A Consuming Life Passion?
Instead of feigning for a substance or porn we need to have a new and better all consuming passion. We need to have a new purpose with a new goal as its end. We need a reason to get out of bed in the morning. We need a reason to be.
One of the fundamental questions that psychologists face is what is to be the motivational force in our lives? Is it to get rich? Propagate are genes? To enjoy as much pleasure as we can? What is to be the fuel for the engine of our lives? Do we have anything that can propel us through the sufferings and struggles of life?
This question cries out to be answered, and how it’s answered will have profound implications for the way that we live. Many, I’m sure, are unaware of their motivations and could care less about them. However, I’m sure that this is a great mistake.
The athlete, for instance, competes for a price and are very much aware of what that prize is. We, like the athlete, must not only be aware that there is a prize but what that prize is. We must seek to live with the intentionality of an athlete.
An athlete will discipline their body and bring it under subjection in pursuit of the prize. And when focused on the prize the athlete will gladly do away with hindrances. However, the athlete must have a goal, be competing for a prize, and have an idea of what that prize is if they are to have motivation to compete well.
Christians have Motivation to “Compete”
The language of running the race and competing for a prize were frequently used by the Apostle Paul. He was someone that clearly had a reason for getting out of bed in the morning. He had a consuming passion. He said, “I count everything as absolutely worthless compared to Christ.” Paul suffered the loss of all things in order that he could gain Christ. We also see that Jesus Himself raced the race and endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him.
We too need motivation. We need to be motivated like the Apostle Paul. We need the love of Christ to be the fuel that burns and propels us through the sufferings and struggles of life. Christ alone is sufficient motivation. Christ Jesus, as the Apostle Paul, Augustine, and Brian “Head” Welch, and many others make clear, alone satisfies and is it worth living for.
Here’s Brain “Head” Welch:
Take it from me, nothing you chase after on this earth will satisfy you like a real, everyday intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing. Trust me. While I was in Korn I had people waiting on me left and right. Anything I wanted, I got. Anywhere I wanted to go, I went. All I had to do was give the word, and it happened. I had the world in the palm of my hand, people; and I have to tell you one last time, there’s nothing there. I promise you. Jesus Christ is the only one that can make you complete. (Save Me from Myself)
The end of the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, tells us in chapter 21 what our ultimate goal is. To see God face to face, to be in the eternal temple where He will make all things new. Where He will wipe away every tear from our eye. Where there will be no more pain or crying anymore. Where we will have pleasure forevermore in His presence.
So we see that we have much that God has called us to do. We have much purpose. We have a reason to be. We would do well to set God’s truth before us so that we are motivated to live for the prize.
A verse that God has used to wake me up to the unseen realities and motivate me to purposeful living to His glory is 1 Corinthians 15:58. It says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” This verse, when understood in the context of chapter 15, shows us that it makes sense for us to be motivated to labor for the Lord because of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus.
The Bible verse that says, “Whether you eat or drink, whatever you do, do you all to the glory of God” is not just a Bible verse. It is not just a good tagline under the name of some private Christian school. It is the way that it makes sense for us to live in light of the glorious gospel.
In a similar way, the oft-quoted phrase “our chief end [or main purpose in life] is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” is not a mere tagline but a phrase that gets at a biblical motivational reality.
Create Your Own Motivational Purpose Statement
We have laid a little bit of groundwork. Now it’s your turn. I want you to write out a biblically infirmed motivational purpose statement for your life.
Just write something down. It does not have to be able to stand the test of time like the Westminster Shorter Catechism on your first attempt. Your purpose statement can adapt and grow as you do.
My own purpose statement is not the best and I certainly could do better about purposely keeping it in my head so that it will be lived out through my hands. However, the purpose behind the statement is not to make it timeless or flawless. It is to be purposeful about our purpose. We have a purpose and it is great. We have a reason to wake up in the morning. A reason to be. I reason to say no to whatever sin it is that calls our name.
Greet the reaper as he reaps and weep because of the same This silly game We do this to ourselves We’ve mapped out our whole mission We sketched the whole thing out The plan for our destruction The black hole that is you It will consume you More, more is your mantra The only thing that will not go is “no” Inject the pleasure Digest the pain Is it all a game? You dance, You dance to your own dirge
Why sing? Why are “psalms, hymns, and and spiritual songs” important? What does singing do?
