Lift Your Eyes to the Hills
--Pastor Jamey Nichols
In The Prodigal God, Tim Keller’s exposé of Luke 11 (The Prodigal Son), he recounts a fascinating, non-biblical story of Jesus and his disciples. Keller writes of Jesus saying to his followers,
“I’d like you to carry a stone for Me.” He didn’t give any explanation. So the disciples looked around for a stone to carry, and Peter, being the practical sort, sought out the smallest stone he could possibly find. After all, Jesus didn’t give any regulation for weight and size! So he put it in his pocket. Jesus then said, “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey. About noontime, Jesus had everyone sit down. He waved his hands and all the stones turned to bread. He said, “Now it’s time for lunch.” In a few seconds, Peter’s lunch was over. When lunch was done Jesus told them to stand up. He said again, “I’d like you to carry a stone for Me.” This time Peter said, “Aha! Now I get it!” So he looked around and saw a small boulder. He hoisted it on his back and it was painful, it made him stagger. But he said, “I can’t wait for supper.” Jesus then said, “Follow Me.” He led them on a journey, with Peter barely being able to keep up. Around supper time Jesus led them to the side of a river. He said, “Now, everyone throw your stones into the water.” They did. Then he said, “Follow Me,” and began to walk. Peter and the others looked at him dumbfounded. Jesus sighed and said, “Don’t you remember what I asked you to do? Who were you carrying the stone for?”
Whether or not this event is fact or fable, the lesson is fantastic. It’s a bold challenge of our heart’s deeper longings.
On a couple of occasions, I have heard myself echo the well-meaning and oft-repeated sentiment, “I just want [him] to be happy.” While there may be completely legitimate occasions for such well-wishing, it’s generally overused, poorly thought out, and misapplied. Consider this question: Is our loved one’s happiness really the single thing we want most? I don’t think so. While we certainly wouldn’t want our friends/family to be miserable, we wouldn’t want them to be merely “happy” as if that is the best life has to offer.
It’s sort of like the overly doting aunt who begins to panic the moment her toddler nephew starts to whimper. Can’t have that! We just want him to be happy. The solution is to entertain and appease in order to keep at bay any measure of unhappiness whatsoever. I think we all know what kind of kid he would grow up to be if everyone in his world catered to his momentary happiness.
I have found there are things in life that make me happy and things that make me satisfied. A cheesecake dinner would make me happy; so would a reckless spending spree. Never feeling pain in any form and never having anyone mad at me sound pretty good, too. Such a life of ease, while appealing on one hand, is utterly self-absorbed and qualitatively bankrupt. If all I ever live for is me and my own happiness, then I have violated the consummate command, and that, ultimately, leads to unhappiness.
Of the ten commandments, the first and most basic is, “You shall have no other God’s before me.” Quite often I am my own god. I serve me, me, me, and my happiness is my primary objective. I become just like Peter in the story. I’m happy to obey, so long as obedience benefits me directly. Furthermore (!), I’ve decided that my definition of happiness is the law of my universe. God is certainly welcome to be around, so long as he stays where I put him and doesn’t get too demanding. After all, I need someone to pray to when life begins to get uncomfortable. Wouldn’t want my happiness to be in jeopardy!
What I’ve come to discover is that a life lived in passionate love for Jesus is the only real way to find deepest happiness. Living for him, not myself, is what truly satisfies. I am learning that what I think will make me happy may not be what makes me happiest. This Christmas, let’s consider what we can give God. Let’s all lift our eyes and aim a little higher. Wha’d’ya think? (Isaiah 40)