This week we kicked off our new series; Above All.
What a week in the house as Ps Steve kicked off the series with a message entitled, “The Pursuit”. If you weren’t able to join us on Sunday, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered in this recap of a message you don’t want to miss!
Here’s the one thing I crave from God, the one thing I seek above all else: I want the privilege of living with him every moment in his house, finding the sweet loveliness of his face, filled with awe, delighting in his glory and grace. I want to live my life so close to him that he takes pleasure in my every prayer. [Psalm 27:4]
Everybody is in pursuit of something. A trajectory in which our life is pointing.
We all have goals; hopes; dreams.
What is the one thing you crave above all else?
The Pursuit of Happiness
The famous words of Aristotle; “Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life; the whole aim and end of human existence”. The pursuit of happiness. This philosophy has been woven into the fabric of humanity for centuries. It permeates throughout who we are, what we do, and how we live our lives. The main thrust of product advertising is “buy this and it will make you happy”. America is the fountain head of global culture - most of pop culture, popular trends, fashion, movies, and music stem from America. The philosophy of the pursuit of happiness is a foundational value of America. The “American Dream” is rooted in the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that “all men are created equal” with the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The culture of America aligns itself with the idea that happiness is the meaning and purpose of life. But is happiness the greatest pursuit we could have. The one thing we should crave above all else?
Like the carrot in front of the donkey, happiness is temporary and fleeting. We grab hold of it only to have it disappear like a vapour in our hands. Then the pursuit begins all over again. And again. And again.
Surely there is a greater pursuit??
The Pursuit of God
In 1647, a collective of theologians wrote the Westminster Catechism. A foundational document of the Christian faith. The first question posed was “What is the chief end of man?” and the answer given was that “man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. John Piper says it this way, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”. John Piper later goes onto say “This truth — God is most glorified in us, or Christ is most magnified in us, when we are most satisfied him — is not peripheral. This is not peripheral to the Christian life. This is right at the heart of what it means to be a believer, what it means to belong to Jesus Christ, what it means to treasure and trust Jesus Christ. This is not icing on the cake of Christianity. This is at the heart of Christianity”.
C.S. Lewis says it this way. “Your desires aren’t the problem. The weakness of your desires are the problem. You are like a child fooling about in slums with your mud pies because you can’t imagine what a holiday at the sea is like.”
In other words, your desires for the great things that God is offering you are way too small. Your problem is not big desires, but small desires for big things.
The greatest pursuit we can have is the pursuit of God. This is the holiday at the sea! When we read Psalm 27:4 it’s like the psalmist got it! He found the ocean! The immeasurable riches and delight that is found in relationship with God! The satisfaction of communing with the creator of all things, the sustainer of life. The one who made you, called you into existence. Knows everything about you, knows your yesterday, today and tomorrow and LOVES YOU. Yes! To be known and loved by the one who knows all. Fully accepted. Embraced. Chosen. Loved. Oh, how everything else is crackers in comparison to the feast that is found in the presence of God!
What are we selling our “birthright” for? What are we trading for the ultimate treasure?
Pursue God and find yourself filled. Find Satisfaction. Find fulfilment. Find joy.
The Damage of the Wrong Pursuit
And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” [Matthew 13:3-9]
I love this parable because if you read further on, Jesus reveals what the parable means.
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” [Matthew 13:18-23]
The damage that can occur when we pursue happiness rather than pursuing God can be found in two representations of the soil in this parable - the seed that falls on “the rocky soil” and the seed that falls among “the thorns”.
Rocky Soil - he hears the word and immediately receives it with joy yet he has no root in himself meaning he can only endure for a while. Unfortunately as soon as tribulation or persecution arises, they immediately fall away.
Persecution, tribulation and trials are a guarantee of the christian life. The writer of Hebrews says even Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” [Hebrews 5:8] Jesus in his famous Sermon on the Mount declared that we are blessed when we’re are persecuted, reviled and having all kinds of evil spoken against you..
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [Matthew 5:11-12]
In the pursuit of happiness, these “trials” can cause us to give up. Quit. Fall away. If we believe the lie, that our happiness is the end goal, the trials can challenge our pursuit and derail us. However, if holiness is the end goal, then all of a sudden the trial takes on a whole new perspective.
James, the brother of Jesus, says it like this: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” [James 1:2-4]
Count it all joy!?!?
Because the outcome of the trial is of greater benefit! It’s of higher value. It produces something of greater worth! Steadfastness. Faith. Character. Generosity. Humility. Patience.
The trial is preparing you. It’s building your faith. Building steadfastness. Immovability.
God is invested in your holiness, even at the cost of your temporary happiness. He see’s from an eternal perspective. Any gym buffs out there? Stronger muscles are built through the process of tearing and rebuilding. Our spiritual life is no different. As we pursue God, we begin to understand that there’s purpose in the pain. Growth in the graft. And if we don’t quit there is triumph through the trial.
Maybe that trial is in your life to build character for the call. To build the person for the purpose. So when the going gets tough. Don’t quit. Stay in the boat and He will get you to the other side!
Happiness vs Joy
Happiness is external. Happiness is based on situations, events, people, places, things, and thoughts. Happiness is connected to the wishes for your life - your hope for a relationship, your hope for a future with someone, your hope to lose that weight, get that promotion, buy that house, have that family. Happiness is always linked to that “some day when...”. Happiness is future oriented and it puts all its eggs in someone else's basket. Happiness is dependent on outside situations, people, or events to align with your expectations so that the end result is your happiness. If those expectations weren’t realised then your happiness was crushed. Unhappiness is the result.
Happiness is not joy. oy is not external, it can't be bought and it is not conditional on someone else's behaviour. In fact, joy is not contingent on anything in order to exist. Joy comes when you make peace with who you are, whose you are, where you are and why you are. When you need nothing more than your truth and the love of a good God to bring peace, then you have settled into the abiding joy that is not rocked by relationships or circumstances; it's not rocked by anything at all.
Thorns - but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful
If we continue reading James we come across this verse:
For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. [James 1:11]
Wealth is not the problem. The gospel is not anti-wealth.
The pursuit of wealth above all else is the problem.
God is not the enemy of success. He is not intent on you living a meager life, seeking out an existence. Sucking lemons until you’re taken to glory. He does, however, want to be first and He wants you to have the satisfaction and contentment that can only be found in Him. Jesus says it like this, “seek the Kingdom of God first and He will add all these things to you.”
The pursuit of money, wealth and status never satisfies. Enough will never be enough. Proverbs says it’s foolish to chase after wealth because it can sprout wings and fly away. How many people have built empires only to have them crumble.
Jesus encourages us to store our treasure in heaven. Spend our life building his kingdom. For those who do will be richly rewarded beyond what this world can offer. Don’t sell your life short. Don’t waste your life building an earthly empire. Make it count eternally. Pursue God.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. [Jeremiah 29:11-13]
God knows the plans he has for you.
He knows the direction. He’s calling you to devotion.
Direction flows from devotion.
As we seek Him, pursue Him he will lead you, direct you and guide you to your best life!
Make God the utmost delight and pleasure of your life, and he will provide for you what you desire the most. [Psalm 37:4]
God is not the enemy of your desires. He is he fulfiller of them.
As you pursue God you find acceptance.
As you pursue God you find love.
As you pursue God you find deep satisfaction.
As you pursue God you find untouchable joy.
As you pursue God you build character.
As you pursue God you find direction.
As you pursue God you find your purpose.