In the world we live in
“There is a ‘downward pressure’ continually in operation, which seeks to take that which is penultimate, and make it ultimate… The antidote to such ‘downward pressure’ is the continual eschatological emphasis of word and sacrament, of prayer and praise, and of koinonia [fellowship] lived in the present in light of the age to come.”[i]
Truly, “unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is around us.”[ii] St. Gregory reportedly said something similar: “If you do not delight in higher things, you most certainly will delight in lower things.” Truly, “worship shapes individual and community character.”[iii] That is, all worship, good or bad, Christian or other, intentional or unintentional. Thus we must focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (see Phil. 4:8).[iv] We must keep “the good,” the true good—God and His truth—the summum bonum ever before us.
Our ultimate love, the place where we rest our desire, has an ultimate affect. So, “moral decay doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is supported by the idolatry of the society at any given time, and expressive of its worship, even if such be completely unarticulated.”[v] Moral decay happens when something other then God is our ultimate good (cf. Rom. 1).
Thus, it is important that we temper our hearts variously through singing, community, and the absorption of God’s word. That’s how we’re shaped biblically and practically. The more we have our chief end in view, through various means, the better we will live to that end.
We need deep and substantive reflection and celebration. We need to work at fostering transformative experiential worship where we can taste and see that the LORD is good. We need God to restore to us the joy of our salvation. We need God to open the eyes of our heart, we need the Spirit to move, we need God’s strength to comprehend His amazing love that surpasses knowledge.
“It is… superior satisfaction in future grace that breaks the power of lust [or addiction]. With all eternity hanging in the balance, we fight the fight of faith. Our chief enemy is the lie that says sin will make our future happier. Our chief weapon is the truth that says God will make our future happier… We must fight [our sin] with a massive promise of superior happiness. We must swallow up the little flicker of lust’s pleasure in the conflagration of holy satisfaction.”[vii]
Where do we turn for this? “The role of God’s Word is to feed faith’s appetite for God. And, in doing this, it weans [our] heart away from the deceptive taste of lust.”[viii] Therefore, we must feast on Scripture. And singing is an especially useful tool to help the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16).
Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and being involved in Christian community is very important because, as C.S. Lewis said, “What is concrete but immaterial can be kept in view only by painful effort.”[ix] We need each other, we need music, we need preaching to shake us awake to unseen realities. That’s why we’re told—commanded even when we don’t feel like it—to make a joyful noise to the LORD (Ps. 66:1; 81:1; 95:1, 2; 98:4, 6; 100:1).[x]
We’re told to sing because when we sing with our voice our whole body, and I would argue, our whole self (i.e. our heart) reverberates with the truth of what we sing. When we sing lyrics, whether good or bad, they get into us and shape us. We are essentially preaching to ourselves, teaching ourselves, telling our self what we should desire, we are holding up a vision of prospering and “the good.”[xi] If we are driving down the highway listening to Taylor Swift, Blink 182, or Eminem it has a very real potential to shape us. We, at least, very often, internalize what we are singing. We imagine and feel not only the rhythm and tone but what the whole artistic message is putting forth. Music shapes us by implanting seeds of desire.[xii]
We are to be filled with the Spirit, instead of being drunk with alcohol or high on drugs, in part through singing (Eph. 5:15-20). Thus,
“Worship is one of the most transforming activities for us to engage in as Christians… When we become duly impressed with God our lives change because the things that matter to us change. We no longer want some of the things we previously desired. An overridding and overwelming passion for God himself, God’s people, and God’s kingdom purposes in this world replace those desires. True worship happens when we get a glimpse of God–who he is and what he is about–and just stand there in awe of him, being impressed and transformed down to the very depths of our being by the magnificent vision of the glory of our heavenly Father.”[xiii]
Truly, “Reality is simply far too great to be contained in propositions. That is why man needs gestures, pictures, images, rhythms, metaphor, symbol, and myth. It is also why he needs ceremony, ritual, customs, and conventions: those ways that perpetuate and mediate the images to us.”[xiv] We must use a collaboration of means to remind ourselves that it is the LORD God, the Maker of heaven and earth alone, that can meet our every need. We must use good songs, good stories, the Bible, Christian community, logic, etc. to stir up our (correct) desires for the LORD and all the good He is and has for us. We must take care least there be an unworthy thought in our heart (Deut. 15:9). We must pursue things that bring light and life and reject what is rank in ruin and worthlessness (see e.g. Ps. 101).
