Jess’ heart was never so full. The sand at first was soft and powdery around her feet. Her steps were full of faith, taking her ever closer to the ocean. The soft warm sand changed, turning hard and cold underneath her. Eyes still closed, she knew what about to come. Whoosh. Foamy water swept around her ankles. She listened to the surf fizzle and pop.
Determined and faithful, her eyes opened. The sun was rising before her. Bright red. Warmth growing with each second.
Today her dream comes true. “God is all you need.” Again and again she said it to herself. “God is all I need. Just have faith.” So much of life before had disappointed her. Now, nothing could hurt her. Nothing could touch her. She was decreasing more and more each day. She would soon be gone.
The phone felt heavy in her hand, almost as if the people of her life were actually in it. Her clingy, condescending mother, her distant father, her ex boyfriends, her backstabbing friends, her spiteful siblings, all were in it.
Before she lost her nerve, she tossed her phone out into the surf. Immediately, the weight in her hand, and in her heart, was gone.
Gone. Now it was just her and God. No one else. She was invincible.
Only she wasn’t. Within a month she was pushed to the edge of her faith. Not only did she not feel full, she had never felt so empty. She had cut everyone off. She had focused her heart on nothing but God. In the morning, she would rise, picture God’s face, and just meditate. A nearby street window reflected poorly, but well enough for her to see her face, now gaunt, dirty, and unkempt. Somewhere in her own eyes, she realized that something was wrong.
This story is intentionally extreme. Most of us are not going to do this. We don’t leave everyone behind. We don’t go all out. However, the sentiment robs us of so much. We have heard it a million times that God is all we need. So, we do our best to cut out, or at least minimize others, minimize our desires. In the midst of our devotion, our heart gets lost. It gets lost because, deep down, we all know this wrong. God is not all we need, bit because He is insufficient, but because He made us to need others, other things. All of those other needs should push us toward God. Your affection for others shouldn’t be waning but growing! Read the word! It is there a thousand times plus. God wants us to love Him above all else. He alone saves us from hell. Yet, how do we love him? What are his commands? Are they not love? Are they not about your affections for your fellow man?
Well, yes, Nick, but love is a decision, not an emotion.
That is a lie. That sentiment is counter to what the Bible says. That is a lie that Christians have made up because we can’t understand how God could actually expect us to love our neighbor when they allow their dog to poop on our lawn, to love our enemy as they smear our honor, our name among men. We can’t believe it, so we have tried to redefine love as something more controllable, more manageable. Let’s just take out the affection part, and make it about action. Then, I don’t have to have affection for my neighbor. I can just do nice things for them, share the gospel if I feel up to it. I know I can’t hate them, but this way I don’t have to have affection either. This makes loving God easier too. I don’t have to have affection for Him, to burn for Him. All I have to do is follow the rules.
Problem, the author of Hebrews tells is in chapter ten that God did not desire burnt offerings. It is the heart He is after. Read the whole word, and this becomes so apparent. We try to make it a system instead of a relationship. He wants your obedience, but only as an extension of your affection for Him. Without that, you’ve got jack.
What you see in Jess’ action is not in line with the Bible. God, at every turn, sets desire before us. He tells us He will change our hearts so that our desires might not be the same, but He never says, “Love only me, nobody else, nothing else. Go hide away in the mountains and just be with me.” Nope. He tells us to GO! GO GO GO! We are to put our hearts out there. It is gonna hurt, and that is right and good too. Hurt can only exist where there is love. If you don’t love something, then you don’t care if it is gone, or is suffering, or whatever. You don’t care.
Jess’ actions are in line, however, with Zen Buddhism. What she is reaching for isn’t heaven, as is described in the Bible as paradise (think about that!) Where our hearts are made full. She is reaching for Nirvana. Now, we often use the word Nirvana similarly with the word heaven, but they are not synonyms. They are antonyms, complete opposite. Nirvana is the highest beatitude of Zen Buddhism. It is a state of being where you cease to exist. You no longer have hurt, because you no longer have love. You no longer have desire. It is the extinguishing of one’s self. Nirvana literally means to “extinguish”.
Like I said, none of us do this full out, but I hear it every day from my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I bet you have too, that this idea lingers in us. We as Christians are choked with guilt about feeling like we need something other than God, even though He is the one that made us that way. We really only feel it when it comes to desires. We think perhaps they are not a need. And if survival alone is the game, then you are right. Only, God is about just your survival, is He? Is He not about you delighting in Him, and by extension His creation? God wants be first. Once He is first, your affection need not be withheld. Your desires need to be quashed. Submitted with thanksgiving? Yes. Held with an open hand? Yes. Quashed? No.
Today can be the start of something new. We need not feel guilty another moment for having desires. God made you to desire. It is His pleasure that He be your greatest. It is His pleasure that you should delight in the work of His hands, especially your fellow man, as long as they don’t take His place as first and foremost.
The power of the gospel is that we can desire all we want, and in light of the great forgiveness, the unsurpassed grace of God, we can be thankful in the face of not having them all realized, for whatever is given is so vastly superior and wonderful than what we really deserve, it is well. We don’t have to not want that spouse, that new job, or whatever it is, because the gospel changes our perspective from one of entitlement to one of absolute thanksgiving. All becomes a blessing. Even the hard times are a blessing. How liberating is that? Is that not light? When we see that we are owed nothing, yet given so much, how can we be anything but grateful? Anything but joyful? We deserved hell, and instead are getting heaven. Hallelujah!