What robs you of joy?
The gap between what we expect and what life gives us can vary wildly. What we want does not usually match what we experience. We want to be liked and find approval; instead, we get criticised. We want credit and glory for our accomplishments, to be admired, but we’re ignored and our achievements go unnoticed. We want control, to tailor life to our specifications, but life always has other plans. We set goals for ourselves and expect a level of maturity and sanctification, only to be discouraged by an emotional revolution that takes us captive and prompts an embarrassing display of immaturity.
Sometimes, we feel content or even pleasantly surprised by how rich life is. But other times life’s disappointments suck us deep into the bog of despair and self-loathing.
Disappointment hurts. Having hopes raised only to be dashed creates more misery than if the hope had never been there.
What a strange world we find ourselves in! How can a world so full of marvels and pleasures be such a source of disappointment?
What creates our expectations for what life should give us?
Certainly we have cultural expectations that are conditioned by advertising and media. Our tendency to compare also creates expectations. You don’t feel short until you are in a room full of giants.
It is strange how our habit of comparing rarely makes us happy. Our world is full of disparities. Some people are living in total luxury, while others live in filth, torment, and struggle to even have their most basic needs met. Most of us are not in this bottom tier of misery, but rather than being grateful for this, we still want more.
Desire, longing, wishing, searching, tasting, but it is never enough.
We have a disappointment in what life gives us, but we are also disappointed in ourselves. We expect more from ourselves than we accomplish. We fight our limitations and resent them. Our helplessness to change our imperfections is discouraging. Our inability to break bad habits is depressing.
What created this gap between our expectations and the reality of life?
In one story, our world is a cosmic accident with no meaning or purpose. Life’s a giant fluke. If this is true, it would be very irrational to expect more from a random world. Can you imagine throwing Scrabble pieces into the air, and being disappointed in how they landed? Of course not. They landed exactly where the forces of gravity took them.
On the other hand, when your 13 year old deliberately scribbles gibberish in his English essay, you are disappointed because you expected more. He had the ability to do more but chose not to. Expectations come from personal relationships. Frustration comes from knowing someone had a choice and used that power contrary to what we wanted. It is volitional beings who disappoint us. For us who believe that life was created and is ruled by a Supreme volitional Being we can find ourselves even disappointed with God.
But where do our expectations of God and other humans come from? When a child throws a tantrum and shoves his friend Jimmy off the deck, he is disappointed (enraged) when Daddy disciplines him. “Daddy isn’t supposed to spank! He is supposed to support and affirm my every action!” When a wife does not joyfully meet her husband’s every need, he starts to pout.
These examples are clear cases of unjustified expectations, but how do we know the difference between a justified and an unjustified expectation?
We get angry when our “rights” are violated, but how do we know what our rights are?
Where do our rights come from? From promises? From the nature? From God? Does a husband have a right to sex every night? Do we have a right be treated courteously regardless of how we treat others? Does a child have a right to be given every treat and trinket he wants?
We have many voices telling us that “we deserve a better life. We deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. We deserve a better government.” What do we really deserve and why do we deserve it? Do we deserve a thing because we earned it? Who sets the wages? How do we know when what life gives us is fair or unfair? These are questions we don’t like to ask. But nothing creates more misery or anger then when we have a sense that our rights are being violated, that we are not getting what we deserve.
If life is a random accident, then we have no rights. We don’t deserve anything. Life just is, and then it won’t be. But if this world has a Creator, then He gets to decide what rights we have and what we deserve and don’t deserve.
He tells us in his Word that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). When it comes to thinking about what we deserve, we only like to think about credit and rewards. We don’t want to think about punishments! Like the little boy who is appalled at being disciplined for shoving Jimmy off the deck, we are indignant at the idea that we deserve punishment for our sins.
If there is one thing that we humans should know for sure it is that we are easily deceived. We have a very twisted view of reality. We’re not always aware that our view is twisted, but it is abundantly clear that other people’s view of life is majorly messed up. We ache to see the wicked punished. We long for justice… just not for ourselves! Somehow our wrongs are insignificant and should be overlooked. We forget that God is the one who defines what is right and wrong and what the consequences should be.
Probably one of the biggest impediments to the spread of the gospel and our relationship with God is that we just cannot see how sinful we really are.
We are so selective in our memories of the past, conveniently forgetting the times we lied, cheated, were self-centered, ungrateful, blasphemous, bitter, hateful, or lustful. It doesn’t seem like a big deal because we’ve bought the lie that because “we’re only human,” sin is no big deal and should be expected. However, our sense of the repugnance of sin is made clearer when we are sinned against. Gossip is no big deal, until we are slandered behind our back. Lust is harmless, until you see that guy’s eyes creeping your wife’s body. Then the holy, righteous anger kicks in.
