Galatians 5:19-26

Not many months ago I read about a poll that was done by radio listeners and disc jockeys concerning the #1 Rock “N” Roll song of all-time. Since the roots of that kind of music stretch back to the time of my own teen-age years I wondered if my idea about the #1 song of that era would correspond or contrast with the views of others of my generation. Knowing that I had a preference for the Rhythm and Blues music of Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and The Temptations, I was not especially interested in the outcome of this poll. However, I had some ideas of my own concerning Rock “N” Roll music that included music by Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. I must confess that I was somewhat surprised when it was revealed that none of my favorite singers in this musical genre came out on top. Instead, the poll revealed that the #1 Rock “N” Roll song of all time was a song by the British band; The Rolling Stones entitled “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”

It occurs to me that the popularity and longevity of that song can be explained by a simple observation; that song speaks to the fundamental dilemma of so many people in our society who are in a constant quest for something that can bring them satisfaction. The song has a refrain that says “And I tried – and I tried – and I tried – and I tried – I can’t get no satisfaction.” You can almost see the history of the last 40 years of American life and culture written through the lens and lyrics of that song.

I have tried sex and orgies, and I can’t get satisfaction. I have tried LSD and cocaine, and I can’t get satisfaction. I have tried alcohol and amphetamines, and I still can’t get satisfaction. Perhaps the reason why the song has remained so appealing to Americans is because the song speaks to an aspiration that reaches deep into our psyche and to a frustration that burns within us so many of our fellow citizens; “I tried, and I tried, and I tried, and I tried – but I can’t get no satisfaction.”

The search for satisfaction can take at least four different faces in our world today, and most of us have gotten stuck trying to find satisfaction in one of these four ways. They are called happiness, pleasure, thrills and highs. These are the things that are spoken of by Paul in Galatians 5:19-21 as the works of the flesh or the acts of the sinful nature.” Paul refers to them by such names as drunkenness, debauchery, discord and dissensions. We can refer to the same impulses of the human spirit by different names, but the motivation and the desired outcome are the same; I am trying to create satisfaction for myself.

Some people are obsessed with the quest for happiness. They want to find that time and place in life where there will always be a smile on their face and no tears in their eyes. They want to live in Disney World all the time, forgetting that Disney World is the greatest of all illusions as life for the executives and employees of the Disney Corporation reveal every day. Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms, “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). In our hearts we know that to be true, but still we behave like the lyrics of the song by The Rolling Stones; I tried – and I tried – and I tried – and I tried, but I can’t get no happiness, because happiness does not and cannot last.

Sometimes, after we discover that happiness does not last, we try something else and that next thing might be thrills. There is an obsession in this country with thrills. It is why we buy cars that can be driven faster than any highway in America would allow us to drive. It is why we jump out or airplanes and free-fall from thousands of feet in the atmosphere. It is why some people want to bungee jump, or go plunging down the steeps and twisting hills of roller coasters. We want that adrenalin rush. We want that sensation of living dangerously. We want what some people call “the rush” that comes when we live close to the edge of death itself. The richest among us buy themselves a seat on the Space Shuttle, not because they care one iota about science or space research; it is the ultimate thrill.

For other people the thrill is linked to gambling of one kind or another. Here in Cleveland the mayor has come out in favor of casino gambling, because she wants the money that Clevelanders in particular and Ohioans in general are freely spending in the neighboring states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia to be spent here at home. How many people have lost their rent or mortgage money as they got caught up in the thrill that the next roll of the dice or the next pull of the lever of the slot machine might bring a big payday. People go into casinos knowing that “the house always wins,” and yet they are willing to risk their paycheck on a game of chance. It is not a rational decision; it is the mark of a society that has embraced the thrill as a way to approach how they will live their lives.

However, just like happiness, people soon discover that thrills cannot satisfy because they cannot be made to last. They come and they go with equal suddenness. The blues singer, B.B. King is world famous primarily for the lyrics of his song that says, “The thrill is gone, the thrill is gone away.”  Of course, what happens to a thrill seeker when the present thrill is gone? Like the song says, they just try something else. There are many in our society whose lives are driven by the pursuit of satisfaction and they try one thing after another in pursuit of that goal.

For some people the quest for satisfaction leads them down the path of “pleasure.” Let’s be clear about this, I am talking about sensual things. I am talking about the fact that pornography in the form of videos, magazine and Internet web sites now grosses more revenue than the money Americans spend on all professional sports combined. I am talking about our national fascination with sex and the fact that some people are preoccupied with the cheap, fleeting, loveless but passion filled encounters that are so much a mark of our present culture. It is why commercials for such products as Viagra, Levitra and Cialis are as popular and as frequent as they are; for some people it is all about pleasure.

Never mind the fact that our country is overrun with teenage pregnancy, unwanted births, a staggering use of abortion as a birth control device and once solid marriages that are destabilized by extra-marital affairs. There is a high price to be paid for our fascination with the pursuit of pleasure, and our society is paying that price right now. This, too, is part of what The Rolling Stones meant when they said, “I tried – and I tried – and I tried – and I tried, and I can’t get no satisfaction.”  We try the pursuit of happiness, thrills and pleasure, but something is always missing.

The last thing that many people may try in their pursuit of satisfaction goes under the heading of getting “high.” Americans are the most chemically dependent people on the face of the earth. We take more prescription drugs than any other nation on earth, though that could simply be a sign of an advanced medical system. Good medicine does not explain why we are also the world’s largest consumers of illegal drugs or the fact that 1 out of every 6 Americans is an alcoholic.