Truly, wherever our treasure (i.e. desire, view of “the good,” or our view of the good life) is, our heart (“heart” in Scripture has to do with our whole self; cognition, volition, emotions) will be also (Matt. 6:21; Lk. 12:34).[xv] Thus, we must work at fostering worship of the one true God.
Singing sinks God’s truth deep within our souls. Singing works because it leads us to worship. Singing teaches us what we should truly desire. Singing tunes our hearts to sing God’s praise.
[i] Doe, Created for Worship, 236.
[ii] Christian worship: it’s Theology and practice, 81
[iii] Doe, Created for Worship, 234.
[iv] Cf. Payne, The Healing Presence, 140.
[v] Doe, Created for Worship, 236.
[vi] Ibid., 235 see also Jonathan Edwards very important book Religious Affections.
[vii] Piper, Future Grace, 336.
[viii] Ibid., 335.
[ix] C.S. Lewis, Letter to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963), 114.
[x] “Worship isn’t merely a yes to the God who saves, but also a resounding and furious no to lies that echo in the mountains around us. The church gathers like exiles and pilgrims, collected out of a world that isn’t our home, and looks hopefully toward a future. Our songs and prayers are a foretaste of that future, and even as we practice them, they shape us for our future home” (Mike Cosper, Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel [Wheaton: Crossway, 2013] 104).
[xi] “Music gets ‘in’ us in ways that other forms of discourse rarely do. A song gets absorbed into our imagination in a way that mere texts rarely do… Song seems to have a privileged channel to our imagination, to our kardia, because it involves our body in a unique way… Perhaps it is by hymns, songs, and choruses that the word of Christ ‘dwells in us richly’” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 171).
[xii] Even Nirvana communicates; even if it’s emptiness or aggression that they put forward. However, realize that I am not saying that we cannot listen to Garth Brooks or Bruno Mars. Though I am not sure how or to what end those and other artist will shape you. I would say that “For Today,” a Metal band that is explicitly Christian, would have more of intentional transformative affect upon me then most artists. This is, I guess, both because of the content of their lyrics and the package in which they are wrapped (i.e. often very active and passionate singing and yes even screaming). However, Garth Brooks could perhaps have a transformative affect for some people as well (I am not one of them). Bruno Mars may be close to a-formative. Yet, as humans, I think we are similar to water. If we are not moving, i.e. being transformed, then we are stagnating, being deformed. Our bent, since the Fall, is away from our creator. Thus, perhaps, if we listen too much Bruno Mars and the like, a-formative music, we will stagnate. If we are left to our own devises and don’t have a gaud we do not progress. Our default is digression.
[xiii] Richard E. Averbeck, “Spirit, Community, and Mission: A Biblical Theology for Spiritual Formation,” 38 in the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care). I think Eph. 5:17-21 is noteworthy here. See also “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit” by Steven R. Guthrie in JETS and “Being the Fullness of God in Christ by the Spirit” by Timothy G. Gombis in Tyndale Bulletin.
[xiv] Payne, The Healing Presence, 146 cf. 148.
[xv] “Disordered action is a reflection and fruit of disordered desire” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 177)
Sin Leads to Enslavement
Sin is like Gollum’s ring. It enslaves and destroys. It looks so good but ends in lava.
Truly, “What we revere, we resemble, either for ruin or restoration,”[i] and we all revere something. So “when we speak of ‘worship’ …we are not speaking about an activity of one’s life, but speaking of the activity of one’s life.”[ii]
Thus, “What distinguishes us (as individuals, but also as ‘people’) is not whether we love, but what we love. At the heart of our being is a kind of ‘love pump’ that can never be turned off—not even by sin or the Fall; rather, the effect of sin on our love pump is to knock it off kilter, misdirecting it and getting it aimed at the wrong things.”[iii]
Yet when we aim at the wrong thing, worship the wrong thing, and thus deprive God of His glory, He deprives us of ours[iv] and we end up empty and doing all manner of wickedness. This is woven into the fabric of the universe, our very existence.
We will worship. That’s not the question. The question is who or what will we worship and to what end. What will be the result?
