Imagine this scenario with me: You're enjoying a quiet evening at home, when the phone rings. It's your dad, and he says he has a gift for you: a luxury vacation at a chalet in the Alps. Flights are booked for tomorrow, and all you have to do is say you'll go. You've always dreamed of actually seeing the Alps in person, so of course you say, "Yes!" Excitedly, you quickly throw a few things into a suitcase, including your favorite Alps travel brochures and picture books.
The flight is long, and by the time you reach Switzerland the sun has set. It's well past midnight before you finally trudge up to the chalet door, let yourself in, and collapse in exhaustion. Noon has come and gone before you stir from sleep, unawakened by the cheery sunshine because heavy shades are pulled over all the windows. Ah, that's the great thing about vacations: being able to sleep in. You stretch and yawn, then get up to find something to eat before settling down in the rustic sitting room with your Alps picture books from home. The pages are dog-eared and the photos are faded from many hours of day-dreaming and wishing. It's rather hard to see the mountain scenes clearly by the light of the small table lamp...but that's okay because you've practically memorized what they look like. Aren't the Alps breathtaking? Such unbelievable beauty and gorgeous views...
Hold on a minute. What's wrong with this picture?
My reaction is to say, "Hey, what are you thinking?!? Set down your old photos and go enjoy the real thing! It's right outside your windows, if you'd just look!"
But then I have to stop myself short and realize that I've essentially done the same thing as this hypothetical confused tourist. How many times have I been reluctant to give up cherished dreams, hopes, plans—what I see as "ideal" for my future—and have tried to find in them the satisfaction of my God-given longings for beauty and fulfillment? I cling to them with fearful fingers, lacking faith that anything else of more beauty can exist in the world.
Oh, how limited our vision is! If only we would lay aside the faded pictures, get up in faith, pull back the curtains, fling open the windows, and bask in the warm sunshine while delighting in the supreme beauty of the natural beauty of the mountains—the real wealth of God's love, joy, peace, grace, mercy!! His reality far, far immeasurably surpasses the artificial substitutes Satan wants us to be satisfied with. As C.S. Lewis says, "We are far too easily pleased."
If we haven't ever seen or experienced the real, it's easy to deny that it even exists. It takes faith to, as George MacDonald puts it, "Let [our] rag-rights go." Like the little girl who didn't want to give up her fake pearl necklace to her father, not knowing that all along he had a genuine pearl necklace to give her, far more beautiful and valuable and satisfying—it's in the process of surrender (giving up that which may be the most precious and cherished thing we have) that our hands are opened and we are then able to receive God's real: that which is truly "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think..." (Eph. 3:20-21).
Anything, no matter how innocent or "good," which takes our focus from God and keeps us from seeking after Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength is an idol. Jesus is gently, yet persistently asking, "Lovest thou Me more than these?" 1 Like Paul, we must learn to "count all things but loss" in our quest for Christ.2 As God asked Abraham, He calls us to lay on the altar anything which may have come before Him in our lives.3 The sacrifice is often a painful struggle (the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!), but the rewards are beyond imagination. This is one of the great paradoxes of Scripture—it is when we lose our life that we truly find it!
This is certainly an area in which I have much to learn myself. Just hours after I originally wrote down the rough draft of this editorial, God sent another testing my way to see if I really meant what I'm sharing here. ::wry smile:: No, it's not easy to win the battle, but with Jesus on our side we can know we're gonna make it!
I pray along with George MacDonald, "Lord, let me live in Thy realities, nor substitute my notions for Thy facts..." Another of George MacDonald's poems is one I pray often:
Lord, I have fallen again—a human clod!
I've caught a glimpse of His matchless glory and beauty and I don't ever want to go back to the dim frustrations of substitutes. Jesus is all I need, now and forever! Praise the Lord!
Selfish I was, and heedless to offend;
Stood on my rights. Thy own child would not send
Away his shreds of nothing for the whole God!
Wretched, to Thee who savest, now I bend;
Give me the power to let my rag-rights go
Into the great wind that from Thy gulf doth blow.
But whatever former things I had that might have been gain to me, I have come to consider as [one combined] loss for Christ's sake.
Is Jesus your all in all today? Are you seeking Him first and only, with "nothing between your soul and the Savior"?
Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more and more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly].
For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One), and that I may [actually] be found and known as in Him...
[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers]...
~Philippians 3:7-10, Amplified
A fellow pilgrim,