The Danger of Getting What We Want

We often choose earthly treasures that we can’t keep over eternal treasures that we can’t lose.


Tim Keller paraphrased and quoted a columnist back in the 1980’s in a recent sermon he gave. The columnist knew a number of celebrities personally. Keller paraphrased the columnist: “I knew them when they were working behind the counter the cosmetic counter at Macy’s, and I knew them when they were bouncers at the village clubs, and all that, and then they became famous, and they became movie stars, and then they became more unhappy then they were before.”

Keller paraphrased further: “That giant thing they were striving for, that ‘fame thing’ that was going to make everything OK, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to provide them personal fulfillment and with ‘ha ha happiness’, it had happened and nothing changed. They were still them. The disillusionment turned them howling and insufferable.”

Keller then quoted the columnist, who said, “If God really wants to play a rotten practical joke on us, He grants your deepest wish and then giggles merrily as you suddenly realize you want to kill yourself.”

God made us for Himself.

Of course, the idea of God “giggling merrily” is obviously not biblical, but the rest of it is. God made us for Himself. He weeps at our choosing to follow after the things we want instead of Him. He weeps for us because it can never fulfill us.

I write this on the heels of my last article in which I reflected on celebrity Christianity. More accurately, celebrities who have recently become Christians. In the article, I also reflected on “celebrity” Christians, people who were thrust into the Christian limelight at an early age, before a firm foundation of spiritual growth and relationship with God.

And I wonder how those celebrities turning to Christianity will fair into the future. They are used to the warm (and sometimes harsh) light of public celebrity. That is where they live, but what they need is the nutrient rich soil of God’s word, prayer, relationship to God, fellowship and all the things God must do in us in the dark recesses of our hearts, well out of the light of public life.

Like the rich young ruler who was searching, but found it too difficult to leave behind all his wealth to which he had become accustomed, celebrity  fame and fortune may difficult to give up. Even though it doesn’t satisfy the deepest longings of the soul, it is still (likely) everything they thought they wanted.

Riches, and celebrity, and comfort, and recognition become a trap. We are lured in. Our own desires propel us hard in the direction of the sunlight. We strain our whole lives with all of our effort. All of our thoughts, hopes and dreams carry us along, and the things we gain along the way, even if they turn sour in our hands, are difficult to give up…. If it was all we wanted.

Continue reading “The Danger of Getting What We Want”

Keeping First Things First

Every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made


“’Every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made …. You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first.’[1]

“The man who makes his ‘first thing’ getting everyone to like him becomes obnoxious because he is too preoccupied with himself to genuinely care about anyone else. The woman who puts her own happiness first ends up chronically dissatisfied with her life. The poor soul whose first priority is staving off another anxiety attack will be constantly on edge. The church that makes being relevant to culture its first mission, either by conscious design or by the slow descent of good intentions gone wrong, will become utterly irrelevant to culture. Why? Because likeability, happiness, peace of mind, and relevance are not first things. They are second things, byproducts, not goals. Make any second thing a first thing and you not only lose the real first thing; you lose the second thing too. Let us call this ‘Lewis’ First Things Principle.’

“If the obnoxious man genuinely cared about the people around him more than his own likeability, he would end up more liked. If the sad woman put loving God and loving people well ahead of her own happiness, she would likely end up exponentially more satisfied with life. If our poor soul exerted zero energy on not being anxious, pouring that energy instead into exercising hard at the gym, getting into and enjoying God’s creation, caring deeply about the people God has put in his life, preaching the gospel to himself often, then his anxiety spikes would be less frequent and less catastrophic. If that irrelevant church made revering God and faithfully preaching His Word its primary mission, then it would become exponentially more relevant than it ever could through pandering to the perceived felt-needs and consumer demands of the culture.”[2]

These paragraphs inspired from CS Lewis’s famous book of essays, God in the Dock, are an important reminder for me right now. Right now my life is over busy, and I need to give attention to my priorities. The momentum is strong to continue in the path I am on, but I don’t think it is sustainable. Some things will inevitably give way to other things. If I am not careful, I fear the second things will crowd out the first things.

It’s already happening. I am not writing much. I believe God prompted me years ago to begin writing. I am not sure exactly why, except that I sensed God in the prompting. These last couple of months I have hardly written at all.

But writing isn’t a first thing either. Even though I believe God prompted me to write, it isn’t a first thing. I believe we all have things that God has prepared for us to do. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Eph. 2:10 (NLT)) But, not even the things God purposed us to do are first things.

Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33 (ESV)) God is the ultimate first thing. Seeking God is the ultimate first thing that should be prioritized above all other things.

I need to be reminded of that today. Maybe you do too.

Only when God is first in our lives will all the other things fall into place. The second things ultimately won’t fulfill us or satisfy us because we were meant for God first. And when God is first, those second things become an extension of the first thing.

When we love God is first, we do everything for God (1 Corinthians 10:23), and God works all things together for our good. (Romans 8:28)

I am feeling a bit off these days, a little out of whack, a little off-balance and unsettled. I think it is because I have gotten busy devoting myself to many things and have neglected the first thing. I started this piece days ago, and since then I have spent more time distracted and diverted. But I am reminded again today of the need to put God first.

I am thankful to God who doesn’t allow us to wander off without reminding us of Himself. I don’t always listen or respond, but He is ever faithful. Without God, I would be utterly lost to my own devices. I write these words with gratitude and hope that I will learn to keep first things first more often in the days to come.

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[1] C.S. LEWIS, First and Second Things, in GOD IN THE DOCK: ESSAYS ON THEOLOGY AND ETHICS 280

[2] THADDEUS J. WILLIAMS, Putting First Things First, JOURNAL OF CHRISTIAN LEGAL THOUGHT, Vol. 8, No. 2 (2018)