Any talk of God’s wrath or punishment is repulsive to us in our self-justifying state. Life will not make sense and the gospel will not be good news until we first begin to understand our wretchedness. We deserve punishment and banishment from God’s presence, not because God is harsh, cruel, or unfair, but because we are really, truly wilful, rebellious, ungrateful creatures. We have been given mercy, grace, and vast treasure beyond what we deserve, yet we continue to sulk, and blaspheme, and lust and covet.
We must accept the truth that if God were to punish us, He would be doing nothing wrong! In fact his goodness requires that sins be dealt with!
This is reality, people. This is not just guilt-ridden, Puritan theology attacking our self-esteem. This is the reality that God has revealed in His Word. Our pride screams in protest, “I’m a pretty good person. Sheesh, what did God expect?” But this is just more self-deception. Time spent in God’s holy presence and our cover is blown. We cower like Peter and moan “I am a sinful man!”
You cannot be saved until you see your total depravity. Until you recognize that you are sinful dust in rightful danger of eternal banishment, you will not see your need to turn to Christ, and cling to Him with all you have.
I started this article by pointing out how life is continually disappointing us. But this is just because our pride and the deception of Satan have given us a false starting point when we evaluate this world. We think we are righteous and self-sufficient, that we deserve approval and fame, and credit and power, and we sulk when we don’t get it.
But the truth of the matter is that we were created from the dust. We have no inherent life in ourselves, we have no inherent rights. Every breath is pure gift.
With this gift of life, we have shaken our fists at God, saying, “I will do what I want. Don’t you dare tell me what to do with my life.”
In light of the reality of who and what we are, let’s revisit the issue of what we “deserve.” Plain and simple, God could stop our hearts, and remove us from his abundant pleasures and leave us alone with our misery and regret. That is what we deserve. Our pride chokes on this assessment, but it is reality.
We don’t deserve power, approval, recognition, or material wealth. But this is not the end of the story. We are precious to God because He made us and loves what He creates. God made us to be in relationship with Him. But we broke fellowship by turning away from him. We became filthy and the idea of God’s holy justice is terrifying to us, so we run. The more we run, the more enslaved we become to destructive forces. With our rebellion we have shattered the peace and harmony God intended for this planet. This world is not as it should be and we are to blame. We no longer deserve to live in a world free of disease, decay, and death.
But God keeps pursuing us. He became a man in order to live the perfect holy and righteous life that we didn’t.
He now offers us the most unfair deal you could ever fathom.
He offers to give the credit for his righteousness to our account, and take our sins onto himself to be banished forever because of what he did on the Cross. If we humbly accept this gift, by repenting of our rebellion and our attempts to please God on our own strength, and submit to Jesus Christ’s authority over us, then we are now “in Christ.” It is “no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). We have a whole new source of strength to live righteously, a new love coursing through us. Jesus Christ has broken the chains the kept us enslaved. He has defeated the forces that turned us into moral monsters.
When God looks at us, He sees Jesus. He loves us because of what Jesus did.
It is important to point out here that this is not just a mental trick to improve how we feel. This is a real transaction with the Creator of the Universe. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to those who believe (Rom 8:11). This means we believe that God is real and a relationship with him is possible by abiding in Christ. We live in the reality of who Christ is and what he has done for us.
Think about how this changes everything that used to rob us of joy.
We want to find approval and be loved. We can now experience total approval because Jesus had the full seal of God’s approval and those benefits have been transferred to us.
It doesn’t matter who likes us. Because of Christ, God now adores us, and his opinion is all that matters. We no longer need to hunger for credit and fame, because our worth is found in the actions of Jesus. We will want to boast of him, for others to see that He is the one who is awesome and worthy of adoration.
As far as power and control go, we have the Lord of the Universe living in us. Jesus Christ has complete and total dominion over this planet. He rules the nations with a rod of iron. Rather than try to control life, we can surrender our expectations to Him, know that God “gives unto each day what He deems best.”
The two biggest joy robbers are a false view of who we are and a false view of God.
When we forget that we are but dust we lose our dependence on God. We believe that we have the power to change ourselves and become frustrated when we fail. But when we drop our pretences and see that apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5), we will pray with the sincerity and urgency that is required.
If we start each day knowing what we really deserve, then life will be one pleasant surprise after another, as we continue to receive God’s undeserved gifts and blessings.
Satan whispers to us all the time that life is unfair, that we deserve more, that life is disappointing. But the real unexpected part of life is that God is so much kinder, more merciful, and more beautiful than we could have ever imagined. In our self-deception we find disappointment, but through the breaking of our pride and the opening of our eyes, we find joy and pleasure beyond compare. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!” (Phil 4:4)
“28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)