(Illustration) Years ago, in Reader’s Digest, it published the story of Sister Catherine, a Catholic Nun. Sister Catherine died and went to Heaven where she met Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates. Peter asked her, “Catherine, do you have any regrets?” She told him she always wanted to travel but her religious devotion had prevented the opportunity. Peter said, “I’ll tell you what. You’ve been a devoted and faithful sister, I’ll give you one day to visit anywhere on earth. But you must phone me in twenty-four hours so I can send the angels for you.” Precisely twenty-four hours later the phone rang: “Hello, Saint Peter, this is Sister Catherine. I’m in Rome visiting the Vatican and have just met the Pope. Can I have just one more day to travel?” Peter recognized the vibrancy in her voice so he consented. Twenty-four hours later she promptly phoned again: “Saint Peter, this is Catherine. I’m in Paris. I’ve lighted candles at Notre Dame and scaled the Eiffel Tower. Would it be possible to have just one more day?” Peter understood this was highly unusual, but he reluctantly obliged. Three weeks later Peter’s phone rang: “Hi Pete, this is Cat—I’ve found a place called Bourbon Street down here in N’Awlins. I’m not coming home!” (Reader’s Digest, October, 1995.)
When I talk about the “Pursuit of Happiness” I am talking about seeking things we assume will bring contentment. There is no question that “dream vacations,” material possessions, and visiting the wonders of the world delight us. And there is nothing wrong with enjoying life. But the Bible clearly warns Christians to guard their affections. If we become materialistic, self-centered, or pleasure-oriented we lose an undiminished focus of Christ. And we can never be happy when we aren’t focused on Him! No matter who you are, it’s necessary to stay focused on Christ. You must never blink or drop your guard!
As we talk about the Pursuit of Happiness, I want to mention a word that has almost fallen into disuse. It’s a clumsy word now, but it was used for centuries before this generation discarded it. The word is covetousness. Think about it: when is the last time you heard someone in pop- culture use the term, covet? You probably can’t remember.
When the Bible uses the word covet, it speaks of an intense craving for something. And it can be used positively or negatively:
But when the Bible uses covet in a negative sense, it speaks of craving something inappropriate or something apart from God’s will. That thing we covet could be something that belongs to somebody else and to take it from that person is a sin!
Here is the essence of covetousness. It is a selfish and greedy desire to have our way. That means greed and covetousness are contrary to God’s will. And this type of craving never satisfies us. That’s because it detracts from our affection toward God. It’s not wrong to want material things that are necessary or even convenient for living. Modernism is wonderful! 2 Peter 1:3 says: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” God has given us these things! But greed emerges when we covet material possessions more than we desire God. It manifests when we are obsessed with acquiring things rather than seeking Christ and His kingdom. As Sister Catherine showed us, it’s easy to let the world distract us.
(Quote) The psychologist Eric Fromm said this: “Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.” Hey, kudos to Eric Fromm! Here is a psychologist that got it right! But not everyone agrees with that.
Ivan Boesky said, “Greed is alright; by the way . . . I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” And who is Ivan Boesky? He was the Wall Street investor who was prosecuted and fined $100 million for insider trading. I wonder if he still thought greed was “healthy” and still felt good about himself from his prison cell?
This is why Jesus warned us about greed. When Jesus spoke of greed, He grouped it with murder, stealing, evil thoughts, immorality, deceit, slander, envy, and pride—everything that corrupts us before God!
(Insight) Sometimes we forget this, but despite its appearances, the world is not your friend. Please hear this clearly: the world system that operates apart from God, even though it’s wondrously charming, is a skillfully designed trap! It’s a trap to capture your affections and prevent you from making God your focus. And the “world” is not your friend!
Superficially, the world appears to be just what you need. It makes its offers without any signs of danger. But never forget the nature of traps. They are illusions, disguised, and baited with beauty! They are designed without the appearance of being dangerous, but when you take the bait, the trap is tripped and you’re snared! Listen to what Jesus said in Luke 21:34. “Don’t spend all of your time thinking about eating or drinking or worrying about life. If you do, the final day will suddenly catch you like a trap.”
