If you could have anything you wanted, what would you ask for?
As early as first grade, I remember listening to my teacher explain to us that we would be receiving our first report cards. I didn’t really know what a report card was, or what it was measuring, but thanks in part to my older siblings I knew one thing: I wanted it to be full of A’s. I’ll never forget sitting on that carpet criss-cross-applesauce in anxious anticipation, hoping for those magical A’s and the insurmountable joy I was certain would come with them.
Of course, now I don’t even remember what was in the report card and I shake my head at the idea of wanting straight A’s in first grade (yeah – it runs deep). But I can also see that even at that young age I had a desire inside I didn’t know how to fill. Later on I moved on to other things to try to fill that void, but no matter what I did just couldn’t seem to find what I was looking for. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience.
The Bible describes this feeling in Proverbs:
What a person desires is unfailing love…
This scripture says that one thing everyone wants is unfailing love. If a desire like that is left unmet it will gnaw away at us until we find something to satisfy it. So where do you find unfailing love? A boyfriend? A parent? A boss? A kid? Careful – expecting a person to give you unfailing love can lead to a lot of disappointment and resentment. People make mistakes; even the best-intentioned among us will sometimes say the wrong thing, forget to return a call, or do something inconsiderate because we got wrapped up in our own lives.
One of the greatest things I remember learning about God was that he could give me what I was actually looking for:
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
9 for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.
14 Fill us with your love every morning. Then we will sing and rejoice all our lives.
Psalm 90:14 (NCV)
Having a relationship with God gives real satisfaction and fulfillment and purpose. The problem is, sometimes the old me pops up. I may be going through all the right motions, going to church, reading the Bible, but in my heart I very easily and very quickly start to want things like success, pleasure, approval, attention or money more than I want to be close to God. I start thinking these are the things that will make me happy and secure.
The Bible calls this unfaithfulness – turning away from God to someone or something else to meet my needs. God feels hurt about unfaithfulness just like you would if your spouse or significant other turned away from you for someone else:
2 Go now, and say this loud enough for all Jerusalem to hear. Tell them that the Eternal speaks these words:
“I still remember the way you clung to Me in your youth, in the early days of our union.
Like a young bride, you loved the vows you made.
As I led you from slavery in Egypt to your freedom in Canaan, you drew close to Me.
Even in the barren wilderness along the way, I filled your every need.
Eternal One: What happened between us?
What could I have done to your ancestors that was so wrong, so unfair?
Why would they pull away from Me
to pursue the empty worship of idols that has left them just as empty?
Jeremiah 2:2, 5 Voice
God loves being close to us, and he movingly expresses in this scripture not only how much it hurts him when we pull away from him but also how much he doesn’t want to see us living empty lives. Have you begun to feel empty, anxious and unhappy instead of grateful, confident, and joyful?
I think unfaithfulness can sometimes be hard to detect because it begins in our hearts and desires. So let’s start by identifying a few signs you may be looking for love in all the wrong places.
When God Isn’t Enough for You
1. You’re easily worried and upset
38 While Jesus and his followers were traveling, Jesus went into a town. A woman named Martha let Jesus stay at her house.39 Martha had a sister named Mary, who was sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him teach. 40 But Martha was busy with all the work to be done. She went in and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work? Tell her to help me.”
41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. 42 Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.”
Martha was someone who was trying to do all the right things – host a dinner, do good things for God, you get the idea. But something happened to her heart. In her busy-ness she forgot about God. As a result, she was easily worried, upset, and angry at people around her. What Jesus tells Martha in this scripture is that there is really only one thing that is important in her day – not how good of a dinner she made, or how hard of a worker she was, but how much she chose to listen to God.
How would your life change if you measured a successful day based not on how much you got done but on how much you listened to God? I tend to start my day pretty anxious about all that I have to do, and recently I’ve found that quoting this scripture to myself helps a lot. I may not be able to control what other people think of me, how much I get done in the course of a day, or many other things in my life, but I can choose how much I listen to God.
What would God say is most important to you in your day? Do you measure how good a day was by how much you listened to God through reading the Bible and submitting your will to scriptures? What else do you prioritize more than your relationship with God?
2. You constantly feel like life is hard
But those who turn to idols
will have much pain.
I will not offer blood to those idols
or even speak their names.
5 No, the Lord is all I need.
He takes care of me.
An idol is anything we turn to instead of God to meet our needs and take care of us. It could be a person, a spouse, a kid, a job, or even our own strength (Habakkuk 1:11). The Bible says that when we choose to turn to an idol we will experience much pain. In other words, life will feel hard.
