Captive or Captivated?
by Jesse Jost
Picture in your mind two things: First imagine yourself in a dark and grimy dungeon. Your hands and feet are shackled, and your body aches because of lack of movement. Your eyes long for color and beauty. You have a very small world. Now picture stepping out of that cell into a world ablaze with color. You notice the smells of the fresh air and flowers; the cool breeze feels so good on your cheeks. Your eyes soak up the beauty of the trees and mountains. As your heart starts pumping fresh blood through your veins, you have a sudden urge to run and leap with all your strength!
What a contrast! Every day we have the ability to choose things that will lead to either freedom or bondage. Self-focus and self-will leads to bondage. Outward focus, God-ward focus leads to freedom and adventure. We were created to be spectators – the audience of God – to observe and discover. We were given five ways of observing, through sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste. We were designed to look outward, to be attentive to what is happening around us.
God is an awesome and magnificent being. He is so truly wonderful that the greatest gift He can give is the ability to discover and observe His beauty and character. We were not created because God had an emotional need for companionship. (He is completely satisfied in the relationship of the Trinity). I believe we were created so that God’s attributes could be on display for all eternity. In order for something to be on display, there must be viewers. We are the viewers. When we fulfill the role for which we were designed – to revel in God’s glory and magnify it to those around us – we will find a world of adventure, dazzling beauty, and breath-taking experiences. Life is beautiful whenever it is lived according to His design.
But long before we or our world was created, something happened that has temporarily spoiled God’s plan. Satan didn’t like his role of observing and worshipping God. He wanted the attention; he wanted to be on display, to be in control. This desire spawned the curse of self-centeredness. God created this beautiful planet, and put us here to discover Him and His works. Adam and Eve, I’m sure, were enjoying their role as observers and discovers, until Satan brought the plague of self-focus. He turned Adam and Eve’s focus on themselves and on what they were missing. His deception brought self-will into the equation. After the original couple fell, they stepped from the world of beauty into the dungeon of self-consciousness. Their focus turned inward. With this new inward gaze came several new emotions: shame, guilt, fear, and emptiness.
Since that time, there has been constant tension between the pull of self-absorption – focusing on our needs, our fears, our wishes – and our call to be worshippers. We can’t find true enjoyment and wonder until we “lose ourselves” in the exquisiteness of something beyond us. Jesus revealed this truth, saying that “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will find it.” (Mark 8:35 NIV)
Clinging to this self-will, self-focus, self-centeredness, self-whatever, will keep us chained to a very small and colorless world. Turning our eyes outward and upward will lead to the ultimate in true self-fulfillment. It can be a most satisfying experience. Every gift of God, enjoyed in His way and His time, provides an opportunity to fulfill our God-given purpose and design. Humility, choosing to make much of God and thereby causing us to shrink to our proper size, allows us to discover the joy, wonder, and adventure we were created for.
We can’t find this bliss if we are stuck on ourselves. The enemy uses many things to keep our world revolving around the ever-present ME. Pride: desiring to be better that others, to impress others with who we are, and being obsessed with what others think of us. Covetousness: focusing on our wants and wrongly desiring the things we think will bring self-gratification. Worry: focusing on our needs and fearing how we will be affected by the unknown and how God’s will might conflict with our will and desires. Guilt: realizing we have sinned, but not accepting Christ’s righteousness and forgiveness. Self-pity: keeping our eyes wide open to how the world has wronged us and how we have been neglected, instead of finding true joy and freedom in looking outside to see the needs of those around us and seeking to meet them. All these things keep us locked in the prison of self-focus and introspection.
Sin itself brings only captivity. Satan makes sin look so desirable, so inviting. It enchants and entices us until we reach out take it. Once we have tasted the delightful object, it turns into something hideous. The hand that reached for the succulent prize is now shackled.
Obedience to God has the opposite effect. It appears to be bleak and colorless. It looks very undesirable. But when we make the choice to obey and do things God’s way, our eyes are opened and we see the beauty of life lived God’s way. Obedience is genuine freedom!
I think it is for these reasons that we are commanded to always give thanks. Giving thanks turns our eyes away from us toward God. Once our eyes really catch sight of our Creator, we are captivated by His beauty. We marvel at His goodness and appreciate His abundant gifts!