There are three generally acknowledged obligations that we expect ourselves to fulfill as Christians. We’ve all used the JOY acrostic, though ironically, we often approach them in the opposite order:
1. You:Your obligation to yourself: how to be happy healthy and safe.
2. Others:Your obligation to the world: how we take care of others and find a useful niche or purpose.
3. Jesus:Your obligation to God: how you serve him with heart-soul-mind-and-strength, how you run the race with endurance, strive for holiness and obedience, etc.
Now, there is a generally known (if not acknowledged) way of handling these obligations, as I stated. To fulfill them you have to 1.Do whatever it takes to be happy healthy and safe, 2.Do good things because people need you to, and 3.Obey God because he commanded you to. JOY. YOJ. Whatever.
It sounds simple. Sure. But then sometimes these people come along and say things that upset the assumed balance of how these obligations are carried out. I’ve compiled a short list of what people have said on each of these areas. (I’m a quoter – If somebody else says something better than I do, then I’ll let them say it!)
To the first obligation, here comes John Eldredge, author of Wild At Heart, and he says,
“There are three desires I find written so deeply into my heart I know now I can no longer disregard them without losing my soul…” The three desires kick off his list of What Every Man Is Made Of, and the list is: 1) a battle to fight, 2) an adventure to live, and 3) a beauty to rescue – (though, as a woman not in need of a Beauty To Rescue, I think that my third need aligns more in the area of being useful, on giving something that is needed to somebody who needs it – a rescue of sorts, I suppose)
Now, maybe I’m the only one, but this sounds a lot different than the whole HappyHealthySafe idea! Battles and Danger and Rescuing are not guaranteed happy, or healthy, and especially not safe!
To the second obligation, Gil Baile upsets the whole process of finding a way to be useful:
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
What can I say to that? Upside down or what?
And to the last obligation perhaps is the biggest upset. After listening to a service one day on “running the race” and focusing hard on obedience to Christ, I was walking out of the chapel trying to set my jaw, realign. My friend Will Thrasher, not usually a man of many words, (or maybe I just didn’t expect it) said suddenly, “You can run the race with endurance, but if you don’t have the joy to live, you’re DONE.”
And he left me with my jaw hanging open.
Because he’s SO RIGHT.
Because I’ve been there. I’ve been in that jaw-set, joyless dry time, and it’s like he said –it’s like the end of a race when things are going so well, you may even be edging ahead, and then…your muscles suddenly stop working. You pull and reach and grit your teeth. You flail your arms. Your legs turn to jelly. And you feel like you are going nowhere. Collapse across the finish line. Forget finishing strong, just trying to survive.
That’s not the way it is supposed to be!
I’ve been fighting my own battle with this soul-desire concept. Here’s the truth: Desperate, far-reaching, crazy desires do not fit in to the neat little box of our culture. Deep hopes and dreams aren’t always “This is what a person should do to be happy, healthy, and safe.”
It’s like the monsters said, in Where the Wild Things Are:
“Happiness isn’t always the best way to be happy, anyway.”
I think they’re right. “Happiness” is a shallow goal at best. I think that I need to be coming alive, embracing danger, being as whole as possible on this broken earth, in order to be most useful. I need to be engaged in life’s battles, in tune with my God-given desires, and seeking out the joy of the Lord! (For the record, JOY = way different than happy.)
“God just wants you to be happy” may be bogus, but joy is another matter. God calls us to run the race with endurance, but, as it talks about in I Peter, we can do so because we are filled with his inexpressible, his glorious joy that gives us strength to run, to fight, to be used by Him!
(Also for the record – receiving joy does require obedience. In case anyone was confused.)
A few years ago I made a pact with myself to put myself out there. To take risks. Not let the world’s ideas take precedence. I know there will be a lot of reevaluating to be done. Scratch that. I think there will be a lot of FACEPLANTS and reconstructive surgery to be done! Figuring out the difference between my selfish desires and my God-given desires requires constant refocus, since my own sinful ones tend to vie for my attention.
It’s a risk. I might fail. Um, I will fail. But not to try is at the peril of my own soul, and with it the work that God is doing and what he wishes to do in the future. And fortunately, He’s got my back. And my pupils. And my footsteps.
I’ll let you know how it goes.