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“I can’t help but wonder how much we are waiting for something to make us feel satisfied in God instead of acting to be satisfied in God.”
I think it’s fair to say that I have a sweet-tooth. My fellow pastors gained this little nugget of insight into my person during our recent Elder Retreat. All of them were filled with amazement/envy as they watched me put away ice cream, brownies, candies, and other sugar-filled treats (except maybe for Pastor Jim). On most days, there’s little chance that I would pass up on enjoying something delicious, and a weekend retreat with my pastors provides plenty of opportunities.
The problems with having a sweet-tooth are legion. It’s not good for me to indulge frequently, which is why I try to limit my intake of sweets during the normal routine of life. I don’t do a very good job, or at least, I don’t do nearly as good of a job as I would like to think. This fact becomes all too clear anytime I set out to eat better and lose a few pounds. Like most people who go on a diet, I quickly discover that all of the healthy food is so…bland. An apple is ok, but a Rice Krispy Treat (or 5) would really hit the spot! Clearly, I keep up a steady stream of sugar in my regular diet, otherwise my taste buds wouldn’t mind the healthy stuff. I find it’s hard to be satisfied with the foods that are good for you when all you can think about is pie. With ice cream.
But just like many people who have gone on a diet can testify to this struggle, they can also testify to the fact that tastes and cravings can actually be changed. Keep up a diet full of nutritious foods and avoiding the sugary, processed stuff, and your body will begin to crave and be satisfied by foods that are actually good for you (if you get the chance, ask Pastor Reggie about the BEST. LEMON. EVER.)
I began thinking about this dietary phenomenon recently when I came across Psalm 81. This psalm called Israel to listen to God by recounting His wondrous deeds for them during the exodus. It’s a common convention in the Old Testament, which frequently calls for greater faithfulness, trust, assurance, or reverence for God by pointing back to the Passover and exodus account. What struck me about Psalm 81 was the hinge point in verse 10:
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”
Two things about this verse caught my attention. First, God clearly offers to abundantly satisfy His people Himself. The focus of this verse is God. God is the One who acts. God is the One who saves. God is the One who fills. He’s front and center in the psalmist’s description. And what He does is offer to meet all of His people’s desires. Not some of them. Not in part. He’s not passing out appetizers or offering sips of satisfaction. “Open your mouth wide,” He says. In other words, come hungry and get ready, because “I will fill it.” No matter how wide or deep, God’s offer is to fill our mouths to overflowing.
Second, God’s people have the obligation to actively seek for God to satisfy them. For most Christians, the idea that we are supposed to find our satisfaction in God is probably not a new or revolutionary idea. I fear, however, that many of us are too passive in finding this satisfaction. I don’t mean that we are totally inactive. We do all of the things that we know we are supposed to do to grow in our relationship to God. We read our Bibles. We pray. We gather for corporate worship. We give our tithes. We serve in various ministries. But I still can’t help but wonder how much we are waiting for something to make us feel satisfied in God instead of acting to be satisfied in God.
Maybe a couple of examples will help to clarify what I mean. What do you turn to when you need soothing? At the end of a long day, or when you’re irritated with a friend, or frustrated at work, what do you do to ease the tension? On my better days, I’ll probably pray about what’s bothering me, and maybe find some Scripture to meditate on. But as soon as I get that out of the way, it’s a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and some binge-watching of my favorite show. That’s what I’m really looking forward to. Can I honestly say that my mouth is open wide for God to fill it, or is it just to receive the next spoonful of Chunky Monkey?
Or, what about our stuff? I’d like to imagine that my deepest longings are daily met in God, but it might be too easy to say that when all of my material needs are met. Heck, most of my material wants are usually met as well. What exactly is it that I’m looking to for satisfaction each and every day? When was the last time I was in a situation where God had no competitors for meeting my satisfaction? Or better yet, when was the last time I actually put myself in a position for God to be that satisfaction?
I’m not saying that we need to make ourselves poor or give up all of our creature comforts. At least, not necessarily. Our current sermon series from Ecclesiastes reminds us that all of these things are good gifts from God that we should enjoy. But it also reminds us of the danger of clinging to these things for purpose, meaning, and satisfaction. We may need to consider how we can posture ourselves in such a way so that we are actively looking for God to satisfy us Himself. What kinds of sacrifices of time, or resources, or situations, or relationships, might be necessary so that we would find ourselves not only with our mouths open wide, but with them turned towards God for their filling? This is the active part of Psalm 81:10, purposefully putting ourselves in positions where we are looking for God to come through on this offer. Otherwise, it’s like we’re coming to God’s dinner table with a bag of McDonald’s at our side.
Nor am I saying that we need to do more or work harder. At least, not necessarily. It may be that we actually need to do less, or at least, to do something differently. It’s important that we don’t miss the gospel foundation of this offer from God. It’s prefaced by the reminder of His salvation of His people. Just as we often point to the cross as the bedrock motivator of all that we do, so the people of Israel would point back to the Passover and the exodus. In fact, frequently in the Old Testament, God’s promise of future salvation (including at the cross!) was guaranteed by these great acts of deliverance in Israel’s past. He’ll do it again, because He’s done it before. God’s offer to satisfy our longings, then, is anchored in the fact that He has already satisfied our deepest and truest longing at the cross. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things” (Rom 8:32). The answer isn’t to work harder or do more to try and find satisfaction in God, but to respond rightly to the free gift of His Son to us by turning away from the sugary substitutes in our lives, and toward the One who will truly satisfy, with mouths open wide.
Zach is a member of Cornerstone and serves as a teacher and non-vocational elder.
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