Sometimes, I have to admit, I feel jealous of the seemingly less-complicated lives of the unbelievers close to me. They don't live with the constant battle of pleasing God or pleasing self. They might feel guilt over the effect their words or actions have on others, but they don't feel the weighty knowledge of having displeased their Savior.
When I don't feel like doing what God wants me to do, or when I feel the tempting pull of sin, my heart is torn. I want the temporary pleasure of following my own desires, but I also want the ultimate joy of pleasing and obeying God. Paul's words wash over me time and again when I feel this way. They provide a sense of camaraderie and encouragement, but my heart still hurts.
My modern struggle between good and evil is hardly a new one. The Bible is filled with stories of Israel’s failure to put God first. They were constantly torn between worshipping what brought temporary pleasure and worshipping God. Hosea says of Israel:
“Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty: He shall break down their altars, He shall spoil their images. […] They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant: thus judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field.” Hosea 10:2,4
I love how Lewis words this. We so often think of our sin as something we deserve. We have a hard life after all, so it’s to be expected that we give in to our desire for more instant gratification now and then, right?
But we are so wrong!
It’s not that God withholds pleasure from us as a punishment. It’s that we are ignorant children arguing with God over our precious mud pies instead of taking Him up on His offer of a seaside of peace and contentment. Far too easily pleased indeed.
When viewed in this light, I can’t feel envious of my unsaved neighbors at all. They don’t know that their reasons for rejecting God, their sins, and their aspirations are all mud pies in comparison to the idyllic, seaside peace of a deep relationship with God.
But even knowing this truth, I still find myself torn between those mud pies and God’s seaside.
Since the struggle with sin and my desire for things outside of God aren’t going away anytime soon, how am I supposed to more consistently win the battle between self and God? In a sense, I have to acknowledge that my heart will continue to be torn between these two desires until I reach Heaven, but isn’t there anything I can do to make it easier?
That might seem like a no-brainer, but it is paramount to success. Also, I need to pursue God for His own sake, not for what He can give me. We will not reap the benefits of God’s peaceful seaside if we are following Him for ulterior motives. Timothy Keller put it this way:
“Don’t obey God to get things, obey God to get God.”
The more we get to know God by obeying Him, reading His Word, and praying to Him, the more our desire to continue pursuing Him grows. That is not a benefit that will come if our heart isn’t in our good works, Bible study, or prayer.
That might seem outright simplistic, but the best way to choose God more consistently in the future is to begin choosing God now. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll start choosing Him tomorrow. The longer you follow your own heart instead of God’s heart, the more bad habits, sin, and selfishness will damage your heart.
If you choose Him instead, you will taste once again of that deepened relationship, making your next choice between serving self and serving God that much easier. The habit of saying “yes” to God and “no” to self is built from moment-by-moment choices. The choice will always exist. The desire to sin will not just go away, but it will become easier and easier to choose God because as our relationship with Him deepens, our knowledge of His seaside peace in comparison to our mud pies will deepen as well.
Like Paul, we will continually battle our own “body of death” until we stand before our Lord and Savior fully sanctified in Heaven. Our hearts will often be torn, but the Christian life is the farthest thing from hopeless we can imagine. We have the definition of hope sewn into our hearts with the presence of the Holy Spirit directing us toward our ultimate home in Heaven.
With His power, we can grow to choose Him more and more. The more we choose Him, the more we will see the delights of His relationship, and we will learn that it is far more precious to bask beside His peaceful sea than to enjoy our own way for a time.
What things do you do to consistently put God first?
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