Every year, for fourteen years, my parents would take me to Indonesia over the summer holidays. One of my highlights of this annual holiday was going to the Momentum Christian bookstore there. I had enjoyed the warmth of this store - being surrounded by books made me feel at ease. One year, I had picked out a blue book that looked appealing to the eye. I brought it home, and it’s been lying in my dusty bookshelf for at least three years, still in its plastic wrapping.
The title reads, “The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts” (by Joe Rigney). I’ve spent the past few weeks devoting time to read this book, and so I’d like to share some of what I’ve learnt.
“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” - John Piper.
This book starts with a foreword by Reformed Baptist pastor John Piper. You may or may not have heard the above quote before. If you haven’t, this quote basically summarises what we call “Christian Hedonism”. With this belief, God’s glory and our happiness will never be in conflict. Since our greatest source of happiness is in God, it is only natural for us to want to return our thanksgiving back to Him.
This book was written for people who genuinely want to glorify God in all they do but find themselves lost in sin or struggling with loving God’s gifts too much. It was written for people who find it difficult to put a God-centred life to practice. Have you ever felt this way? It’s something most of us have experienced, including me.
So how can we enjoy what God provides without setting our affections on the things of earth? And what are we to do with the things of earth?
The Chief End of Man
The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?”. If you’ve heard this before, you might also be familiar with the answer; “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever”.
Now, you may be thinking that glorifying God and enjoying Him are two separate things. For starters, “glorifying God” seems like something we have to complete, whereas “enjoying Him” is about receiving rather than working - similar to enjoying the company of a friend. Even though the two may not seem to go together at first glance, they must not be separated.
At times, we may struggle with having to glorify God while enjoying Him. We find that doing His will is often exactly the opposite of what we want to do. But in reality, there should not be any pressure between the two. It is only our sin that gets in the way, making us feel like earthly things are more enjoyable, rather than God. Do we take this calling of doing His will as a mere commandment or duty? Or do we willingly and wholeheartedly want to obey Him?
The path of obeying God is not only the best for us, but it brings the most joy in our lives.
So what are we to do with the Things of Earth?
Now, back to the original question. This book was written to answer a simple question: What are we to do with the things of earth? Do we embrace them? Reject them? Use them? Or enjoy them with a bit of guilt? After all, there seems to be conflict in hymns and in the Bible itself. Here’s an example that the book provides.
The author, Joe Rigney, looks at Helen Lemmel’s “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”. This is what the chorus reads:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
Pay attention to the lyrics. When we look in Jesus’ face, the things of earth grow dim. So when we set our eyes on what’s above, the things of earth lose their value.
Now, on the contrary, the book also looks at another hymn, “This Is My Father’s World” by Maltbie Babcock. This hymn gives voice to the other side of the tension:
This is my Father's world
He shines in all that's fair
In the rustling grass, I hear him pass
He speaks to me everywhere
So? Which view should we take? Does He shine in all that’s fair, or do the things of earth grow dim in the light of His face?
With all this, a Bible passage comes to my mind.
Lay Up Treasures In Heaven
Matthew 6:19-20 reads, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
I realise and acknowledge that it’s hard for us as teenagers to let go of our earthly pleasures and turn our eyes toward Jesus. I’m sure we’ve all experienced feeling distant from God. In those moments, we might indulge ourselves in earthly pleasures, leading to a life that isn’t integrated or devoted to God.
“A man may do some service to two masters, but he can devote himself to the service of no more than one. God requires the whole heart, and will not share it with the world. When two masters oppose each other, no man can serve both. He who holds to the world and loves it, must despise God; he who loves God, must give up the friendship of the world.” (Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on Matthew 6:24).
But on the other hand, it’s not wrong to enjoy the things of earth either. In 1 Timothy 4:4-5, Paul seems to have a different view on earthly things:
“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”
So which is it? Should we count everything on earth as loss or focus on receiving God’s gifts on earth? To answer this question, let’s think about finding our joy in God
Where do we find our joy?
Finding joy in God and His Word is important - it fuels our love for Him and people around us. The joy we find in God should be our deepest longing (like David in Psalm 63).
Something to remember is that our lives on this earth and the things of it are temporary - this includes all the material things we own. There is nothing on earth that we can depend on, because none of it is absolute.
So even though we are surrounded by the things of earth, the only place where we can find joy is in our deliverer, Jesus Christ. And so, God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.