I know this is an invitation for a Conan the Barbarian quote. That was entirely intentional I assure you.
A couple weeks back, I was on vacation visiting my family and introducing them to my daughter. It was a delightful trip and an exhausting, but also relaxing time away. While we were staying with my parents, we participated in an online worship service of my parents church (a family visit ran late and we weren’t able to get there in person). The message was on envy and focused on the text of Psalm 73. The structure of the Psalm is pretty cool because the author, Asaph, starts by reflecting on how much is wrong in this world when the evil flourish and how he is struggling even in light of his obedience. It’s a pretty whiny Psalm until about half way through when he talks about going into the sanctuary of the Lord. From that point on it takes a very different tone as Asaph gets some perspective on his situation and what really matters in his life.
21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
27 Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.
As Asaph peeled back the layers of his entitlement and expectation sitting in the sanctuary of God, he realized that the only thing that really mattered for his good was intimacy with God. Being near to God was his good and out of all things, the only thing he desired was God. The pastor went on to pose the ultimate question of his sermon; “What do you desire most in life?” His implication was that if you desire anything other than intimacy with God, your perspective will be off and you will be making comparisons to what others have and ultimately will be unhappy with your lot. What he is saying is that it is in intimacy with God alone that we can find satisfaction and that is the only thing worth wanting.
Hearing this got me thinking and reflective. What is it that I want most in life, really? As I contemplated the things that make up my life and where I find value, I was surprised by my answer. I realized that right now the thing I want most in life is to serve God. Serving my college students, finishing up seminary, and pursuing a pastoral call have dominated my effort and thought life for the last several years. Serving God to the best of my capacity is what I want most right now. But wanting to serve God is not the same thing as wanting intimacy with God. As I thought about it, I realized that even in wanting to serve Him, it is still wanting something outside of just being with Him. Even in desiring something good, I open myself up to discontent in my job and ministry, and the more I thought about it the more I realized that it really had started to happen to me.
If serving God well is what I want most, then I open myself up to judgment on my performance, the results of my service, the use of my time, and the fear of not measuring up. If instead, my focus and desire was on knowing God and being present with Him, how much of that concern and envy would be present? How much more satisfying is that: finding my identity and my value in God’s promised nearness than in what I am able to achieve, produce, or do for Him? I am challenged by this message and by this passage in particular as to what I have made most important in my heart. I want to want intimacy with God most of all and I know in my head that it is the place I can find real contentment in my situation no matter my circumstances as I relate to God the way He desires me to. This has become my prayer of late as I echo with Asaph, “It is good to be near God,” as I remind myself of the simplicity of knowing Christ and finding intimacy with God through Him.