Here’s the world’s strategy. It allures and then overpowers; it seduces and then suppresses; it entices and then controls. The design of every work of Satan culminates in bondage! People don’t realize that when they first pursue happiness apart from Christ, but Satan’s ultimate goal is to capture your soul. And when we make things of the world the object of our pursuit, we’re susceptible to being captured.
(Illustration) There’s a law of gravity that discloses an amazing principle. It’s this: The greater an object’s mass, the greater its attraction. Or, the greater the volume of an object the greater its magnetism. This explains why huge planets like Jupiter and Neptune can attract the orbit of many satellites and smaller planets like Venus and Pluto aren’t large enough to attract any satellites. The greater the mass the greater the attraction!
What does this law of gravity teach us? It teaches us to carefully determine what enlarges our being. Because when your life is enlarged with unspiritual things of the world, it will attract deadly forces.
(Transition) There’s another danger of craving things contrary to God’s will.
When our pursuit of happiness is primarily after worldly things, it prevents us from enjoying the presence of God and fulfilling His will. Did you ever consider that? Listen to David words in Psalm 17:15. “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.”
There are two tables at which we can dine—God’s table or the world’s table. And the table we choose also determines the company we keep. When we feast on God’s Word and delight in His commands, He will fellowship with us and help us accomplish His will. But if we choose to feast and fellowship at the world’s table there is no way we can enjoy the company of our Lord and accomplish His will.
What if our missionaries of the past 200 years had chosen to enjoy the luxuries of America rather than risk their safety and comfort in foreign lands? Had that happened, untold millions of people would be unsaved. You see, when our primary motivation is to maintain fellowship with the world and pursue worldly happiness, it will hinder God’s will. It can even prevent the conversion of sinners! When we argue with God and say we can’t tithe or support the church because we would rather take the dream vacation or buy the mountain estate, it’s wrong! We’re hindering God’s plan of kingdom stewardship. And our obligations to God always come first!
Folks, we don’t have to consume the world’s latest frill. We don’t have to indulge in every offer the world makes. We can say, “No!” There comes a point where we have to draw the line against the world and say: “That’s it, I don’t accept your offer! My affections are set on Christ and I’m going to seek Him first. I’ll celebrate what the Bible says about happiness.”
Again, there’s nothing wrong with a nice house, new car, or enjoying the conveniences of the twenty-first century. There’s nothing wrong with taking vacations. We just have to understand that anything without Christ never satisfies the soul. Hobbies, pleasures, pursuits, higher education, or a six-figure salary are wonderful, but they can’t bring happiness. It’s Jesus in your new house, Jesus in your new car, or Jesus in your dream vacation that brings happiness.
(Transition) Did you know there are times when God tests us to see if we will choose Him over our selfish desires? The Bible shows us this in Numbers 11.
After 400 years of Egyptian Captivity, God delivered Israel and then supernaturally sustained them for forty years in the desert. Each morning the Israelites awoke, they found what the Bible calls manna lying around the camp. Manna was the food that God supernaturally supplied for Israel’s diet. But despite this delicacy the Bible calls, “angel’s food,” Israel complained and told Moses they wanted quail to eat. The food fit for angels wasn’t enough, they had to have more!
After 400 years of captivity, God swept through Egypt and overthrew the world’s mightiest monarchy with supernatural wonders that only He could perform.
The Nile was turned to blood, Egypt was plagued with vice, the death angel decimated their population, and the Red Sea parted for Israel while it drowned Pharaoh’s army.
On their final night in the land of Goshen, the Egyptians had stuffed the Israelites’ pockets with silver and gold.
(Humor) The Israelites had seen God intervene unlike any nation in world history! And with that succession of miracles here they were asking for quail! Really? Quail? Look, if you’re going to grumble and get greedy why not ask the Sovereign God for something big? Why not lobster and filet mignon? But quail?
