Who do you look to as the primary supplier of your deepest needs? A spouse? Parents? A therapist? A trusted confidant? The congregation you worship with? Your furry friend? YouTube pundits?
Life presents many spiritual challenges (growth, true worship, temptation, false doctrine, duty, evangelism, etc.), emotional pain (failure, inadequacy, guilt, regret, loneliness, etc.), psychological stress (purpose, self-worth, value, priorities, etc.). Who or what is the most reliable source of relief, resilience and restoration as you navigate life’s rocky road?
This article will suggest an answer to this question, but there is a more basic issue to be addressed first. Is it possible that we are asking the wrong questions to start with? Putting it another way, is the primary issue in our lives our personal concerns, or have these been exaggerated by a self-absorbed culture?
It is natural to consider personal concerns as paramount. After all, we are constantly told that my life, my happiness, my well-being should be priority #1. As self-aware humans, we have to face the reality that the only life we know by experience is temporal and terminal. If there is no real hope of continued existence on “the other side,” that obviously places a premium on making the most of this one. Many people subconsciously wrestle with this unresolved angst, and it makes many of them selfish or wild or depressed or reckless or abusive or greedy or addicted or nihilistic or any number of other things.
But what if our assumption from experience is wrong? What if this life is not all there is, that earthly life is merely preliminary and preparatory to an existence that is vastly richer and more rewarding and eternal? What if the whole focus on self is a ploy by a deceptive enemy to be distracting, disturbing and unfulfilling? And what if the secret to finding true joy and satisfaction within oneself is actually by looking without?
This, I believe, reflects the true state of things.
The problem is that this reality is camouflaged by the present era of peace and prosperity. Our days are not spent scratching out a living, struggling to provide the basics of life. Instead, we have our labor-saving machinery (cars, vacuums, fridges, plumbing), wellness experts (doctors, pharmacists, trainers, nutritionists), economists (bankers, investors, accountants) and other specialists who do the heavy lifting while we … ahem … amuse ourselves and spend too much time thinking about our own lot in life. And, strangely, this has led to masses of people feeling psychologically unwell: neglected, empty, aimless, unfulfilled, etc. As a result, many are restlessly searching for something that doesn’t exist – an emotional nirvana, a golden glow of peace that makes life on earth … heaven.
One main objective of Christ and His gospel is to remove focus from ourselves. Have you ever wondered how first century, first generation Christians withstood vicious persecution, social rejection, plundering of their possessions – even death – with no Christian heritage to rely on, no Christian colleges/lectures to attend, no personal new testament to read and no alternative area churches to move one’s membership to? In the absence of such crutches, and immersed in the novelty of a self-reducing theology, these early Christians were empowered to forsake worldly values, serve others, endure persecution and truly live joyfully for their Savior.
Only a very short time after their conversion, and in the absence of their spiritual mentor, Paul, the Thessalonians “became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Jews …” (1 Th 2:14). In his brief tenure with them Paul taught them about standing for and teaching truth (1:6-8), pure living (4:3-5), the judgment of God (4:6-8), loving each other (4:9-10) and industriousness (4:11-12).
But Paul laid particular emphasis on one topic that closes every chapter of First Thessalonians: the second coming of Christ and entrance into glory (1:9-10; 2:19-20; 3:13; 4:13-5:11; 5:23). In all of this, Paul lifted their gaze heavenward without neglecting their earthly duties and obligations. But conspicuously absent is any embellishment of their disadvantages, lack of meaning and value, psychological distress or any other undue emotional suffering for their faith in Christ. His exhortations to the Thessalonians are decidedly outward and upward.
In so many ways Jesus directs us to find ourselves by losing ourselves, by shifting our focus from our wants, needs and concerns to those of others around us – just as He Himself did:
Ø “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” – Mt 7:12.
Ø “So the last will be first, and the first last” – Mt 20:16.
Ø “Whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve …” – Mt 20:27-28.
Ø “‘When did we see You hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer … ‘Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’” – Mt 25:37-40.
By enthroning the Lord in our hearts and adopting this “other-centered” perspective, we also have the answer to the question asked at the outset: “Who is the primary supplier of our deepest needs?” Answer: It is not our spouse or parent or friend but Jesus Himself. It is only by developing an intimate relationship with Him via prayer, study, meditation, trust and complete surrender that we find the spiritual strength, emotional balance and sense of purpose that enable us to become strong, steady and stable. We are thus capable of persevering through the setbacks, disappointments and imperfections of a world that is so completely consumed by its self-centered cries of, “I want; I need; I hurt; I’m lost” – cries that some spend a lifetime vainly seeking to soothe. It is axiomatic: The more we focus on our needs, the less able we are to satisfy them. The more we focus on Christ, the less need we have. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Ph 4:13).