Think of everything that matters most to you in your life. I think I can guess what you came up with. Let's see: family, friends, career, house, aspirations, money, leisure, food, vacations...
If I guessed even a few items on your list it'd be no great surprise. Most people would put those at the top of their list. The surprising thing is that they matter a whole lot less than we'd like to think. And that's another problem: we don't like to give this the thought it deserves.
Don't get me wrong, all the things we think matter, do. In their right context, they matter as much as most things. But they don't matter as much as we give them credit for—at least in the most important sense.
The reason for this is an uncomfortably disturbing one: usually we arrange our lives, and everything in it, to cater for ourselves.
We pursue relationships with people, material things, careers, money, entertainment, feelings and everything else for one reason: our own self-interest. We even give to others so they too can be successful in chasing their personal desires. We call this 'success' and 'happiness'.
The problem is that this world, and much of the modern Christian Church, doesn't seem that happy at all or even particularly satisfied with what they already have. Despite living in a historically (since ancient times) unprecedented time of prosperity which has flooded much of the world, people are falling apart.
America is a startling microcosm of this worldwide issue:
1. In 1987, 61.1 percent of Americans claimed to be happy with their careers. Today, 52.3 percent report being unhappy at work.
2. American doctors prescribe more than 250 million prescriptions for antidepressants every year.
3. In the United States today, 60 million people have problems with alcohol and 22 million people use illegal drugs.
4. America has the highest rate of illegal drug use on the entire planet.
5. America has the highest divorce rate in the world by a wide margin.
6. The suicide rate for Americans between the ages of 35 and 64 rose by close to 30 percent between 1999 and 2010.
Startlingly, like America, these same issues are becoming more and more of a problem in some of the most prosperous and peaceful countries around the globe. Despite our glittering societies built on peace and prosperity through our self-styled Judeo-Christian principles and the 'progress' of scientific and intellectual enlightenment, a great uneasiness and restlessness remains. Simply put, we are not happy, and we are not content.
Even Christianity is confronting this fundamental conundrum. For all the personal riches, churchly monuments and movements, and impressive buildings and programs, Christians often succumb to the same seemingly inescapable obsessive self-interest, and its self-destructive results.
A question of mattering-ness
But there is hope. There is an answer. But beware; it's one that's going to make you revaluate everything you hold dear. More importantly, it's going to make you question why you hold it dear, and whether it matters as much as it should.
The answer is a multifaceted one:
- All the things in your life are meant to be enjoyed in light of a life given by Jesus.
- All the things in your life are ultimately for Jesus, but you just haven't been practising this.
- All the things in your life are not as important as Jesus, but you've been letting them limit your service for Him.
- All the things in your life are temporary and ever-changing, but you've entrusted your peace and joy to their permanence.
- All the things in your life were never given to you to limit or stop you giving your life up for God.
- Most of the world's desires are contrary to His desires, and take no thought for His Kingdom purposes, will, or people.
- All the things in your life have in fact stifled the Lord's voice and His leading, and you can no longer discern between men's voice and leadership, and God's.
- Ultimate satisfaction is found in hope, because life will never be perfect till you reach heaven.
Put simply, our lives are meant to be lived for God, not for ourselves, or anyone else in our lives—but that's often what we do. This is what the Apostle Paul spoke of in writing to the Corinthian Church:
'And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again'
An answer for everyone
Whether we identify as Christian or not is irrelevant because all humans were created to live for their Creator.
While in church the other week, God once again reminded me of this simple, powerful, and joyful truth. In the middle of a church service, He spoke to my heart and said, "It's in the giving".
Joy and life is found not only in receiving what God gives, but continually giving it back to Him; not only in word and deed, but with our whole heart and affections. This is where the mattering-ness of all mattering things lie, because the person of God and everything He is about is where the mattering-ness of everything lies.
Here's the good news though: all our answers about what matters, still matter! There's nothing wrong with enjoying the good things in life. Everything we've been given by God was precisely because He wants to bless us and enjoy this life:
'...the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy'
Living our lives for God isn't contrary to enjoying our lives, because true life—happiness, peace, contentment, purpose, and love—is found in God, and in what He says matters.
Tim's home is on the Gold Coast in Queensland. He has a Graduate Associate of Theology degree, taught in Christian Education for over six years, and is currently studying a Masters of Divinity in theology at Liberty University in the US. He enjoys writing, the beach, and watching movies.
Tim Price's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-price.html