Respectfully, I disagree with one of Buddhism’s central tenets. Humanity’s chief problem isn’t that we want too much. It’s that we’re satisfied with too little. C.S. Lewis described our situation in his book The Weight of Glory.
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Today is the fifth Sunday in Lent. Begun as a way for Catholics to remind themselves of the value of repentance, Lent has come to be viewed popularly as a time to break bad habits or win God’s favor. It’s better, though, to conceive of Lent as a season to examine and try to gain some degree of mastery over one’s desires.
Consider for a moment your desires. What are they? What do you want more than anything else? What are you driving yourself to obtain by day and dreaming about at night? That special someone? A promotion at work? An academic degree? A new toy? What? Socrates said, “The unexamined life isn’t worth living,” so take a moment and examine yourself.
Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m good. I’ve got mine. I just want to keep what I have.”
In Philippians 3, the apostle Paul opens up about his own desires. Written for our benefit, his words remind us that no matter how accomplished our past or how devoted our present, we haven’t arrived. We need to press on toward the goal.
Past accomplishments are all well and good. They have their place. Paul certainly had his (vv. 4b-6). He bore the mark of God’s covenant with Abraham. He was born, not merely baptized, into God’s chosen people. He was from the tribe that gave Israel its first king and formerly bore his name: Saul. His relation to the Mosaic Law was unassailable: Pharisaical (when that was a good thing), zealous (as was Phinehas [see, Num. 25:11]), and “blameless.”
Paul didn’t denigrate his pedigree or accomplishments in themselves, and you shouldn’t downplay yours either. Praise God for lives well spent! So, go with God. Guided by His good hand, pursue that special someone, promotion at work, academic degree or whatever.
However, subordinate your accomplishments and desires to Him. Paul did. After having met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was hooked. Nothing he had accomplished in the past, nothing he might sacrifice, could compare to knowing Jesus, living in Him, enjoying His righteousness, walking in His power, fellowshipping with Him in times of suffering, becoming like Him, and eventually joining Him (vv. 7-11). Compared against that prospect, everything else paled.
You can understand that, can’t you? No matter how good your life is right now, don’t you sense there might be something better out there waiting for you? It’s part of the human condition. You see it easily in the sports world. Major League Baseball has played 111 World Series. The New York Yankees have won 27 of them, more than twice as many as the team with the second most wins—the St. Louis Cardinals with 11. Look at the back of Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi. What number does he wear? Currently, it’s 28, a reminder of what his team wants. You’d think 24 percent of all World Series championships would be enough for a while. Obviously, it isn’t. Why not? Because there’s the promise of another season.
So it is for us. We haven’t arrived yet. As much as he already knew of Christ, Paul knew there was more to be attained (vv. 12-14)—not just heaven but a full and final union with God through Christ. Paul wasn’t about to rest on his laurels. There was an eternal crown to be won (2 Tim. 4:8), one that he could lay at Jesus’ feet (Rev. 4:10).
Trophies, as nice as they may be, are only dust collectors, often ending up packed away in boxes. On this fifth Sunday in Lent, determine not to settle for trophies. Press on for the crown.
Greg Hollifield is the assistant academic dean at Lancaster Bible College at Memphis Center for Urban Theological Studies.