Chasing Shadows - Week of May 10th

By Judy Nichols

May 10, 2015

A good friend of mine tells the story of an underwater swim contest she participated in when she was a kid. It was simple: whoever got the farthest swimming under water got a chocolate bar. This friend is an achiever. She was in the race to win and won by a long shot. She’d seen a shadow ahead of her and thought it was a swimmer. Surprise! Nope, they were all far behind. So she got the coveted chocolate bar. Trouble was, whether because of the exertion of the swim or an intestinal bug, she threw up after the race, gave away the chocolate, and went home and spent several hours in bed.

In this life we chase after so many things that turn out to be shadows. We chase after money thinking it will fulfill all our wants and needs. We chase after success or influence thinking surely the emptiness we feel inside will go away when we are an important person. We chase after dietary fads, supplements, exercise, and medicine in an effort to thwart the ravages of illness, pain, aging, and ultimately dying. We chase after relationships with people to meet our need for acceptance.

None of these things are in themselves bad things. Having the resources to provide shelter, food, and clothing for one’s family is a great blessing. There is nothing wrong with hard work that leads to success. Being a good steward of one’s own body is a responsible and beneficial thing to do. And the marital relationship, created by God in the very beginning, is probably the most sacred and wonderful bond we can enter into.

But none of these are worthy of being our guiding principle or ultimate goal. Wealth does not guarantee happiness. Success is no substitute for being at peace with who you are. Good health is at best a temporary blessing; even if it lasts into old age, we know we will all die eventually. And while marriage is wonderful, being in that intimate a relationship often brings our inadequacies into sharper focus. I can’t meet all of his needs and he can’t meet all of mine.

The Scripture speaks about these phantoms we idolize. Paul warned Timothy about the love of money. "Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction" (1 Tim. 6:9). On the flip side of the coin, Jesus said that if we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, all these other things will be added to us as well (Matt. 6:33). And Paul amplified it in Philippians 4:19. "And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Jesus is not only the source of all our wealth; He is, in Himself, worth more to us than all the riches in the world.

The great king Solomon spent years working and building not only the Temple and his palaces but also vineyards, gardens, and parks; ponds and irrigation systems supporting them as well as large flocks and herds of livestock. But then he despaired over the thought that all the fruit of his labor would be left to another, "and who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?" (See Eccl. 2:4-20.) Perhaps Solomon was wise enough to do his work without letting his identity get wrapped up in it. But for most of us, the fact that the childhood question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is nearly always answered by some occupation tells us that very often we take our identity from the work we do. The New Testament writers encourage us to do our work heartily, as though we were working for Jesus Himself (Eph. 6:7, Col. 3:23). But they also make very clear that our identity is in Christ and all the work He has done for us (see Eph. 1:3-14).

The Old Covenant included dietary laws. Their goal was primarily symbolic, I think. The Israelites were not to eat the blood of an animal, for instance, because the blood represented the life and life is sacred. Some of the dietary requirements did have incidental health benefits. The fat, the liver and the kidneys were to be burnt on the altar. While this represented God’s willingness to take upon Himself all that was excessive, wasteful, or toxic, it also served to keep people from eating the parts of the animal that would raise their blood cholesterol levels. But overall, the Scripture is not so concerned about our physical health as it is about our spiritual health. Paul admonished the Romans, "the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (14:17). And Jesus said, "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you" (John 6:27). He then said, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst" (v. 35). Focusing on our physical health while ignoring our spiritual health can have terrible consequences; there is a death that is worse than physical death.

God ordained marriage from the very beginning and proscribed any sexual activity outside its bounds. Paul explained that immorality is a sin against one’s own body (1 Cor. 6:18) and we should flee from it. Yet even in the absence of any sexual sins, marriage does not and cannot make us whole. My husband and I complement each other but we do not complete each other. Only Jesus can make us complete (see Col. 2:10).

Would that the consequences of chasing these shadows were as simple as throwing up, giving away a chocolate bar, and going to bed for a while. There is no shifting shadow with God; He alone is worthy of our wholehearted pursuit.

© Judy Nichols 2015

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