Psalm 37:4 counsels us, “Seek your happiness in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desire” (Good News Translation). In Matthew 6:33, Jesus adds, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (NIV).
What happens when we reverse the formula? What happens when we seek our heart’s desires first rather than seeking God first? What happens when we seek our happiness in the things of this world rather than seeking our happiness in the Lord?
F.F. Bruce states, “The soul’s deepest thirst is for God Himself, who has made us so that we can never be satisfied without Him.” The implication of this statement is that no matter how many nice things we might acquire or how many fun things we might do, they cannot truly satisfy our souls for our souls were made to find satisfaction in something else.
Alexander McLaren adds, “This desire for God, when it is misdirected, is the source of all misery. But this desire, when properly directed is the source of all joy.” In other words, getting the formula right (seeking our happiness in the Lord, and seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness) leads to joy, but getting the formula wrong (seeking our heart’s desire first, and seeking our happiness through the things of this world) leads to misery.
On February 28, 2013, a 37-year-old man named Jeffrey Bush living near Tampa, Florida died when the earth underneath his home suddenly opened up and swallowed him alive. His brother tried to help him when he heard Jeffrey screaming, but it was too late. The entire bedroom was sucked deep into the earth, and the home had to be rapidly abandoned. Jeffrey had fallen victim to a sinkhole.
Sinkholes generally occur in areas where the bedrock is formed from soft minerals and rocks like salt, gypsum, limestone, or dolomite. As underground water turns acidic by absorbing carbon dioxide it slowly whittles away the bedrock, creating a sinkhole. In other words, when the bedrock is not strong enough and something acidic gradually eats it away, the ground falls through.
Isn’t that what Scripture warns us can happen to us when we get the formula for life wrong? When we fail to establish the foundation of our lives on Christ but allow acidic pursuits and desires to eat away at a weak foundation to our lives, sinkholes develop and our lives come crashing down!
No wonder the Bible consistently counsels us to build our lives on the firm foundation of our relationship with God.
St. Teresa of Avila summed it up with these words: “The soul is therefore neither content with nor desirous of the worlds’ satisfactions, because it has within itself what pleases it more…being with Him is what it wants!”
For sixty years following the end of World War II, two Japanese soldiers, Yoshio Yamakawa and Tsuzuki Nakauchi of the 30th Division of the Imperial Japanese Army, continued to hide in the mountains of the southern Philippines. For sixty years they hid out in fear of being captured and imprisoned by Allied troops or of being captured and punished by the Imperial Japanese Army. They wasted sixty years of their lives under the false assumption that they were still at war.
When they were discovered in 2005, Oliver Teves of the Associated Press, reported, “It was learned that they wanted to go back to Japan but were afraid they would be court-martialed for withdrawing from action.”
Even at the ages of 87 and 85, Yamakawa and Nakauchi were hesitant to take that risk until a 93-year-old former military doctor was brought to them to assure them that the war was over and they would face no recriminations from either side.
Like Yoshio Yamakawa and Tsuzuki Nakauchi, we once were at war. Our sin is rebellion against God; our sin is like war against God. As a result, we often hide from God, afraid that God is out to get us, afraid that God is anxious to punish us, afraid that God continues to harbor anger against us.
The truth is that Jesus has already fought the decisive battle of the war. That battle was not against us but for us! Through His death and resurrection, Jesus defeated the powers of sin and Satan. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus has liberated us from guilt and death and judgment.
The good news is that we no longer need to waste our lives by hiding from God and missing out on the love and forgiveness and joy and peace and hope He intends for us.
Jesus Christ died to end the hostility between us and God! Let us not go on living as though He did not die or as though His death means nothing! Let’s live as His loved ones who gratefully accept what He has done to restore our relationship with God and who enthusiastically embrace the joy and peace and hope of His never-ending-presence with us now!
When you lose your home, and you lose your place in the world, and you lose your sense of identity, and you lose your faith, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with despair—it is easy to end up feeling dead inside.
That’s how the Jewish people felt in the 6th century B.C. They had been ripped away from their homeland and dragged away by their conquerors to Babylon. Their nation was destroyed. Their monarchy was eradicated. Their temple was ripped apart. A century earlier their northern sister, Israel, suffered the same catastrophe, and completely disappeared as a nation and as a people. Was the same thing going to happen to the defeated people of Judah? The people mourned, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off!”
Into this context, God gave the prophet Ezekiel a vision of a valley of dry bones. Ezekiel saw what the people felt. They felt dead. They felt that life was stripped from them.
As the vision continued, Ezekiel saw the bones come together with tendons and flesh. That’s good news, isn’t it? It’s the hope that God would restore the nation of Judah, that He would bring them back from exile, and restore them to their homeland.
It would seem to be good news, but, as Ezekiel observed, “there was no breath in them.”
It would not be enough simply for God to bring the people back to their homeland, and rebuild the temple, and reestablish the government. That would be no more than stretching tendons and flesh over a lifeless carcass. What the people needed most of all was for the “breath” of God (the “Spirit” of God) to enter them and bring them to life. So God promised Ezekiel, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life” (Ezekiel 37:5). And He promised, “I will put My Spirit in you and you will live” (Ezekiel 37:14).
What held true for the nation of Israel also holds true for the church. It is not enough to build a beautiful sanctuary and establish a well-organized church government. What a church needs most of all is for the “breath” of God (the “Spirit” of God) to enter it.
How does that happen? It happens as each individual worshiper opens himself and herself to the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God enters a church when we open our hearts to the Spirit of God and seek for God to do His good work in us and through us. It is then—and only then—that a church truly comes to life!