One catechism asks, “With what design did God create man?” The answer: that we should know God, love and glorify Him, and so be happy forever.[v] Truly “God is to be worshipped, not simply because he demands to be, but because this is the proper destiny of his creation.”[vi] Worship is inevitable.[vii] It will and is happening. The question is not will you worship but what? And what will it lead to?
Will it damn you and lead to enslavement; or will it bring eternal shalom and human flourishing (i.e. true cross-cultural human flourishing not the mere individualistic perception of flourishing) (recall Rom. 1 and 6)? Is it true or is it false?
When we worship the LORD we are going with the grid that is innately ingrained within us since the beginning. This is innate within us but it is strangely not natural. We have been dispossessed of where we were, where we should be. Yet, it is where we should be. The worship of the LORD God is true and right but it also works, it is the way it was designed to be (and thus it not surprisingly works that way).
We were made for ineffable joy and thus we not surprisingly seek for it. The thing about the joy we seek (sehnsucht) is that it’s not quite like our hunger, thirst, or other desires; it cannot be filled within the earth. So, apparently, we with our longing seek to fill it with that which cannot fill it. We think that, similar to our other “thirsts,” it too can be quenched here on earth through tangible means. Yet experience, many wise people, and Scripture have exhorted us that that is just not the case. There is a greater thirst within us, yet also a greater quenching. There is joy unimaginable, though now not wholly obtainable.
So, hear Romans 6:20-23: “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at the time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Thus, sin is not good because it enslaves and leads to death although it promises life and fulfillment.
[i] G. K. Beale, We Become what we Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.).
[ii] Noel Doe, Created for Worship, 20.
[iii] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 52.
[iv] cf. Noel Doe, Created for Worship, 29.
[v] Longer Catechism of the Eastern Church , question 120.
[vi] Noel Doe, Created for Worship, 39.
[vii] cf. e.g. Noel Doe, Created for Worship, 230, 231.
Sin Looks Really Good
It is a graphic scene, depicted in the most vivid way. A recent celebrated movie shows the character smiling in glee as he takes his own life. This depiction is sad yet we see it week-in and week-out. The movie is The Return of the King and the character is Gollom. Gollom, previously known as Sméagol, use to be a regular hobbit but was corrupted, enslaved by the ring. His infatuation with the ring started slow (a weekend here and there) but ended desperately. Gollom loved and hated the ring. He was torn, he wanted to be free from the ring and yet relentlessly pursued it.
At the end of the movie, Gollom finally has, as he says, “my precious.” But in getting the ring he has destroyed himself and everyone, indeed, everything around him. Yet his refrain is, “my precious.” Gollom’s last scene is one of great joy (for him). Gollom fights Frodo over the ring, another character that was nearly wholly-destroyed by the ring. Gollom is fierce. He wants the ring at any price. He bites off Frodo’s finger and rejoices over his plunder. He embraces his cruel master as his beloved friend. He falls, seemingly, blissfully in the lava and as he sinks he rejoices that he has comfort from pain, he has everything, he has his “precious.” Then he sinks and he and his “precious” are gone.
This scene, though portrayed differently, is a scene I have seen too often. This scene is the climax and conclusion of far too many stories of sin. Sin looks good. It is so sad to see people enraptured in love with their cruel master and executioner.
Sin is ingeniuine. It makes big promises but never delivers. Truly the world and sin “promises happiness, and nothing less… It promises to satisfy our desires, but only increases them; it gives poisoned pills, but wraps them in sugar.”[i]
Satan sells us lies and blinds our eyes. He would have us contended with filth and miss the glorious Lord who is worthy of all praise and can satisfy our longing soul. Truly Satan is crafty and subtle in his lies (recall the way he talked to Eve; Gen. 3:1ff cf. Lk. 4:1). He is a lion that is crouched low (1 Pet. 5:8). We don’t always see him but his desire is to destroy.
Satan is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4; Rev. 2:13) and his worship leads to curses and hatred of neighbor. In him is death and he is the futility of man; whoever lives in his influence shall perish and not have life (reverse of Jn. 1:4; 3:16). The world sits on the back of this evil beast of death (cf. Rev. 17:3). The world doesn’t know it but all people follow the course the beast as set, and it’s a funeral procession, that leads to the grave (cf. Eph. 2:1-3).
