Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes. -Psalm 112:6-8
For the past decade, I’ve noticed a troubling cultural trend that seems to only heighten each year. It is something I have seen in myself, struggled with as a pastor, and now deal with in leading a mission organization. It is also something in conversations with others, both within the Christian world and non-Christian world, that seems to be a problem in every sector.
The issue revolves around how our society specifically, but also in general in regard to human nature; seems to be in an ever restless state, seeking a “perfect work environment”, a church that fulfills our expectations, a spouse that perfectly meets our desires, children who perfectly behave, a home that is the “perfect space” or in the perfect neighborhood, a school that is tailored perfectly for our child, a magic diet that will change our lives, or formula that will work flawless to make us successful…etc, etc.
The tricky part about this is that there is a sense we should seek to make the world a better place and improve in all areas of our lives. However, when we begin seeking the perfect place or environment in order to have peace in our hearts, or stay faithful despite rocky times or when storms of life inevitably come, we are never going to find what our hearts are looking for. We are never going to be content.
When we begin to seek externally that which will always make us feel comfortable, safe, secure and stable, we will end up disillusioned and seeking the next best thing that catches our eye, rather than staying committed, faithful and focused on God’s will for our lives and being where he wants us to be whether it’s easy or not (normally his will is never “calm” externally, but full of challenges that test us, in order to build his character and perseverance within us).
There is such a high and quick turn-over rate in the work-place, in churches, in marriages, in nearly every arena of life, that it is staggering. I recently had separate conversations with a pastor, a successful non-Christian business man and his wife, and a founder of a non-profit organization, and each were puzzled by, and not quite sure how to deal with, the reality of the seeming fickleness of people within their worlds. I too have been at a loss as to how to truly build a team culture that endures together, whether in the church, non-profit or business world, when people expect the best, feel entitled to the best, and bail at the first hint of turbulence or trial.
The truly challenging part is this seems to be the reality even among those viewed as the most “faithful” or “stable.” It also seems that those who actually are the most faithful, teeter on the edge of walking away too when times get tough or when they constantly feel under attack or pressure. They are tempted by wanting to believe the lie that there is somewhere else to go that will be easier, more comfortable and more “perfect.” I find myself falling into this trap.
In one sense, as I shared with a pastor who was unloading some of his burdens with me, this reality is seen in Scripture, from even the Israelites, God’s very people, whom he rescued out of Egypt with some of the most dramatic miracles imaginable; to Jesus’ own disciples who walked with him and witnessed all His miracles for three and a half years. Specifically, the Israelites were quick to rebel in the wilderness when conditions were not ideal; despite God’s awesome act of redeeming them from slavery. And Jesus’ disciples, even his most faithful, likewise fled and forsook him in fear when he was arrested in the Garden, despite having just pronounced they would never do such a thing, when things turned chaotic.
So what do we do when we find ourselves on either side of this equation? What do we do when we are disappointed by others and what do we do when we find ourselves disappointed by circumstances that are not as perfect as we imagined? Do we keep going from place to place, fad to fad, relationship to relationship until we find that which is “perfect?”
I believe the answer lies in what my pastor preached this past week. It is contained in the passage this blog post began with. Here would be a few other verses that speak to the same answer:
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. (Isaiah 26:3).
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7).
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:29-31).
When we are seeking favorable circumstances our hearts will fail us the minute the winds change and storms come. But when we keep our focus on Jesus and maintain our trust in him, our hearts will be protected by a supernatural peace that passes understanding. It’s a internal peace that doesn’t make logical sense when viewed in light of external circumstances.
When we are seeking ideal environments, we will end up disappointed and disillusioned. But when we stay focused on the faithfulness of God, we will not falter in times of trouble and trial.
In other words, we need to stop seeking that which is “perfect” and keep our focus on the only One who is perfect! Only in Him can we find true rest, peace in the midst of storms, and fulfillment despite situations that are not ideal, challenging or even uncomfortable.
Ironically, this advice applies no matter which “side” of this reality you are on. If you are the one frustrated by the shallowness or fickleness of people, you can find peace by turning your focus to the faithfulness of God. And if you are the one whose heart is restless and constantly disappointed by the lack of finding the “ideal”, you can find rest in the reality of the One who alone is perfectly faithful.
Here’s the deal. This fickleness and constant seeking for the “perfect” is robbing us of God’s ultimate purpose for our lives. That purpose is not our “comfort” but our being conformed to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:28-29). That process is spoken of in Scripture as God “disciplining” or “training” his children (Hebrews 12) for a greater reward than anything earthly and temporary.
Becoming like Jesus is not an easy or comfortable process; but it is required of a true disciple of his. He calls us to “deny ourselves” “pick up our cross” and “follow him.” (Luke 9:23). Jesus certainly did not take the “easy, more comfortable road.” His was a way marked by constant turmoil, conflict, suffering, ridicule, misunderstanding, even death.
What we truly need is not perfect circumstances that pass our test. We are in need of men and women of character who are becoming more like Christ by keeping their focus on Christ, no matter how fierce the winds may howl and the storms may rage. God in fact is looking for those who will faithfully pass his testing of their lives so that we might become all that he calls us to be. Instead of looking outward, look upward, and allow him to transform you inward…no matter your circumstances.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. -James 1:2-4