the “things that hinder and sin that so easily entangle” God warns us to cast off in Hebrews 12. And in the next verse directs us to “fix our eyes on Jesus.” When I did that I began to serve Wendy with pure motives, and the joy and peace of Christ ruled my heart again.
For one year I worked at Rafter Six Guest Ranch as barn manager, running their trail ride operation. I was responsible for managing the wrangler staff to lead the trail rides and care for the horse herd. We were required to dress in full “cowboy” attire from hat to chaps to spurs, so that atmosphere would be “authentic”. In addition to the guests staying at the lodge, we also had tourist from all over the world come in on bus tours for trail rides and a meal.
One of the little perks the wrangler staff used to do for some of the bus tours was a hold up. As the bus was pulling onto the property, the ranch has about a half mile of curving driveway, we would ride out from behind the bushes, slickers flying, bandanas pulled up, and firing our imitation colt 45’s, forcing the bus to stop. One of us would climb aboard and make some speech about looking for a bandit, and after ensuring he hadn’t stolen away on the bus we welcomed them to the ranch and then rode off at a gallop firing our pistols in the air. It sounds a little corny telling it, but it was actually a lot of fun to do and the tourist loved it.
The only one who didn’t particularly care for it was my horse, Nina. She hated the retort of the pistols. I couldn’t even aim away from her to reduce the noise. To be legal to shoot blanks the barrel had to be plugged so instead of all the sound being directed out the end of the barrel it escaped sideways as it exited the cylinder. It hurt my ears so I understand why she didn’t like it, and she always knew when it was coming. She would be her normal calm self all the way out to where we’d meet the bus, and the whole time we sat in wait. But as soon as she heard the bus coming and we hid ourselves behind the bushes she’d start tensing up and getting all jumpy. When I’d let her go she’d fire out from behind the bush like she was coming out of a bucking chute.
One time she made it half way across the road in one jump and I had to turn her hard, which if you’ve ever rode with metal shoes on pavement you know is not a good idea. Down she went and fortunately I was able to pull my leg out before she landed on it. But I had kept my other foot in the stirrup, so when she scrambled back to her feet I was able to come right up with her. When I boarded the bus the tourists were all in awe, assuming it was all planned and part of the show. Of course I never let on.
I find we can sometimes get like that with God. We anticipate some painful or uncomfortable process to go through and do everything in our power to resist what God has actually designed to strengthen us or grow us and reveal to us more of his power and grace. How much better off we’d be if we would heed the Psalmist; “Be still and know that I am God.”
Entrance to Rafter Six Guest Ranch
The driveway to the lodge.
Remember the days of bench seats before seatbelt laws when a girl would sit in the middle of the vehicle right next a guy? He’d be driving with one hand on the wheel and the other around her shoulders or holding her hand. My grandpa, whenever he’d see that always said the seat must be broken or why else would she be sitting in the middle. I never figured out that he was joking till I got into my teens.
I heard about a couple, who’d been married somewhat over 20 years, who as they drove down the road noticed another couple sitting close like that. “Isn’t that sweet” said the wife? “Remember we used to sit like that? How come we don’t sit close like that anymore?” To which her husband, with a sly grin replied, “I never moved.”
In John 15 Jesus says that like a vine in a branch, if we stay intimately connected with him, the same way he lived in connection with God the Father, our lives will be full of joy. Notice he doesn’t say will be problem free. In fact later in the same discourse he says outright that as long as we live in this world life will be hard. But at the same time he assures us that, like joy, if we keep that intimate connection with him (Jesus uses the phrase “if you abide in me”) our heart and mind will be at peace despite circumstances.
Joy and peace. Sounds like a pretty good deal, but be careful here. It is easy to confuse joy and peace as the goal and Jesus as the means to that goal. In reality joy and peace are the indicators of an intimate connection with Jesus. As soon as we make joy and peace the object of our desire we lose them. Jesus is our goal, joy and peace are the evidence that we’re on the right track.
So how’s your joy level? How peaceful is your heart? If you’re lacking joy and your heart and mind are in turmoil you may want to pause for a while and get alone with God and ask him what’s happened. Odds are if you listen carefully you’ll hear him say, with bit of a grin, “I never moved. Why don’t you slide on over here and let me put my arm around you like we used to?”