Do you realize, then, what Jesus is teaching? Neither son loved the father for himself. They both were using the father for their own self-centered ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving him for his own sake. This means that you can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping them all diligently. – Tim Keller about the parable of the two lost sons
Just as important as the question, What do you want? is the one that comes next:
Several years ago I was on a school mission trip in an extremely underdeveloped region of Mexico. The organization we worked with had salvation down to a science:
- Draw kids over by showing them candy.
- Tell the gospel story.
- Offer candy to anyone who accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
- Tally up the number of saved kids and adjust the graph for next month’s newsletter.
I wish you could have seen the mass revival.
Okay, I’m done being snarky—obviously you see the problem. Just about every single kid “accepted Jesus” that day, because accepting Jesus meant getting a piece of candy. That’s why they did it. In fact I’m pretty sure I saw a few kids accept Jesus three or four times. Hallelujah, amen. (Nowww I’m done being snarky.)
And while this is absolutely awful and so terribly sad, is it really that much different if we were to substitute the word “heaven” for candy? We’ve all seen the billboards: “Heaven or Hell? You chose.” And how many of us accepted Jesus for the first time when we were kids simply because we terrified of going to hell?
The problem with this—if the faith journey never develops from here—is that it’s not the same thing as loving God.* As important as it is to know what you’re running after, it’s just as important to know why. To go along with this example, do I want God for heaven, or heaven for God? Do I really love God, or do I just want his house? If heaven had every comfort imaginable, but Jesus wasn’t there, would I be satisfied?
Asking yourself why can be scary. And I don’t just mean about heaven. Why do I work so hard to get good grades? Why do I sometimes talk bad about other people? Why do I want to share my faith? Why do I spend so much time trying to win the approval of others? Why am I a Christian? Why am I writing this blog? These questions and others might take you into deep heart-places that you’ve never been before. The key is not going alone. The psalmist prays, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Exploring the why while offering your heart to God is like inviting Him to assess and occupy the engine room of your life. Submitting your heart with all of its furtive whys is an important step in becoming the kind of woman who loves God from the inside out.
*To be clear, I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world for a person’s faith journey to begin here. Most relationships start because both parties think they can benefit. And yet there comes a time in a committed love relationship in which you would willingly lay down your life for the other. It’s no longer about loving the other for yourself, but about loving the other for the other.