I’ve seen that this is true a lot in marriage. When I don’t expect myself to find peace and contentment in my relationship with God I end up putting a lot of unfair pressure on my husband to take away all my fears, anxieties, and insecurities – something no human could possibly do. Usually when we are experiencing pain in marriage – distance, bitterness, fights, and anger – the cause has something to do with turning away from God.
On the other hand, the Bible says I can decide that God is all I need and believe he will take care of me. Believing this brings me a lot of peace and contentment, regardless of my circumstances. If we’re not experiencing this peace and contentment, we need to look at where else we’re turning other than God.
Are you expecting money to meet your needs? A boyfriend, or a spouse? If so, life will feel full of pain; even if your circumstances get better, you’ll inevitably find something else that is unsatisfying.
3. You desperately need praise from people
41 “I don’t need praise from people. 42 But I know you—I know that you don’t have God’s love in you.
I admire a lot that Jesus didn’t need praise from people. The Bible says that getting consumed with needing praise from people means you are missing some crucial love from God. A hole where God is supposed to be will leave a lot of room for a desperate need for other people’s praise.
How much do you desire praise from people? What do you think that says about your connection with God? How could feeling more confident of God’s love for you take away some of your need for people’s praise and approval?
When God is Enough For You
Luckily the Bible gives us a lot of examples of people who chose to be faithful to God. Let’s look at a few choices we can make to turn our hearts back to God:
1. You admit your desires
But as for me, I almost lost my footing.
My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.
3 For I envied the proud
when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.
Look at these wicked people—
enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.
So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper.
But what a difficult task it is!
17 Then I went into your sanctuary, O God,
and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.
But I am close to God, and that is good.
The Lord God is my protection.
I will tell all that you have done.
Psalm 73: 2-3, 5, 16-17, 28
Psalm 73 is a great scripture to read about being close to God. The psalmist starts out almost losing his faith, and ends at a place of contentment and trust. How did he get there? One important step was he admitted what he was craving more than God: prosperity, riches, and an easy life. These are some of the biggest competitors to my relationship with God – believing that more money, more success, or an easier life would make me happy.
The good news is, admitting your desires is a really important and helpful step to changing them. Money, success and pleasure seem a lot more desirable when they’re just ideas in my head. As soon as I talk about them and pray about them I usually realize pretty quickly they won’t really satisfy me and I start to get more grateful for my relationship with God and his purpose for my life.
What desires have been threatening your love for God? How do you think praying and being honest about those desires could help your faith and your heart for God?
2. You change your priorities
I am pleading with the Eternal for this one thing,
my soul’s desire:
To live with Him all of my days—
in the shadow of His temple,
To behold His beauty and ponder His ways
in the company of His people.
5 His house is my shelter and secret retreat.
It is there I find peace in the midst of storm and turmoil.
Safety sits with me in the hiding place of God.
He will set me on a rock, high above the fray.
Psalm 27:4-5 Voice
In this psalm, David expresses that the only thing he wants is to be close to God … he doesn’t ask for more money, for more vacation time, for more success, for a spouse, or for anything else. And because of the priority he puts on being close to God, he can find peace in the midst of storm and turmoil.
What have you secretly hoped would bring you peace in the midst of the storms in your life? What’s the thing you really believe would make you happy and at peace? Is it God, or something else?
Choose to make God your “shelter and secret retreat.” Try taking a walk in a peaceful place where you can talk to God honestly and candidly. Take a little extra time out of your day to read the Bible when you’re feeling stressed. These small decisions to prioritize God mean a lot to him and also will help you find the peace and security you’re really looking for.
3. You recognize your symptoms
In Psalm 63:1 the Bible says:
O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.
Have you ever heard that sometimes when you think you’re hungry, you’re actually thirsty? Dietitians say this is actually really common, because hunger and thirst signals are processed in the same part of the brain. When we confuse the symptoms of needing food versus needing water we will end up not giving our body what it truly needs.
Similarly, sometimes we misinterpret the signals of what our soul needs. As this scripture says, deep down inside there is a thirst in our soul that only being close to God can quench. When we feel stressed, we may think we need more free time but really we need more time connecting with God. When we feel insecure, we may think we need a boyfriend or spouse or more recognition at our job when really we need to spend some good time with God reading the Bible and praying.
What are the symptoms in your life that you need to spend time with God? Recognizing these symptoms will help you to stay close to God each day and not let your heart drift off to other places to find the love and security you are actually looking for.