Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will~ Romans 12:2
Those of us in the Western world are blessed to live in what could be called the very best of times. Despite all the political and social turmoil, it is without question a fantastic time to be alive.
Human ingenuity has allowed all sorts of regular people to live at a level of comfort and ease that was formerly unknown, even to the wealthiest and most privileged in earlier times. The magnificent wonders of coffee, central air, disposable diapers, hot showers, automobiles, smartphones, and pizza delivery never fail to blow my mind and remind me exactly how fortunate I was to have been born in the 20th century rather than the 18th or even the 19th.
The marvels of our era make it possible for almost anyone to satisfy nearly any craving or whim with very little effort. And yet, inexplicably we are perhaps one of the unhappiest cultures in the history of humanity. Untold millions are hooked on things that people in other times would have viewed as extraordinarily strange—activities like shopping, social media, online pornography and Candy Crush Saga.
Millions are dependent on mind-altering substances both legal and illicit. Some are so lonesome and socially isolated that they are willing to pay strangers good money just to hear them talk. Divorce rates have been soaring for decades and nearly two-thirds of adults say they are unhappy with their lives. Loneliness, discontent and addiction are not exactly the hallmarks of a happy, well-adjusted society.
Some have observed the conundrum of blessing and misery and concluded that the problem lies entirely with the blessings. This crowd chooses to go the monastic route and shed the stuff. I do not take issue with this logic. No rational believer would quarrel with the notion of casting off a materialistic mindset. Jesus was painfully straightforward regarding his view of materialism when he admonished two brothers arguing over money with this warning:
Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions~ Luke 12:15
Nothing good has ever come out of unrestrained materialism. However, I do not believe that materialism is the source of our misery. The stockpiling of material possessions is more of a symptom of the problem than the actual problem.
The problem is focus.
The blessings of our age come with a tendency to focus all of our attention on ourselves. The dark side of cozy houses, career opportunities, universal human rights, central air and pizza delivery is that these things can easily cause us to think that we deserve more of the same. Getting our needs met, having our preferences filled, and seeing our rights recognized can easily become the driving force in our lives. When these things become the driving force in our lives we become wholly self-focused, and self-focused people are miserable.
Jesus assures us in Matthew 10:39 that if we voluntarily give up our life, (i.e. our rights, convenience, comfort, preferences) for His sake we will find authentic peace and lasting joy. Conversely demanding more life, (as in more rights, convenience, comfort, preferences) leads to self-focus and self-focus is the root of misery.
The solution to our conundrum is two-fold. First we must train ourselves to recognize the conveniences and comforts of our time for the mind-blowing blessings from God that they really are. The proper response to hot showers, universal human rights, electric blankets and pizza delivery is awe and gratitude to our great God for allowing us to experience these profound blessings.
However, gratitude alone is not enough. We also need to get outside of ourselves. We accomplish that by using what we’ve been blessed with to serve God and people. Serving breaks the bondage of self-focus and materialism and enables us to see life, people and our own selves from God’s perspective.
Serving accomplishes yet another even more significant purpose. It molds us into the image of Christ. Jesus was the ultimate servant and the standard for all things good. When we serve like Jesus served, our love and good deeds draw the unbelieving world to faith in our God. Our world becomes a much better place with a little less of us and whole lot more of God.