If we’re completely honest, our motivations for following Christ and being obedient to His way can’t all be selfless in nature. Our first motives for obedience, which are the awe for God’s holiness and the thankfulness for what He’s done, should each be powerful motivators for never-ending obedience, but they don’t keep us from veering off God’s path as effectively as they should. Even the not-so-selfless motive of fear for what might happen if we don’t obey doesn’t work all that well because we’re wired to overcome fear and take risks. We’re wired to want happiness for ourselves over anything else.
It’s strange to think about, but this characteristic is partly to blame for our sinful nature. After all, it was the desire to become better through our own efforts that led to the first bite of that forbidden fruit in Genesis 3. In the time since, the world has convinced us that our own ways deliver happiness better than God’s ways. His ways are often seen as dull, frustrating, and old-fashioned. And so we find ourselves disregarding God’s way and following our own, despite our knowledge that God is holy and has done more for us than we could ever do for ourselves.
I’m not saying this is the way it was originally intended to be, but for most of us, there has to be an element of personal favor tied into faith and worship in addition to that sense of awe, thankfulness and fear for who God is. We want faith and worship to bring us happiness. There are, of course, times of pain and mourning when we are comforted by God’s enormity and power. There are times in worship when I want to curl up into a little ball in the corner of the room because I receive just a small sense of how powerful and incredibly holy God is. But if we’re really honest, there is also that selfishness built in there that worships and believes because we want to be well-cared for. We want to be and feel loved… we want to be happy.
Wanting God to bless us as a reward for following His way is not what I’m getting at. That’s essentially the prosperity gospel, which looks at obedience as a cause and effect scenario: because we obey, God gives us a treat. But what if God’s blessings are delivered not because of our obedience, but through our obedience? What if an obedient life is the path He asks us to follow simply because He designed that path to lead directly to the blessings He knows we’re searching for, and wants to give us? What if the way He asks us to live is truly the best way to live that brings the most happiness and joy… for us and for Him?
I keep hearing about how awesome heaven is. It’s apparently a place of paradise where there is no more mourning, crying, pain, or death. That sounds amazing, and I would venture to guess that we all hope to be there eventually. But have we forgotten the main characteristic of heaven? It’s where things are God’s way all the time. Earth is where we tend to do things our way; heaven is where God has everything done the way He intended all along. Different sides of the field might be greener than others here on Earth, but the grass is greenest in heaven. It’s a shade of pure green that none of us have seen because our grass, no matter how hard we try to pump in the fertilizer, will still eventually lead to mourning, crying, pain, and death. And yet, we buy more fertilizer and keep doing things our own way, convinced that we can cure our own brown spots and force our lives to be as green as they can be.
When the enormity of God fails to convince us and strike the necessary fear within us to be obedient, our fallback motive should be to remind ourselves that God’s way is actually the best way to live. His rules make things right and good. His way leads to levels of security, love, and joy within our souls that allow for unending, ecstatic worship.
This fallback motive of seeking happiness applies most directly to relationships. If God’s way is really the best way, then all of a sudden, having faith in God also means having faith that loving others leads to a better, happier life… for them, ourselves, and for God. Faith in God then also means faith in the beneficial, restorative power of forgiveness. It means having trust that lifting someone up and speaking positively about them will actually lead to more fulfillment than putting them down or dwelling on their faults.
If God’s way is the best way, then His timing is better than our own. This means trusting that a God-centered romantic relationship that is characterized by patience, purity, and selflessness isn’t the cruel hazing ritual our world and immediate-gratification-culture mark it up to be. “Waiting for marriage” is not a test to see how miserable we can let ourselves become, but rather the description for the way a healthy relationship was designed to be built. Romance was given to us with a few (admittedly difficult) parameters, not as a test to see if we would obey, but rather because God genuinely wants us to be, and STAY happy. It’s just as much for our benefit as it is for His… truly a win-win.
The way of the world argues that to find happiness within a relationship, we should create and then ignore a path of broken hearts, baggage, and insecurity by selfishly experimenting with other people until we find the person who will make us happy. The world argues that it’s only reasonable to have sex and to live together before marriage because we have to see if we’re truly compatible before we make it official. We insist on putting the roof on our houses before the foundation is even laid, forgetting that the foundation is what keeps the house from crumbling. Yes, we can theoretically build a foundation after the roof is finished, but things won’t operate or match up as well as they were intended. It’s the foundation of a house, not the roof, that is the starting point to ensure the walls, pipes and wires end up where they’re meant to function at their best.
Despite the research that proves how living together before marriage actually leads to unhappier lives together, those who are fully-deceived will still argue that it’s stupid not to live together first and take part in all the physical benefits of marriage. A more honest but equally-foolish answer will admit that living together and having sex outside of marriage is really just a matter of not wanting to wait for what we want in the moment. Somehow our society has come to view patience and self-control as threats that somehow hold relationships back from their full potential rather than virtues that help them become more loving and secure (and with far less baggage). Never mind the unbiased research that says the exact opposite is true.
I’ll admit I used to own plenty of stock in the world’s way of thinking… even while calling myself a Christian. But the truth is it’s that way which has led to what can safely be assumed as the highest divorce rate in human history. While couples who are actively practicing their faith are far less likely to have unhappy marriages and/or go the route of divorce, our culture looks at those couples almost in pity as if they’re the ones doing it all wrong… as if they’re missing out on some enormous advantage.
What if God’s way wasn’t a fence built to keep us out of the best parts of life, but rather to keep us in the best parts of life? Truly believing this to be true could be the extra motivation we need to live closer to the happiness, joy, and obedience God intended for us all along.
References: Genesis 3; Luke 23:43; Revelation 21:4; Revelation 22:5; How Stuff Works; Christianity Today