The use of cocaine in rock or powdered form is epidemic in our society. The use of heroin and marijuana (for non-medical purposes) is a symptom of a deep spiritual need that is going unmet. There is a clergy colleague of mine who is still battling a 20-year addiction to heroin and who explains his continued use of that drug by saying “It gives me a little bit of peace for a short period of time.” Here is the truth about all of our pursuits of satisfaction — be it in the form of happiness, thrills, pleasures or highs; at best they can bring a little bit of peace for a short period of time!

The reason this is true is because all of these things that fuel our futile pursuit of satisfaction are things that work from the outside in. All of these things are behaviors or experiences that must be drawn from the world around us and then brought into our lives. As a result, whenever the world around us shifts or changes in even the most negligible way we are made to realize over and over again that satisfaction, that sense of being completely content has once again eluded us. The works of the flesh or the acts of the sinful nature are forever unsatisfying because in order for any of them to work there is something from outside of ourselves that must occur.

Thankfully, that is not the case with the fruits of the spirit as found in Galatians 5:22-23. Satisfaction is found in such things as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. These qualities work from the inside out. These are the spiritual formation issues that take root inside the followers of Jesus Christ that sustain them even when the conditions around them are being turned upside down. This is most noticeable so far as joy is concerned. I would rather have the joy of the Lord than the satisfactions of the world any day of the week. Here are the reasons why.

First, joy comes as a result of the faith and trust that resides within me and not in relation to the material or sensual things going on around me. It is important that we talk about joy vs. happiness and pleasure during the Advent and Christmas seasons, because it is so easy even for us as Christians to get caught up in the shopping and materialistic observance of Christmas. We can so easily forget about the fact that the “glad tidings of great joy” spoken to the shepherds of Bethlehem by the angels of heaven was about the birth of a savior and not about the discounted prices at Wal-Mart or the luxury items available from the most fashionable boutique.

The joy of Christmas is about the love of God that sent a savior into our world to redeem us from the behaviors that constantly pull us away from God all the time. After all, the song does say “Joy to the world, the Lord is Come.” It does not say that Santa has come, or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer has come; the joy of Christmas is centered in the fact that the Lord has come. God is with us. Immanuel. Our joy is anchored in that knowledge. I may not receive any of the material gifts that so many people point to as the center of Christmas, but when I receive the Christ of Christmas I can find the joy that will forever elude those who are searching after satisfaction.

Second, the joy of the Lord is available to us even though none of us is deserving of God’s love. The gifts that God offers; love, joy, peace and the others are not reserved for those who have proven themselves deserving of God’s attention. They are the freely given and freely received signs of God’s amazing grace.

Last December, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said something that may not make much sense in the context in which he was speaking, but it actually made great sense from the perspective of Christian theology. A National Guardsman from Tennessee asked him why soldiers in Iraq had to dig through landfills to find the armor and bullet proof glass they needed in order to drive their military vehicles into dangerous combat zones? The question was not raised by someone who was trying to get out of military service. The question was asked by someone who was about to be deployed into a combat area and wanted the maximum amount of protection that the U.S. Army could and should provide. In explaining why the armor and bulletproof glass was not readily available Rumsfeld said, “You go to war with the army that you have, not with the army that you would like to have.”

From a military standpoint, the answer by Rumsfeld was less than satisfying. However, from a theological point of view that same language makes a great deal more sense. God does not wait until we become the people that He would like for us to be before He acts on our behalf. God loves us and Christ died for us while we were the sinful and rebellious people that we are. There is no need to get right with God before we can enjoy the fruits of the spirit. The wonder and miracle of Christmas is that it is done on behalf of people who are deeply entrenched in the works of the flesh or the actions of the sinful nature. That is the knowledge that brings me a joy unspeakable.

There is one more thing about the joy of the Lord that cannot be said about happiness, pleasure, thrills or highs; you can take it with you when you die. One of the things about which we are constantly reminded is that no matter how much of this world’s wealth and resources we may be able to accumulate, we cannot take any of it with us when we die. Those material things and all of our social rank and influence may be of great benefit to us for as long as we are alive, but immediately upon our death they pass on to someone else and do us no further good. Jesus spoke about that in Luke 12:20 when he said to a certain man, “This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” That is the way it always is when we seek satisfaction through the things of this world; you can’t take it with you.

How different is that when it comes to our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I am immediately reminded of the song that says, “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.” Our joy in the Lord only increases as the years goes by. And, more importantly, it carries over beyond death and the grave. How much greater will our joy when we see Jesus face to face? How much greater will our joy be when we stand in the presence of the Living God? How much greater will our joy be when we set foot on the streets of the New Jerusalem? Whatever our joy may be today, it is not to be compared with the joy that will sweep over us when we stand in the midst of those who are gathered around the throne of God to sing out our praises to the Lamb whose blood has made us clean. I can almost hear the chorus now:

Blessing, honor, glory and praise be unto Him who sits upon the throne (Revelation 5:13).

I have some advice for those who are still saying, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” They need to look somewhere else for the contentment they are searching for. They should consider the question of Isaiah 55:2 which says, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?…Seek ye the Lord while he may be found (Isaiah 55:6). This is the gift of the Advent season; it is a season when we are reminded that the best things in life work from the inside out, not from the outside in. Life is not about happiness, pleasure, thrills or highs. Real satisfaction in life comes from the themes of Advent which are also listed among the fruits of the spirit; hope, love, joy and peace.

There is a song I learned how to sing in the devotional services of our church that says:

“This joy I have the world didn’t give to me,

The world didn’t give it and the world can’t take it away”

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Marvin McMickle is Senior Pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, OH.

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