Last week I read a puzzling passage in Hebrews. So baffling it even felt (if I can write this without being struck dead by a bold of lighting), it felt bizarre: “See to it that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal” (Heb. 12:16). I thought:
How in the world can God equate the deep betrayal of lecherous cheat with the puny sin of a hungry Esau?
Then I remembered an article from a well-known writer. A couple years ago he urged his followers to sign up for his goal-setting course called 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever. Let me quote his goals for that year:
- Publish a bestselling book and sell at least 50,000 copies in the first year.
- Get a six-figure advance for my next book contract by the end of the year.
- Make a million dollars in revenue from my business.
If these were the goals of a secular author, I’d merely pity his shalloweness. But this man is a Christian writer. Though I suppose I still feel sorry for him. He’s a young man, unsure of how to handle success. He’s hungry for something—money or fame or inner-salvation—but I pity him the way I pity Esau. He’s selling his soul for a bowl full of gruel.
And God equates that trade with family-betraying adultery.
Are We Tilling Gardens or Digging Graves?
I love to brainstorm my goals; to examine my life and then concentrate where I sense God’s call; to shed distractions and nurture God-inspired pursuits. But whenever I invest my heart on the results instead of the call, I am preparing the bed of spiritual adultery.
It’s obvious when our goals are worldly: to write a “bestseller” or become a millionaire by the age of twenty-five. But what about the seemingly innocent goals of growing our church to five hundred people or helping our thirteen-year-old cellist become the next Yo-Yo Ma?
The nature of God’s call is always comradeship with him, not to measurable fruit. God calls Ezekiel to a full-time career in communication with these cheery words:
The house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me … Go to your people, and speak to them saying, “Thus says the Lord God,” … whether they listen to you or refuse. (Ez. 3:7 and 11)
Ezekiel was invited into relationship with the Creator, to listen to Him first and then to speak. God never promised a million converts, or a thousand, or even ten. He just called Ezekiel to listen and speak. Not knowing the outcome.
Are we devoted to a cause or devoted to God Himself? Whenever we try to force the results (and we DO try to control things, don’t we?), whenever we try to force the results, we are more devoted to our cause than to our King.
God calls us to till the soil and spread the seed, and then to leave the growth to him.
Our Blindness Is for His Glory (and Our Safety)
God’s great love for us may be most manifest when He blinds us from seeing the great fruit of our lives. Our human hearts simply cannot handle such glory and remain pure. My blogger friend from above claimed that he accomplished all three of his annual goals. But they didn’t satisfy.
So afterward he said that he finally found happiness in “my belief in myself.”
Yikes! Where is God in “his belief in himself”? My Christian blogger friend was looking for an inner salvation without the Savior, for blessings apart from the Blessor, he wanted the kingdom without the King.
This is not the way of God. Any inner-salvation apart from God is selling our eternal souls for a fleeting cocaine high.
God invites us into such a deep knowledge of Him—a delightful, intimate, connection with Personal Love Incarnate—that our greatest triumphs on earth will pale in the inexplicable joy of knowing Him.
Unending happiness is found solely (and soul-y) in knowing Him, never a belief in ourselves.
Ezekiel never got a million shekels from his ministry; he didn’t get a six-figure advance for his next scroll; he didn’t make the bestseller’s list; and he didn’t sell 50,000 copies in the first year after publishing (or even in his lifetime).
But 2600 years later, we are still reading, studying, and quoting from that ignored and unheeded prophet Ezekiel. It is precisely the miracle of God’s beautiful grace that Ezekiel never knew how famous he would eventually become.
He never sold his soul for any sort of “salvation” (or happiness or esteem) apart from God.