I was having a great discussion with some friends about true freedom. Freedom is a word we Americans love. But it’s one we don’t understand, but we think we do – which is a dangerous combination. We think because we have opportunities, money, technologies, and enlightened thinking that we’re calling the shots. The reality is much different.
In a very real sense, many of us are slaves. We unquestionably follow the teachings of our culture about everything – what we eat, wear, and especially how we think. We think freedom is found in chasing and achieving our dreams. Whether it’s more money, higher status, or fame, we keep striving for “it.”
Culture tells us this striving is good and right. It says, “Consume, Try Harder, Work Harder, and Keep Going.” Why is it saying these things? It seems like a lot of work – not freedom. Underneath these “encouragements” is the subtle suggestion that we’re not good enough, not smart enough, and not worthy. So we stay on the treadmill. Why? What are we trying to do?
Lots of us seek happiness. Culture tells us happiness is the ultimate goal, and that it can be achieved by hard work. Is this really true? I came across a quote from actor, Jim Carey. He says, “I think everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
Carey is echoing Ecclesiastes:
I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
If we spend our lives striving for externals, we’ll be on a treadmill all our lives – constantly looking to outside “things” to make us feel complete. Perhaps we’re the mom who tries to be the “perfect mom.” Perhaps we’re the business professional always working late and on weekends, continually eroding the boundaries of work and personal life.
Even folks who believe in God can sometimes miss the depths of the peace and rest that is found in God. It might go something like this, “I work hard to put God first in my life and I know He’ll help me be successful if it’s His will.” This has a ring of truth and humility, but notice that there isn’t much peace. The folks who are saying this are not at peace – they’re restless, still seeking, still searching, and trying to get God to run on their treadmill.
True freedom, inner peace, happiness, and completeness comes when an understanding of the breadth of God overshadows the things of this world. When we truly understand God’s love for us, His purpose for us, our place in His world, as His children, everything else is secondary. Success, fame, fortune – if it comes, great, but we truly have something better. We’re free to live, free.
Knowing God personally is not an abstract spiritual endeavor. It’s the real deal that Jesus walked and talked and taught.
Freedom is not the ability to strive for our dreams and possibly reach them. Freedom is knowing, in the core of our being, that we have something much larger and much grander in God. We can hold things lightly and in their proper perspective.
With God as our center, people will notice something different. They’ll sense our assurance and peace. Life and love will pour out of us. We will reflect God.
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” ~ Jesus, the Christ
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson