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Carey was reared in a rural setting and worked whenever he wasn’t in school for most of his childhood. His parents barely got along, and Carey endured, as he “marked the days” until he could leave. Carey’s life had little meaning or significance. He did what felt right and angrily persevered.
There is a “hole in all of our hearts” because of the fall of Adam (Romans 5:12). Sadly, rather than turning to God, we carve out cisterns for water but they don’t hold water (Jeremiah 2:13). Only God can bring the contentment that our hearts need (John 4:14). Carey lived in a Christless world, so he submitted to his native tendencies: he became self-reliant.
He had a below than average education because his parents showed little interest in him or his schooling. As an adult, Carey pulled himself up by his bootstraps, which was mostly because of his intelligence; he was a smart kid. But he didn’t care and was directionless. Eventually, he married to get out of the home. It was another short-sighted survival technique.
Shortly after his marriage, someone told Carey about Jesus, and it was not long before he was growing spiritually. He had a sincere heart for the Lord. The church embraced Carey and his new wife, and encouraged them to plug-in and serve. The possibility of others valuing him was thrilling, and it was not long before Carey had the opportunity to go to seminary.
He was experiencing things that he had never enjoyed before. His new life was moral, and his family had a semblance of unity and love. Then there was a college education in front of him, something that he had kissed goodbye while in high school. Carey thought for the first time that he was becoming somebody, which had been the deepest desire from his earliest recollections.
After God regenerated him, Carey sensed that the Lord was meeting this longing for significance. There was meaning to his life, and Carey’s contentment was growing proportionally. Though he couched these good feelings under the notion of “serving the Lord,” the truth was that his “ministry” was giving him a false sense of worth. He was finding his identity in what he did, his new ministry, rather than who he was in Christ.
In time, his self-focused desires led him to be more preoccupied with his vocation than leading his wife and family. There was steadily-increasing trouble in their home due to his leadership failure. To further complicate things, his local church was applauding his “growth” while never asking the hard questions about character, leadership, or family. And as he began to sense that his wife did not reinforce his newfound identity, he became angry, fearful, manipulative, forceful, distant, and controlling.
Carey loved the respect, admiration, and compliments that came with having an upstanding reputation. The problem was that Carey’s search for significance and craving for self-worth destroyed his home. In the end, Carey’s wife couldn’t take any more of it, so she left.
One of the most challenging tasks for a Christian counselor is to teach someone how to find what they are looking for in Christ. The person does not see his need as repentance from self to faith in Christ. He sees his need in terms of significance, acceptance, respect, admiration, belonging, meaning, love, and dignity.
And when he does not get those things, he speaks continually of his problems, his concerns, his hurts, and what other people have done to him. He acts and feels as though he is a walking deficit (an empty cup) that nobody can fill. He becomes demanding and self-centered rather than humble and God-centered.
Carey didn’t seem to understand that his desires had no bounds. Unguarded appetites are insatiable and can wither even the strongest of relationships. The more he craved “felt needs” (significance, love, respect, comfort, etc.), the more he wanted them. And the more he wanted them, the more dissatisfied he became. Jeremiah 17:9 says that we cannot even know our hearts and truly understand what we need. Proverbs 14:12 tells us explicitly that there is a way that seems right to a person, but in the end, there is death.
The shaping influences in Carey’s life steered him toward a godless, self-absorbed search for significance. He could not see how “his way” demanded so much from his relationships, particularly those who loved him. Please understand. It’s not that the things he wanted were evil. To enjoy a good job is a God-pleasing thing. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. I’m not down on the goodness of blessings and how they can satisfy us. Indeed, they are from God.
The problem happens when these things we enjoy manage us. They control us. Meaning, we find our significance in these “gifts” more than we find rest and peace in the Lord. Nothing can satisfy our eternal longings of our souls outside of Christ. Attempts to find contentment apart from Christ is like quenching our thirst by siphoning water from mud puddles.
Do you want someone to love you? Do you desire significance in what you do? Then let me encourage you to dwell upon the gospel. I know. It sounds simple, or even cliche. But may I challenge you? Take time right now to re-visit the gospel story of how God came to die for you. Preach the gospel to yourself at this moment. Do you know how to do that? Read on.
True satisfaction comes when you recognize and apply the gospel to your life. God came to save sinners. He did this by dying for sinners.
Living in the good of the gospel has daily, practical application. Carey forgot this. He knew the gospel was what saved him. But after his conversion (his introduction to the gospel), he moved into the Christian culture and began obeying and serving, while not tethering his soul to the daily reality of the gospel. Maintaining obedience sucked the joy out of his Christian experience and debilitated his relationships.
Learn What It Means to Live in the Good of the Gospel
The gospel had salvific implications, but it did not have a primary function in his sanctification. The gospel saves you, he would say, but obedience is of prime importance after conversion. Though he knew the theological error in his thoughts, it was the legalist in him that tempted him to swerve toward making obedience of first importance.
A person living outside the shadow of the cross will forget his biblical priorities and will soon lose the “contentment effect” of the gospel. When you move the gospel from your functional center and replace it with other interests, even biblical things like “serving the Lord,” you will begin to grow in discontentment. And along with your restlessness will bring the temptation to satisfy your God-given longings through human-centered means.