Philosopher, scientist, and Christian apologist Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) observed that “all of man’s miseries come from him not being able to sit still in a quiet room alone.”
Give a dog a bone to chew on and a warm fireplace to curl up beside, and it’ll be perfectly content. Give a cat a scratching post and a sunny windowsill, and it’ll be perfectly at peace. But give a man everything he could ever want, and he will eventually grow restless.
Unlike animals, humans desire meaning and purpose in life. We realize that we will soon die, and we long for our lives to somehow have lasting value. We have countless physical, mental, and emotional needs that need to be met. We want to leave a lasting legacy and have peace knowing that we somehow actually mattered in the grand scheme of the universe.
The World’s Way
The world constantly takes advantage of our restlessness. Every day, hundreds of advertisements tell us that if we only bought this product, if we only took this class, if we only made more money, if we only looked more attractive, etc., then we would find peace and fulfillment in life.
Too many people buy into this consumerism, spending their whole lives pursuing money and material possessions. Many people work multiple jobs in an effort to make more money, even if it means sacrificing quality time with their spouse or children. Exhausted, stressed out, and burdened down with many possessions, their health deteriorates. Finally, having achieved the “American dream,” they retire, thinking, “finally, I will have some peace in these last few years of my life.” But, never having invested in anything of lasting value, never having spent enough time with their children, and not knowing what to do with all the money they made, they only find emptiness.
This is not a new phenomenon. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon tried it all (there is nothing new under the sun!). Searching for meaning and fulfillment in life, he pursued every pleasure, amassing great wealth for himself, building huge gardens and parks, and marrying 700 wives. To this day, the Pools of Solomon – an impressive collection of ancient swimming pools believed to have been built by the king himself – stand three miles southwest of Bethlehem. Solomon had it all – wealth, women, and political power. But nothing ultimately satisfied his desire for meaning in life. He was “chasing after the wind.” In the end, his inevitable conclusion was: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”
The Dalai Lama put it this way: “Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health. He is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present. He lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies, having never really lived!”
The world’s way is a lie. The things of this world never ultimately satisfy. That’s why many of the world’s wealthiest individuals are also the most depressed.
It Is Well With My Soul
Horatio Spafford (1828-1888) was a devout Christian and father of five. In 1870, his only son died of pneumonia at the age of four. In 1871, he lost all of his investments in real estate when the Great Chicago Fire decimated the city.
Crushed by financial hardship, he planned to take his whole family to England to visit Christian evangelist D.L. Moody. But delayed by a business meeting, he had to send his wife and four daughters ahead of him. He received a telegram informing him that their ship had collided with another vessel in the middle of the Atlantic, killing 226 passengers including all four of his daughters.
Travelling to England alone, he asked for the ship to stop momentarily over the very spot where his daughters had drowned. At that moment, he wrote down these words
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control:
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
In the midst of such incredible tragedy, how could Spafford say, “It is well with my soul?” Compared to the world’s way, Spafford had a radically different, countercultural mindset. He had taken up the yoke of Christ and surrendered everything into God’s hands.
My Yoke is Easy
In contrast to the world’s way, Jesus tells us to lay down the burdens of this world and take up his yoke. He says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
The world laughs at this. The world asks, “How could the yoke of Jesus be easy when Christianity is filled with so many rules?” Many people walk away from Jesus for this very reason. “I don’t want to be a Christian,” they say, “because if I were a Christian, I couldn’t have sex outside of marriage, I couldn’t look at pornography, I couldn’t get drunk, I couldn’t do this, that, and the other thing.”
But none of these things ultimately satisfy! In fact, in the long run these things only add to our feelings of emptiness, meaninglessness, and worthlessness.
Being yoked to the world is like being attached to an ox that is pulling you backwards in the wrong direction. Although you can see inner peace and contentment on the horizon, you can never quite get there no matter how hard you struggle, because the ox next you is constantly pulling you back.
In contrast, being yoked to Christ is like being attached to a strong ox that keeps you moving in the right direction even when you are too weak to carry on. His yoke is easy!
The God-Shaped Hole
C.S. Lewis wrote that every man has within him a “God-shaped hole.” We try to fill it with so many other things, but only God can fill that void.
Once we believe that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28) we can finally have inner peace because we learn to rest in the sovereign God of the universe. We can have peace in the good times, and we can have peace in the bad times, because we know that in both good times and bad times God is working to bring about his purposes.
Our own desires, plans, and purposes have little lasting meaning in the grand scheme of the universe, but HIS purposes have eternal value. HIS purposes are far better than anything we could ever ask for or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20), and HE is working out HIS purposes through us! When we surrender everything to HIM, we finally have peace inside, knowing that everything is in God’s hands, and God will ultimately work everything out for good.
In the words of Augustine, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.”
True inner peace can only be found in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.