On a more serious note: The book of Psalms mentions this wilderness temptation too. It’s found in Psalm 78. The Psalmist quoted Israel as saying: “Can God set a table in the wilderness”? That is not the question to ask God! Had they not remembered how He turned the Nile into blood, split the Red Sea, and provided a cloud? Now they dared to question His ability to “set a table in the wilderness” and feed them quail.
But when Israel rejected the food fit for angels, God heard their complaint and told Moses, “If this is what they want, I’ll send it to them until it comes out their nostrils.” And He did. When you read Numbers 11, you find God sent quail three feet thick all around the camp. But the Bible says, while the meat was still in their teeth—before they could digest it—God’s struck down over 14,000 of those greed-filled grumblers. It’s dangerous to desire what God doesn’t want you to have! (Do you understand why we should be careful what we ask for?)
Here’s what was wrong with Israel’s request: They thought only the taste of quail could satisfy them. The manna that God chose for them wasn’t enough; they had to have more! And that’s the underlying sin of greed. It’s dissatisfied with what God provides!
(Question) Ask yourself something: Are you rejecting what God has given you? Are you seeking things that are contrary to His will? Have you crammed needless activities or things into your life to where God has been diminished and excluded? I have another question. What would it take to make you happy, content, and satisfied deep down in your soul? Think about that.
(Illustration) Years ago, I read the personal want ads in the Atlanta Journal. They can get pretty strange sometimes. But one day I found an ad I’ll always remember. You’ve read the personals that say, “Single urban woman seeks single wealthy man.” Not this one. The woman who placed this want ad had it together. Listen to her appeal: “Single black woman seeks single, Holy Ghost filled male.” Praise God! This woman wanted something consecrated! And that helps us understand how we should pursue things that would fill our lives. Seek things that come with God’s blessings upon them.
(Transition) When we crave things contrary to God’s will, they don’t leave room for God to satisfy us. And God, in all His goodness, is what we need to be satisfied.
Some people think they will be happy if they get the perfect partner, the perfect job, or the perfectly padded bank account. But we have to remember something. Happiness begins in the center of our soul! And the only One capable of filling the soul with gladness is the One who made the soul—God.
(Illustration) Years ago I ministered to a suicidal young lady. Everything she relied on was associated with the world. In a moment of disillusionment, when her fiancé broke their engagement, she did something incredibly crazy. She took a stack of razor blades, broke them in pieces, and swallowed them along with a bottle of medicine. A Spirit-filled doctor that attended my Church operated on her but gave her little chance of survival. He operated and plucked the blades, extracted as much medicine as possible from her stomach, and she recovered. When I asked why she reacted in such a fashion she replied, “I don’t know, I just went crazy.” She wanted to be happy, but she didn’t know how. You see what happens when we misplace our affections? A person can’t bring you fulfillment.
(Transition) Don’t ever forget, The world is not your friend! It’s a trap ready to capture your affections and destroy your soul!
Regardless of what the world says, it’s not “the one that dies with the most toys that wins.” It’s the one who plans for the future that wins! Are you planning for the future?
(Illustration) One of Sigmund Freud’s favorite stories was about a shipwrecked sailor on a South Sea Island. He was captured by the natives, hoisted to their shoulders, carried to the village, and set on a crude throne. He discovered it was their custom to make one man their king for a year. He liked it until he couldn’t understand what happened to their former kings. After investigating he discovered that at the conclusion of the year each king was banished to an island where he starved to death. The sailor was clever enough to take action. He quickly had the native carpenters make boats. The farmers were ordered to transplant fruit trees and plant crops on that particular island. The masons were commissioned to build houses there. At the end of the king’s term he was banished, but not to a barren island. He was sent to an island of abundance.
In one respect, we’re kings down here. We can determine what we will do with things. We can indulge in a selfish lifestyle during our few years on Earth. Or, we can plan for our future and transfer our treasures to Heaven where we will enjoy eternal rewards. Christ is calling His Bride to turn from clinging to the world and looking and longing for Him. He is the target we aim for, the goal we run toward, the prize we seek to capture, and nothing less will make us happy.