Asking people if they believe in God or believe in Jesus is no longer a good way to tell who is actually a Christian. Most americans “believe” in God, but they aren’t true Christians. They believe in God in the same way Satan does–they acknowledge He exists, but they’re not interested in Him reigning over their hearts and lives.
That’s why a better question is to ask: Is God your greatest joy? That’s what a true Christian is–someone who finds God to be better than anything else.
The point of this post, however, church family, is for us to consider how we can tell if God is our greatest joy. I submit there are two ways to tell if God is your greatest joy, and they are both determined by asking ourselves questions.
Question 1: How do we respond to God when everything in our life seems to be going right?
What happens when you get the job, the relationship works out, the money shows up, the kids behave, the promotion happens, the sellers take your offer, the sun shines, and the cancer screening comes back negative? Do you find yourself wanting to praise God and serve Him more? Or do you suddenly find yourself not needing Him as much?
People who do not find God as their greatest joy find it in something (or someone) else. Many of them are quasi-seekers of God in the hard times because they believe if they can appease God, He will give them what they really want–a new job, a better relationship, etc. As a result, when things go well, their pursuit of God wanes. Bible reading goes out the window. Church attendance and worship loses its luster. Serving the weak and needy is no longer necessary and becomes laborious. There is something that has their heart, but it is not God. God is the genie to grant them their heart’s desire. This is not a Christian, but an idolator.
On the other hand, those who find God to be their greatest joy receive good things from the Lord and enjoy them, but not by treating it as a god, but by treating it as a gift from the one who truly has their heart. As a result of these gifts, praise to God increases, serving Him increases, obedience increases. They increase these things not because they want more of the gifts of God, but because the gifts reinforce the care their true love has for them. They increase in order to get more of God.
Question 2: How do we respond to God when everything in our life seems to be going wrong?
What happens when you get fired, when you’re served divorce papers, when the promotion is given to someone else, when you don’t get the scholarship, when your friend lies about you, when your kid gets a DUI, or when the cancer screening comes back positive? Do you find yourself able to endure or does everything become meaningless? Do you find yourself praising and serving God just as much or more? Or, do you find yourself blaming God and criticizing others who aren’t experiencing the loss you are?
For those who do not have God as their greatest joy, many are fine to serve God as long as whatever truly is their greatest joy is bringing them the fulfillment they seek. But when they lose that joy, they feel as if they can’t go on anymore. This is why many formerly wealthy bankers took their lives after the housing market crisis in 2008. They lost their reason for living, so they stopped.
Meanwhile, there are people who have endured great loss–homes being destroyed, children being killed, jobs being lost, cancer reports having come back positive–and, while acknowledging the difficulty, endured. How? They had God as their greatest joy. This is how Job was able to say “You give and take away, blessed be Your name.” They serve God not because the things He gives us are good (because sometimes they are difficult!), but because God is good. It’s His presence that is fullness of joy. So when, for whatever reason, He allows what appears to be evil to happen to us, we don’t lose heart. We still have our greatest joy–God Himself.
The Amazing Thing
Maybe you’re wondering whether or not God truly is your greatest joy. Maybe you realize for the first time that He isn’t. You’re convinced God really isn’t that good. I have amazing news for you, but it starts with the bad news. Everyone has sought their greatest joy in something other than God. I have sought my greatest joy in the praise of people. All lesser joys leave us empty at some point.
But here’s the good part–even though we have all sought our greatest joy in other things, through Jesus, God wants to find His greatest joy in you.
That is a game changer. That is a God who is better than anything else.