Humans are amazing creatures. Consider the things that we say we want. Consider what we show that we really want. Consider how they are not the same thing.
People want happiness, fulfillment, or prosperity. I think that is true for nearly every human being. I have never met anyone who told me that the last thing they want is to be satisfied with life. (Of course, I have known some sour people who seem to find satisfaction in a frown, but I digress.)
Here is what I found interesting in the Psalms recently. In Psalm 81, God speaks to his people and makes the most prosperity-theology-looking sorts of promises [disclaimer: I fully reject prosperity theology]. He promises the people success, victory, physical comforts. It is a no-brainer that the people should jump at. But, what the Lord shows us in his word is that the people specifically do not do what God says.
8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you!
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
9 There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
10 I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
11 “But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
13 Oh, that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
14 I would soon subdue their enemies
and turn my hand against their foes.
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe toward him,
and their fate would last forever.
16 But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
There is a lot in that section, but just think with me about the prosperity the people say they want. I think all of Israel would say that they wanted the success God mentioned here. They want the favor and the blessing. But there is something that keeps them from it. What is that? And do we have the same problem?
I would argue that the text above shows us something of great significance about the human heart. We want success, comfort, and satisfaction. But, our lives show us that we somehow get so disordered that we value something else above actual joy and satisfaction. That something shows us the very heart of our sin nature, and we need to get it.
In the Psalm, the people show that they want their autonomy even more than they want joy. They, by their actions, show that they will reject the joy that satisfies a soul and makes a life easy if they do not get to have that joy in their own way, under their own control, by their own standards.
This is human nature at its clearest. It was the problem in the garden. Adam and Eve had everything they could ever need. All comforts and joys were present. They had food, beauty, marriage, intimacy, comforts, long-life, fellowship with God. But the rebellion that they gave into said that all those things were worth rejecting if they could not be the masters of it all. If they could not have things their way, being at the top of the organizational chart, they would turn from all comforts and embrace death.
And this is our nature today. Humans naturally reject the rewards of God in order to magnify our own freedoms and autonomy. It is true in little things and in big things. It is true in my life and in yours. And a major part of living as a Christian is learning that soul-satisfaction is found in submission to the Lord, not in my own autonomy.
Look at your own life. Are you willing to walk away from God rather than submit to him? Do you want to be the one in charge of yourself, even if being in charge takes from you the joy you desire? Many are. Often, I am—that is what happens when I sin. When I sin, I say to God that I will give up the joy he can give because I refuse to bow to him. I say to God that I would rather hurt in life than yield to his authority. And the only way for me to find joy and peace in life is to learn—like a horse in a bridle—that there is a greater joy for me, the joy and even the freedom I desire, to be found only when I submit to Jesus as God created me to do.