One of the first lessons Jesus taught when He started His earthly ministry was the need to think differently than the world. The kingdom of God operates in a completely different manner than the kingdoms of this world.
When trying to find the fulfillment and purpose God intends for our lives, we can’t expect to find it the way popular culture teaches us. We are told to strive for wealth and hoard whatever resources we attain, to look out for ourselves above everything, and to scratch and claw our way to the top. Self-promotion takes the place of healthy ambition, and building ourselves up takes the place of encouraging others.
When Jesus said to truly find life in this world we must be willing to lose it, He wasn’t simply referring to martyrdom. He was referring to our ability to remove ourselves off the throne of our own hearts. In other words, are we willing to kill narcissism — any excessive self-love — in ourselves? True fulfillment cannot cohabit with narcissism; the two are incompatible. If we live life with the goal of magnifying and promoting self, we will find in the end that we have pursued a futile endeavor, incapable of providing anything resembling purpose and fulfillment.
Looking at the stats of our modern culture is a bit staggering. Our culture paints itself as part of a global community that is committed to the betterment and advancement of humanity, but there are more slaves today than at any other time in human history. The internet and social media have made global connections instantaneous, yet loneliness is one of the leading causes of teen suicide. Modern culture tells us humanity is progressing, that with enough education and experience we can design our own purposes for our lives.
Our culture has even tried to define the value of human life. Genetic engineering is now used to create humans that supposedly have a higher value than others because they possess certain DNA markers. We live in a disposable society that thinks nothing of eternity but solely of momentary entertainment and immediate gratification. And a society that is willing to give up truth and purpose for comfort and entertainment will ultimately end up being a society left feeling empty and adrift. Humanity wasn’t made to float aimlessly through life concerned only with self.
The facts don’t support culture’s claim that the answer to our problems can be found by our own self-sufficiency. Divorce, anxiety, depression, and suicide continue to reach all-time highs globally, so whatever popular culture has been teaching us to do to better ourselves and humanity is obviously not working.
It’s the person dying of dehydration who understands the value of water. If we continue to look to our culture for the answers we seek, if we continue to seek purpose and fulfillment from a system that gets rich off our pursuit of these, we will eventually find we’ve been given soda instead of water. Sure it might taste good, but in reality, it only contributes to our thirst; it doesn’t satisfy it.
At sixteen I started surfing. Until then I imagined I’d move away from the coast when I got old enough. But on a sunny September day in 1996, I paddled out at Rincon Point in Carpinteria, California, and stood up on a wave for my first time. When it happened, the significance of that moment escaped me. But after that first surf, I found myself longing to go to the beach every chance I got.
Riding waves was euphoric — blissful and peaceful, dangerous and thrilling all at once. When I couldn’t go surfing, I read surf magazines. I still remember my first copy of Surfer; it was their travel issue. An article about Iceland stirred in me a wanderlust that remains today. The idea of traveling to foreign coastlines in search of adventure, new cultures, and un-ridden waves spoke to me — it awakened something in me. I decided if I could just take a trip somewhere exotic and find perfect waves, it would fulfill all the longing I felt inside.
I traveled for years and surfed waves on far shores, but I never could satisfy that longing.
The reason traveling and surfing never satisfied me is the same reason the things we cherish in life never completely fulfill us. No earthly joy can ever truly satisfy. C.S. Lewis notes, “All joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’… It is a by-product. Its very existence presupposes that you desire not it but something other and outer.”
No matter how many times we experience the feeling that Lewis called joy, it is simply Heaven’s siren to our soul, not Heaven itself. It is not intended to satisfy. Its purpose is to awaken, to rouse us to the understanding that we are not meant for what this sin-infested life has to offer; we are meant for much more. The feeling is not the actual thing we desire, the feeling is a testament that the thing we desire is true and real. The feeling speaks of our true purpose.
The trouble is we build our lives around attaining that feeling, and once we think we’ve attained it we try to arrest it and keep it from escaping. We go to great lengths to satisfy our longing, even basing our life decisions around attempting to never lose it. In the end, our efforts fall short. No matter how great our attempts, we eventually realize the feeling has gone and we are left wondering why. Lewis also notes, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
This isn’t to say those special moments in life aren’t meant to be enjoyed; they certainly are. But they aren’t intended to ultimately fulfill us — that can come from only one source, the One who made us.
Pop culture wants us to believe that we are simply natural, physical beings, and therefore we should seek our answers in only natural, physical solutions. But we are so much more than flesh and blood. We are eternal, created in the image of an eternal God, with an eternal purpose to fulfill. The quicker we realize this truth, the quicker we will start to truly live.
Daniel Hamlin is an author, surfer, and speaker from the Central Coast of California. Since the release of his first book in 2015 Hamlin has spoken at churches and ministries throughout the world. He also holds a degree in Biblical Studies. Find out more at www.danielhamlin.org