What things bring you joy when you think about them? What are the things you just can’t seem to step away from? What things do you lie awake in bed thinking about?
For some, they can’t help but think that life is “all about the Benjamins”, and fretting about how to grow their bank account. For some, they value time at home with their spouse and their children. For more than a few college-aged persons, it’s all about maximizing fun-time between (and sometimes instead of) classes.
None of those things I listed are inherently bad: that is, money, sex, family, possessions, or even intangible things like love or fun. In fact, when they are enjoyed in such a way that shows that God is more valuable to us than those things, they are blessings.
However, even for a people whose entire faith hinges on the promise of the resurrection because of the substitutionary death of Christ, I am convinced that we spend far too little time thinking about (read: dwelling on) the new heavens, the new earth, and the glorious God who will govern both. The reason is that we are so prone to becoming bogged down by other concerns – some of which are sinful, and some of which are legitimate. Kids need to eat. The mortgage needs to be paid. You know, stuff like that.
If we are going to live fruitful Christian lives, we must rise above our sinful, idolatrous addictions, and we must rise above our tendency to settle for the here-and-now. How do we go about doing that? Hebrews reminds us to, “lay aside every weight and sin which so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1b-2).
We notice at least three admonitions from the author of Hebrews: First, lay aside sin. Seems obvious, right? Second, lay aside other stuff (even good stuff) that prevents you from seeking and obeying God. Thirdly, realign your heart to treasure Christ. This third admonition from Hebrews really is the key to unlocking the first two. By fixing our eyes on Jesus – his glory, his goodness, his loving sacrifice, among his other manifold qualities – the things of this world “grow strangely dim.” In other words, not only are we to lay down one set of passions, but we are also to pick up a better passion – namely, God.
Our Lord sets the very same example for us when “for the joy set before Him he endured the cross.” What joy is the author referring to? The joy of ascending to heaven, the joy of being returned to his rightful place at the Father’s right hand, the joy of redeeming a people for himself, and the joy of conquering sin and death (just to name a few) were more valuable to Him, and motivated Him to obey the will of the Father.
No doubt this world offers many things that capture our desires and attention. Falling out of love with the world is a hard thing to do. Nay, it is impossible to do on our own. We are creatures that are naturally inclined to seek joy and fulfillment – which is not wrong! What is wrong, is where we choose to fulfill those desires. When we were unconverted, we were dead to God and had no other choice than to seek fulfillment in sin and in the here-and-now. But once God gives us the gift of conversion, Christ frees us from our absolute enslavement to sin. Even though we still have a sinful nature inherited from the fall, Christ now gives us the freedom to tell our sinful natures, “no,” and to seek fulfillment in Him.
We must, therefore, for God’s glory and our joy, realign our hearts to treasure Christ. It is the only thing that will help us – for the long run – to live lives that are pleasing to God. Recognizing that it’s easy to spout platitudes, part two of this blog will provide some practical advice on how to realign our hearts. In other words, what does the process look like? Stay tuned for part two.