The Center

I’m currently reading One Thing by Sam Storms. One part, the most useful part in my opinion, set off an avalanche of related quotes.

Fruitless joys are what we turn to when life is boring and gray and lonely and we know that tomorrow nothing will have changed. Fruitless joys aren’t necessarily scandalous sins. They may be little more than harmless hobbies in which we invest countless hours to make life a little less dull. They may be the newest gadgets we work so hard to own and worry about losing. They may be the fantasies and daydreams that swirl around in our heads that we know will never come true but somehow strangely bring a measure of excitement to an otherwise dreary life.

But why call them ‘fruitless’ joys?… They are fruitless because no matter how effective they seem right now, in the long term they can’t satisfy. Often they leave us feeling guilty for our having squandered so much time and energy and money on something so trivial and petty…They fail to reach deep into the soul and make a difference where it counts…Fruitless joys are whatever we trust to bring change but prove powerless to help us in our battle with temptation. No matter how well they work in the immediate present, we know God made us for something bigger and better and more satisfying.

Consider what this tells us about the nature of our souls. Your heart will always be drawn to whatever brings it greatest joy…

[Fruitless joys] will lose their grip on your soul only when they are displaced by greater joys, more pleasing joys, joys that satisfy not for the moment but forever. That is why Augustine declared, ‘You [God] drove them from me and took their place, you who were sweeter than all pleasure!‘ Augustine didn’t cease his sinful indulgence because he had given up on pleasure. He simply found a more pleasing pleasure, a longer-lasting joy, a fullness of joy and pleasures that never end (Ps. 16:11). – Sam Storms, One Thing, 139-140

Another name for ‘fruitless joys’ could be ‘idols.’ Consider the similar comments of Richard Keyes in his essay The Idol Factory:

An idol is something within creation that is inflated to function as a substitute for God. All sorts of things are potential idols, depending only on our attitudes and actions toward them…

…An idol need not be a full-sized replacement for God, for nothing can be. We become increasingly attached to it until it comes between us and God, making God remote and His commandments irrelevant or unrealistically prohibitive. In this society, our
idols tend to be in clusters. They are inflationary, have short shelf lives, and change, adapt, and multiply quickly as if by mitosis, or cell-division. An idol can be a physical object, a property, a person, an activity, a role, an institution, a hope, an image, an idea, a pleasure, a hero; anything that can substitute for God.

To summarize, idols will inevitably involve self-centeredness, self-inflation, and self-deception. Idolatry begins with the counterfeiting of God, because only with a counterfeit of God can people remain the center of their lives and loyalties, autonomous architects of their futures. Something within creation will then be idolatrously inflated to fill the God-shaped hole in the individual’s world. But a counterfeit is a lie, not the real thing. It must present itself through self-deception, often with images suggesting that the idol will fulfill promises for the good life. – Richard Keyes, No God But God, 32-33

If you go into the temple of your heart and cast out (or try to) an idol (they are almost impossible to move), another will quickly take its place. That temple is not meant to be empty. Sure, the idols of the past and present just don’t fill that temple they way they should, but they at least seem to keep things orderly there. It’s just that they get monotonous after a while and have to be upgraded or customized or refurbished.

What both Keyes and Storms are saying is that when we want to get sin our of our lives and get real meaning in our lives, we have to evict the idols, the fruitless joys, and place at the center of our being that which will actually hold it all together.

Likewise, John Piper explained it like this:

My conviction is that the better you know the supremacy of Christ the more sacred and satisfying and Christ-exalting your sexuality will be. I have a picture in my mind of the majesty of Christ like the sun at the center of the solar system of your life. The massive sun, 333,000 times the mass of the earth, holds all the planets in orbit, even little Pluto, 3.6 billion miles away.

So it is with the supremacy of Christ in your life. All the planets of your life; your sexuality and desires, your commitments and beliefs, your aspirations and dreams, your attitudes and convictions, your habits and disciplines, your solitude and relationships, your labor and leisure, your thinking and feeling; all the planets of your life are held in orbit by the greatness and gravity and blazing brightness of the supremacy of Jesus Christ at the center of your life. And if he ceases to be the bright, blazing, satisfying beauty at the center of your life, the planets will fly into confusion, and a hundred things will be out of control, and sooner or later they will crash into destruction…

There are many practical strategies for being sexually pure in mind and body. I don’t demean them. I use them! But with all my heart I know, and with the authority of Scripture I know that the tiny space ships of our moral strategies will be useless in nudging the planet of sexuality into orbit, unless the sun of our solar system is the supremacy of Christ.

Piper was speaking about sexuality but his point is appropriate for any sin. The strategies won’t work to keep those planets in orbit if the center of the solar system of our lives is anything less than Jesus Christ. Nothing else has sufficient gravity to align the orbits properly. The plants belong in their orbits, not at the center of the system.

This truth is once again boring its way into my thick skull. The trivialities of this life cannot satisfy me. Not fully. When I loose sight of Jesus Christ my solar system is unbalanced. So how do I delight in him? Is that the thing I just have to work harder at? Well, yes and no. If I don’t spend time with her do I really know my wife? If I am always focused on another woman (or women) is she really in the proper place in my life? The same is true of Jesus. We have to spend time with him. What Piper goes on to advocate is that we read great books about God. Read your Bible asking the question “what do I learn about Jesus here?” Talk to him in prayer. Look for answers, seek them out and be patient for them. Don’t focus first on the sin, focus on knowing and loving God through Jesus Christ and that will force the sin out. “Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1Jn 2:4). The two just don’t go together. But you don’t stop the sinning and
pronounce “now I know him!” That isn’t knowing him. Fill your mind with him, know him, and that will cause you to gladly keep his commandments, not slavishly.

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  • […] I’ve already mentioned one part that I found really helpful and the last chapter of the book is right on too. Stroms looks at something that has become a pretty popular subject lately: eschatology. In reference to a piece in Time magazine, Storms says: The article that followed was an attempt to account for the increased curiosity concerning when the world might come to an end as well as the staggering sales of the Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins fictional series, Left Behind. On reading this article one might think the end of history is all about the Antichrist or Israel or the rapture or 666 or any number of other themes associated with the theology of dispensationalism. But it isn’t. The end of history is all about the beauty of God. […]

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