Where Up is Down and Less is More

I work a lot with University students. The nice thing you get to see when working with students is a lot of anticipation and hope for the future. Almost every student thinks they will have a great future. It is rare to meet a student who thinks, once they graduate, they will live a mundane meaningless life. They all want to be the top dog, the highest on the corporate ladder, and have everything needed to make them comfortable.

Sadly, this is the lie of culture. These students, like many of us, have believed that the higher position you are the happier you will be. Or the more stuff you own the more pleasurable your life will be. However, time after time we find that this is just the opposite. The more you have the more you want. The higher you climb the more you want to see the top. And once you get there, then what?

Now I am not saying that it is bad to try your best. Being a CEO is not a sin, (well sometimes it could be depending on how exactly you work as a CEO). In fact, we are told to work in all things as if we are working for God, (Colossians 3:23-24). So to work hard and to try your best is not a bad thing at all.

The problem is, we have made it our focus and our goal. Rather than working as to glorify and honor the Lord, we are working to glorify ourselves or to make more money to live the opulent life we think will bring us joy. While this longing for more is good, (I believe it is an actual longing that can only be filled by the Lord), we have decided to stuff it with temporary, worldly pleasures.

As C.S. Lewis once said:

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.

Now let’s consider an alternative Kingdom. This Kingdom does not consider your high position but rather considers your humility and service to others, (Matthew 20:25-27). This Kingdom doesn’t care how much you own but rather focuses more on how much you give away, (Luke 18:22). In fact, the King of this Kingdom was a homeless servant who gave his life for his people, (Mark 10:45). This is the Kingdom of God.

And because of sin we have exchanged this amazing Kingdom and King for lesser pleasures offered to us by the world. So I want to challenge us all in two ways.

First, for non-Christians, are you really finding joy in your life? Is the constant struggle to climb the ladder of success and to live a more comfortable life really bringing you peace, joy and love? My guess is if you really examine yourself and your situation, it’s probably not. That longing you have for greatness is a longing to know the King. Rather then continue to believe the lie that says you are the King, will you realize that Up is Down and Less is More? Will you come to Jesus, in humility, and confess your sins and serve the True King?

For Christians my challenge is for us to make God’s Kingdom visible here on the Earth. The early Church did just that.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” -Acts 2:42-47

Can we Christians live in such a way as to show the world God’s Kingdom? Can we truly believe that pleasure and joy in God is far greater than any pleasure possibly offered here on earth? Yes Christians, we agree with these statements, yet our lives rarely reflect it. We say Jesus is Lord and spend more time and money on ourselves than serving our King. Your time and money will point you to who you serve. Christians, does your life reflect that of Jesus or do you merely give whatever scraps you have left from yourself to your King?

So may we all see that bigger is not always better and more is not always all that it’s cracked up to be. May we stop playing with mud when the beach is available to us. May we stop exchanging true joy for fleeting pleasures. Instead, may we follow our King’s example. May we humble ourselves just as he humbled himself and give just as he gave, (Philippians 2:6-8). May we live as if we are residents of God’s Kingdom rather than Satan’s.

Misplaced joy is no joy at all

Before I start this week I want to mention two pretty cool things that happened recently. First off, Happy Easter! He is risen! Always a great way to start the week remembering what Jesus did for us and that He didn’t stay in the tomb! Had an amazing weekend full of Easter activities like spending time with some people who had leprosy, meeting lots of new students at our study, and hanging out with three different fellowships on Easter Sunday. I am extremely exhausted because of it but am also filled with joy because of what Jesus accomplished that day. The second is that I just finished watching another sermon by Matt Chandler and it just happened to be almost exactly what I said in my last post! That’s cool to me because I wrote it before listening to the sermon which means some of the stuff coming out of my head may be slightly useful which encouraged me. It’s also cool cause you can go and listen to Matt Chandler more thoroughly explain it in his Habakkuk series, (see below for link)

So the past few weeks have been a lot of planing and organizing for my job, the ministry and my future. I’ve had some ups and downs, but overall have felt pretty happy about my life and my circumstances. Then on Saturday, we had the chance to invite around 50 people to our study, many of them first timers. Praise God right? Well after study, I found myself feeling frustrated and upset. From my vantage point, we also had a number of people who have been coming to study for between 1 and 3 years who were there. I was really hoping some of these people would take that step of faith this weekend but no one did. We even had a place for people to request prayer or ask questions, and not a single person wanted either!

I left that night wondering if all this work was really worth it. I had been putting hours into planning activities, sending emails, preparing lessons and many other little things that are necessary for ministry. Yet all these tasks and hours felt almost wasted as I saw people seem uninterested and even defiant against God and our ministry. So I laid down to pray that night and God spoke to me. Now God doesn’t speak to me in an audible voice, but rather, he puts verses, songs or thoughts into my head that could in no possible way come from myself.

That is exactly what He did Saturday night. “Why are you downcast, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 43:5). While I could only recall the first part, (Why are you downcast, O my soul), I knew this was God speaking to me. How did I know this was God? Because even though I have read this verse before, it is not one of my favorites or one I have ever memorized or gone to for guidance. Out of the thousands and thousands of verses I have read in the Bible, my brain isn’t smart enough to sort through them all and provide the perfect one for the situation I am in, let alone one I barely know. That only could be God. I realized I was doing the very thing I had been warning others against for years. I was placing my joy in my ministry, my circumstances and my success.

I am what you might call a completionist, (I know its not a word but it should be!). While many people have moved to digital planners and online calendars, I still use the old paper daily planner. Why? Because of the immense pleasure that comes from crossing out something that has been completed on the “To-do” list. Google calendar only lets me delete things which just isn’t as fun. And for the past few weeks, my joy has been tied directly to my circumstances. If I was able to complete the tasks for the day it was a good day, if I got distracted, it was a bad day.

Or maybe I would judge my day based on how well the ministry was going. As things were going smoothly and we were growing and advancing I would feel happy, but when bumps came or something happened that I did not plan for I found myself frustrated and lost. That’s what hit me Saturday night. Myself and many other Christians alike have accidentally slipped into finding our joy in ministry rather than who the ministry is all about. It was like God was telling me, “You don’t save anyone, I do. You don’t control your circumstances, I do. You don’t make something successful or not, I do. So stop placing your hope and joy in these petty things and place all your hope and joy in Me!”

And that is exactly what I did on Saturday night. I let go of circumstances and ministry and decided my joy is found in Christ alone. That next day, (Easter Sunday), although I accomplished very little in my planner and although no breakthroughs were made in the ministry I had an amazing day. God had helped me reorient my joy and place it back on Him.

For Christians I challenge you to remember to keep your joy in Christ alone. Don’t be the seed that gets chocked out by the cares of this world, (Matthew 13:22), but also don’t allow your circumstances or your service to God cause you to misplace your joy. While ministry is amazing and necessary, it is not the ministry we serve and find life in, but rather God.

For non-Christians I challenge you to look at where you are placing your joy. If it is in health, beauty, money, career, family, intellect, food, circumstances or even service I can tell you that those won’t ever bring you true joy. I see many people each day looking for something more in life. They want to have hope in something, but the demand of everyday life keeps them distracted from finding their true joy. So they find temporary joys through things like drugs, sex, and alcohol or through more common things like KTV, marks in school, work or family. If you are looking for hope, for a reason to live or for joy I promise you none of those will satisfy. “For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things,” (Psalm 107:9). Satisfaction, hope and joy can only be found in Jesus.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15: 9-11). May we all place our hope in the only source that can really provide lasting joy, Jesus Christ.