So Satan, the lord of this age, is rightly called the “deceiver of the whole world,” the “father of lies” (Rev. 12:9; Jn. 8:44 cf. Rev. 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:3; 2 Cor. 11:3; 2 Thess. 2:9-11; 1 Tim. 2:14). He is a dragon that smites many hosts yet not by the fire of his mouth but by the damning effects of his lies. And what do you expect his children to say? “They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves” (2 Pet. 2:19 cf. Matt. 24:24; Jn. 8:44; Rom. 16:18; Eph. 4:14). Those that know not Christ are blind and would have us wonder around in darkness too (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4-6). Satan and his children boast of good, but it’s all tainted, and leads to death (cf. Prov. 5:1-6; 7).
Thus, sin is not good because although it can look good, it’s not. It damns and destroys the good world God made. The de-creation voice of Satan pulls us toward death and non-being. It may sound good, as it did to Eve, but it is anything but good. It destroys. It curses and creates confusion. It sends us guilty out of Eden, where our good lays, and into Gehenna.
[i] Thomas Watson, Heaven Taken by Storm, 44.
Sin, Resulting in the Fall, Explains Humanities Wretchedness and yet Greatness
I think it’s accurate to say that “any viable worldview must successfully explain the seemingly paradoxical nature of the human condition.”[i] The philosopher Blaise Pascal lamented, “What sort of freak is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, the glory and refuse of the universe!”[ii]
“the inexplicable phenomenon of mankind: unquestionably corrupt, subject to inconstancy, boredom, anxiety and selfishness, doing anything in the waking hours to divert the mind from human wretchedness, yet showing the vestiges of inherent greatness in the mind’s realization of this condition. Mankind is also finite, suspended between twin infinities revealed by telescope and microscope, and aware of an inner emptiness which the finite world fails to satisfy. No philosophy makes sense of this. No moral system makes us better or happier. One hypothesis alone, creation in the divine image followed by the fall, explains our predicament and, through a redeemer and mediator with God, offers to restore our rightful state.”[iii]
Human greatness split the atom, human wretchedness uses the same to kill millions of people. A great, though wretched, leader, Adolf Hitler, will lead a nation to slaughter millions. A great leader, Winston Churchhill, will lead a nation in their defense. As much as we are great, we bare God’s image. As much as we are wretched, we bare Satan’s. Ben Carson, with his intelligence, will fight for cures; others will inject poison. Humanity is simultaneously great and wretched. What explains this paradox? We all innately sense it but why is it here?
Humanity is fallen. So “the line between good and evil is never simply between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ The line between good and evil runs through each one of us.”[iv] We are made in God’s image and thus can do fantastic things and fantastic good but we have been marred by the Fall and often reflect Satan so we can also do acts of unbelievable wickedness.
Thus, sin is not good because it wreaks havoc on our greatness, on the fact that we were created in the image of God, and distorts it to evil ends.[v] How sad that we who are capable of exploring the limitless expanse of the sea, the mind, space, and biology so often content ourselves with razing and rioting. How sad that though we as humanity are capable of such good, there is such grave injustice. I’ve read for example that a woman born in parts of South Africa is more likely to be raped then to learn to read.[vi] This surely should not be!
[i] Robert Velarde, “Greatness and Wretchedness” “How can one species produce both unspeakable wickedness and nearly inexplicable goodness? How can we be responsible both for the most disgusting squalor and for the most breathtaking beauty? How can grand aspirations and self-destructive impulses, kindness and cruelty, be interwoven in one life? The human enigma cries out for explanation” (Thomas Morris, “Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life” as quoted in Robert Velarde, “Greatness and Wretchedness: The Usefulness of Pascal’s Anthropological Argument in Apologetics”).
[ii] Pascal, Pensees, 131/434.
[iii] D.G. Preston, New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wells, and J.I. Packer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), s.v. “Blaise Pascal” as quoted in Robert Velarde, “Greatness and Wretchedness: The Usefulness of Pascal’s Anthropological Argument in Apologetics.”
[iv] N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 38.
[v] Sadly, “human nature itself, with its vast and mysterious amalgam of capacities to think, feel, supervise, love, create, respond, and act virtuously—that is, with its vast capacities for imaging God—has become the main carrier and exhibit of corruption” (Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 30-31).
[vi] Yet how strange and how sad that we hate the thought of this and yet many still struggle with the wickedness of pornography. Most of humanity hates the thought of human trafficking but yet enjoys the very things that feed that market.