As we go through our Christian lives we expect a certain degree of failure. One of the first and most fundamental things we come to understand when we become Christians is that we are flawed, imperfect, sinful creatures. We lose our tempers, we have impure thoughts, we say things that aren’t true. Despite our best efforts to live holy lives, we instead fall short daily of the task. Like I said, we’ve come to expect this of ourselves. We understand that we are saved by grace and grace alone. And by His grace we are being sanctified and we are being made holy, but we are not yet holy. We see that. We understand that. We expect that.
But we also have certain expectations when it comes to success as well. I don’t mean to say that we expect to become successful in the world. We know the world hates us, and we know why; because it hated Christ. This world loves sin and has set itself as an enemy of God and His people. But what I do mean is that as we look to live our lives in a more biblical way, and we seek to be more Christ-like; we expect that, as we go, there will be fewer obstacles and fewer pitfalls. I guess when I use the word successful here I mean it to be more at peace. Paul tells Timothy to pray for all men so that, “we may lead tranquil and quiet [lives] in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2).
I certainly desire that. I wish to live a more godly and dignified life. And I just sort of expected that if I lived a more godly life that it would just naturally become a more dignified one. That’s mistake number one. I also thought that living godly was a life that was lived biblically. Writing that now, I have no idea what that even means. I know what I thought it meant. It meant that you learn the theology, you memorize the verses and you do your best to live within the confines of their teachings. That was mistake number two, and it was a big one.
I don’t mean to discourage anyone from doing those things. The first bible verse that I ever learned was Joshua 1:8. “This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall do according to all that is written in it, for then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8 NKJV). Those are words that I still love and hold fast to. But they get awfully confusing when you do all those things and still fail miserably.
About a year ago I was going through a rough season in my life. I had lost a number of people close to me and I was struggling quite a bit financially. It was a really tough, stressful time for me, but I was getting through it. I was still keeping things in perspective, still putting my faith in Christ. I felt confident in where I was spiritually regardless of what my circumstances were. But then I had a falling out with someone at my church. This was someone that I considered a close friend and that’s not something that I have a lot of. I didn’t see it coming and I never fully understood why it happened, but I know one thing for sure, that it happened despite my best efforts to live a good, biblical, godly life… in spite of, actually.
For the longest time I was upset, angry, hurt, depressed. Those are all feelings I’ve experienced before, but it was the confusion that got me the most. If you put your hand in the fire and get burned it’s one thing. You learn your lesson, get more cautious around fire, you learn to avoid the traps. But people that eat and live healthy for their entire lives all the sudden find out that they have stage four cancer can waste all of their final moments trying to figure out where they went wrong. That’s the worst. To not know what to correct. To not see the fire in front of you so that you can avoid it in the future, and even warn others. And I simply couldn’t see it.
Then I was reading this passage in the book of Exodus, shortly after the Law is delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai and the Israelites offend God by making and worshiping the golden calf:
Exodus 33:1-5: 12-17
1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’
2 “I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.
3 “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, and I might destroy you on the way.”
4 When the people heard this sad word, they went into mourning, and none of them put on his ornaments.
5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the sons of Israel, ‘You are an obstinate people; should I go up in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you. Now therefore, put off your ornaments from you, that I may know what I shall do with you.'”
13 “Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people.”
14 And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.”
15 Then he said to Him, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.
16 “For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?”
17 The LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.”
It never really occurred to me before that here we’re told that Moses is being given very clear instructions, and he’s disobeying them. God says “Depart”, He’s giving him a command… “Go up”; He’s telling him exactly what to do… “You and the people”, He’s telling him exactly who He wants to go… “To the land of which I swore to Abraham”, He’s telling him exactly where to go… “To your descendants I will give it”, He’s confirming that He’s still going to keep His promises to the people of Israel… “I will send an angel before you and I will drive out”, He’s telling Moses exactly how He’s going to do it… “To a land flowing with milk and honey”, He’s even confirming that He will bless the land… But there’s one thing that He will not do, “For I will NOT go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people.
And with all this,.. with being commanded to go to the promised land, and being given all the necessary instructions and confirmations he could hope for, Moses hears that God will not go up with them and he refuses to go. He tells God, “If Your presence does not go with us, DO NOT LEAD US UP FROM HERE.” Don’t allow us to carry out Your commands. Don’t offer us blessings, don’t assure us of Your promise, because if You are not with us then it’s all meaningless. Moses understood the importance, no, the necessity of God’s presence with His people.
God’s presence is truly the only thing that matters in anything!
And that’s what I wasn’t seeing. Yes, I was trying to live in a godly way,.. yes I was seeking good and biblical things in my life,.. yes, I was desiring to live holy,.. but I wasn’t seeking the Holy One. I forgot those important words of Christ when He said, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33). I was seeing the good things of the bible, the promises, the godly living, the blessings as the ends themselves. If I was really paying attention, I would have seen that any pursuit that isn’t first a pursuit of God and HIS righteousness is a sinful, pathetic endeavor. It’s a path of darkness paved with gold-plated bricks. One of the many that leads to destruction. It was on that path where I lost my friend, where I was so confident in my faith before.
Good things, even the best things, and especially the godly things are sinful when we seek them without seeking to glorify God. They can even do more to harm us than they could ever benefit us. I heard a powerful quote from Spurgeon who said, “that God needs to simply give you what you ask, for you to see the emptiness of it.” That’s such a powerful thing to hear. To be reminded that God’s will isn’t just good, and it isn’t just good for me, but God’s will is purposeful and meaningful. There’s a richness and a depth to it that I can’t even fathom. And looking at everything that I’ve ever asked God for; even some wonderfully godly things, were just shallow. To see them juxtaposed against those things that God has done for His people through history just makes them look pathetic, and they are. And it’s time that I started looking to seek His kingdom, and His presence ahead of all of it.
I hope that if you’re reading this that you are starting to consider what it is that you’re really living for. If it’s success, if it’s politics, if it’s your family or your spouse or your children, even if it’s for religion… If you’re not seeking God through the scriptures and through extended times of prayer, then you are seeking these other things without His presence, and it’s a pathetic, sinful waste of your life. Live for God. Seek Him. Seek the Kingdom. Don’t just live life and report to God. Live it with Him. There’s no value in anything else.