“I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.” (Psalm 73:22)
The driven, watchful envy of a horizontal pleasure-oriented heart will drive you crazy. It will not only rob you of your satisfaction and joy, it will take your humanity from you. It will make you more of a brute than a friend. It will eat your heart and consume your soul.
You see, if you somehow fall into thinking that life is found in the pleasures and comforts of the physical; created people; things and experiences of this here and now world; then that is what you will live for. You won’t live for God. You won’t live for the good of others. You won’t be motivated by what is loving, good, true and wise. No, you will live for you, and whether you know it or not, everyday will be a hot personal pursuit of your private definition of pleasure. You will have you at the center of your will. You will be your own king, seeking the control over people and circumstances that is necessary to ensure that you will, in fact, get the things that you have set your heart on.
You will become a hyper-vigilant observer of your own life and the lives of others. You will be an incessant pleasure/comfort accountant; measuring your experience of these things over against the experience of those around you. You will daily measure who has the biggest pile of pleasure and you will not be happy if it is not you. You will naturally judge that you are more deserving than your comfortable friends and you will question the goodness of God and the moral good of obeying, if, in reality, at the end of the day you end up with the shorter end of the stick. You will do this with regularity and perseverance, but you won’t know you are doing it. You’ll know that you’re unhappy, but you will tell yourself that God has failed you. You will say that it simply is not fair that bad people get blessed while good people like you have to suffer through life with little. You will struggle to hold on to your faith, wondering if it is all worth it in the end.
What has happened is that the architecture of your life is shaped by an infrastructure of personal expectation and self-focused demands. You know all too well what you want from people and situations and you know what God needs to do in order for you to name him as good. What all of this means is that at the deepest, most profound and life-directing level of your heart, you have lost your senses. In the biblical sense of what the word means, you have gone mad. Sin has simply made you crazy. Without realizing it, you have taken on a distorted view of reality. You have a distorted view of yourself, others, life and God. Life will never operate the way you want it to. People will not submit to the laws of your kingdom for very long. God will not get up and give you his holy throne. Your reality is irrational and your hope is hopeless. Your dreams are gas. And the more you work to fill your heart, the emptier it becomes. The more you work to get your dream, the more it vaporizes in your hands. The more you live for you, the more envious you become.
It is socially acceptable madness. It cannot and will not ever work.
Asaph’s confession in Psalm 73 is insightful and indicting. There is a way in which it indicts us all, because in his confession, he calls us to examine what sin does to each of us. God hardwired us to be kingdom-oriented people. We were designed to live with both king and kingdom consciousness, because we were designed to live for him. The architecture of our lives was to be shaped by all of the plans, purposes, words,and actions that would flow out of these words, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It is inside the boundaries of these words that true and lasting peace of heart will only ever be found. Inside these boundaries is where real wisdom and real love lives. Inside this moral structure, life lives in gorgeous beauty. Outside is frustration, discouragement, anger, disappointment, and doubt. Sure, the temporary pleasures are pleasurable, but their shelf-life is short. The reality is that creation has no capacity whatsoever to satisfy your heart. Your heart has been wired to find its hope, peace and rest in God alone.
Living for the pleasures of here and now, as the principle quest of your life, is a vain attempt to re-create the world and how it was designed to operate. No, it is not wrong to find pleasure pleasurable. It is not ungodly to desire comfort. It is not evil to desire good and loving relationships. It is not wrong to appreciate beauty. But here’s what you need to understand; all of these things were beautifully designed by God to point and connect you to him. These created pleasures were not made to be an end in themselves, but a means to an end. All of creation is a finger pointing to the Lord of creation in whom life can be found. Creation was made to introduce you to him over and over again. It was not meant to replace him.
Look around and you will see the evidence that we have gone crazy. We are a culture that is deeply in debt because our cravings are bigger than our means, and so we have charged ourselves into financial oblivion. Our cravings are bigger than what is needful and healthy, so we have eaten ourselves into ill health; obesity becoming a national health crisis. We have lived for the buzz; becoming addicted to an endless variety of substances and experiences that give us short term relief. We reduce one another to vehicles of happiness instead of objects of love; living in cycles of relational dysfunction and separation. We stand before closets that would clothe the third world and tell ourselves that we have nothing to wear. We stand in front of stuffed refrigerators and tell ourselves that we really have nothing to eat. We are jealous of one another and threatened by the prospect that the good life will pass us by, and we cope with it all by numbing ourselves with things that are not healthy, or with hour after hour of the brain-deadening pleasure-porn that we call entertainment. And we wake up no more at rest or at peace than the day before; hoping to succeed more, acquire more, enjoy more, possess more, experience more, love more, and feel more; all so we can smile more. We are driven crazy, but Psalm 73 gives us the answer.
Psalm 73 powerfully reminds us that this is not all there is. The name of the game is not personal, temporal pleasure. There is an end coming. All that is now wrong will be made right. You see, we are not only kingdom-oriented beings, we are beings with a future. We were made to live with God and for God—forever. (Continue to page two of the article.)
In pointing us to the final end of all things, Psalm 73 tells us what the drama of life is all about. Although we were made to have God as the one life-shaping treasure of our hearts, sin turns us in on ourselves. It cause us to forget who we are and that God exists. It turns us into little self-sovereigns, wanting to reign for our own glory.
But God, in his grace, invaded our madness in the person of His Son. Jesus did not transgress God’s boundaries. He did not live for his pleasure. He lived a life that was perfect in his Father’s eyes. But he did more, he willing took the penalty of our selfishness on himself. On the cross he was punished for us and purchased our forgiveness.
But there is still more. He gave us his righteous. In Jesus, all who believe not only don’t get what they deserve (condemnation), they are given what they have not earned (righteousness). Because of this forgiveness and righteousness, we are accepted into God’s family forever.
Psalm 73 reminds us that the greatest crisis of our human existence is not that we are horizontally unfulfilled, but that we are vertically cut off. Grace connects us once again to God, and in so doing, to the one place where are hearts can find rest and we can be given back our senses.
Grace not only connects you to God, but delivers you from you and from the madness of you and your propensity to make life about you in the here and now.
Paul Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries, a nonprofit organization whose mission statement is “Connecting the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life.” Tripp is also professor of pastoral life and care at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas, and executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care in Fort Worth, Texas. Tripp has written many books on Christian living that are read and distributed internationally. He has been married for many years to Luella, and they have four grown children. For more information, visit http://www.paultrippministries.org/store.