Trivial Pursuits

A Russian Christian once visited the United States, and his host took him to a World Series baseball game. When the game was over, the American asked his foreign visitor what he thought. His response was telling. “I’ve never seen such first-class devotion to such a second-class cause.”


Too often that could be said of my life. My passions have often centered around trivial pursuits—things not particularly evil themselves, but oftentimes pathways to evil because they usurp the vital in my affections. The enemy of the best is often the good.

Dangerous Small Things

Sinful Idolatry

Is it wrong to be passionate about small things? Is it really dangerous? Through personal and painful experience, I have learned that my passion for the truly vital (namely, Christ and His kingdom) diminishes in proportion to an increased passion for the trivial. The words of Jesus are true: “No man can serve two masters.” To love anything more than the Lord Jesus is idolatry.

If there were no God, then my adoration of smallness would be no sin. But since there is a God infinitely greater, my prostration before a plethora of insignificant gods insults my Maker. God’s glory is not to be traded on (Rom. 1:21). He doesn’t give His glory to another (Isa. 48:11).

Insane Vanity

Not only is passion about small things sin—it’s also insane. At least, Jeremiah thought so. He called for the astonishment of the heavens over people sipping from broken cisterns while their backs were turned to the Fountain of Living Waters (Jer. 2:12-13). In the words of Solomon, that wise king who lived foolishly, every trivial pursuit will yield only vanity and a chasing of the wind (Ecc. 1:2; 5:16).

High-priced Pleasures

The price of pursuing small pleasures is high as well. Esau forfeited his birthright for just one warm meal. Achan traded his life for the loot of Jericho. Gehazi took Naaman’s silver and contracted his leprosy. Demas forsook the gospel because he loved this present world. Judas traded his King and Master for 30 pieces of silver and will forever be the son of perdition.

The Motivation of Vital Pursuits

We should follow the example of saints who forsook trivial pursuits, choosing instead the vital pursuit of the eternal delights of God. Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing to suffer affliction with God’s people rather than enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. Why? Because his eyes were on the eternal reward (Heb. 11:24-26). David could say, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after” (Psa. 27:4). Jesus rebuked Martha’s impatience with the seeking Mary, saying, “One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). And Paul said, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).

Why Worldly Love Is Easy

Though I know these things, sometimes it’s difficult to muster up the intensity of affection for God that seems to come so naturally for other things. Why is this? Because it does not require grace. It is the Spirit of grace who must teach us to know and love the pure pleasures of God. After all, an unspiritual man cannot taste spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14), and even those created anew find their affections sluggish, weighed down by the gravity of depravity (Rom. 7:14-25).

Help to Keep the Fires Blazing

Since passion for God is much more difficult to maintain than other passions, we need help to keep the spiritual fires blazing and to control the delights in lesser things. Following are several strategies I find helpful:

1. Pray to be weaned from the world. John Piper first suggested this thought in a sermon I found convicting, especially regarding my addiction to television. He said,
Turn off the television. . . . It is a deadly place to rest the mind, when you are least capable of critical interaction. It’s pervasive banality, sexual innuendo, and God-ignoring values have no ennobling effects upon the human soul. It kills the spirit, it drives away God, it quenches prayer, it blanks out the Bible, it cheapens the soul, it destroys spiritual power, it defiles almost everything![1]

Convicted, I began praying, “Lord, wean me off of this!” The Lord heard my prayer and brought a great deal of deliverance to my life.

2. Fast from lower pleasures that you might feast on higher ones. One of my first steps toward getting weaned off of television was to fast—from TV. I don’t remember whether it was for two weeks or one month (maybe it was two weeks that felt like a month!), but the Lord blessed my soul.

Fasting gives an unusual power to focus and channel our affections. Piper says,

If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I want you.”[2]


3. Labor to savor the glory and greatness of God. The Psalmist said, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psa. 34:8). Jesus even rebuked Peter for savoring the things of men rather than the things of God (Matt. 16:23).

We must awaken our spiritual senses and keep our spiritual taste buds keen by feasting on spiritual food such as the glory and greatness of God. You’ll find this food in His Word, which contains “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:11) and “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6, cf. v. 4).

Labor over God’s Word to taste and see God’s glory. Pray with the psalmist, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psa. 119:18).

4. Live deliberately. Difficult tasks are not accomplished by accident. Just as mastering a new language or a musical instrument takes deliberate, intentional effort and lengthy periods of time, so does becoming spiritually minded.

It is amazing how carefully we plan and how energetically we work at obtaining an education and succeeding in a career. In the great scheme of things, however, both are trivial if not done for God’s glory. Do we show the same kind of devotion to the vital pursuit of knowing God? Too often, as the old adage goes, we “worship at our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.”

5. Rub shoulders with God-centered saints. I recommend having godly mentors and reading biographies of godly men. I have both living mentors and dead ones. Although I’ve never met the dead ones outside of books, I know something of their lives, have caught something of their vision, and share something of their passion for God.

6. Remember that this is a daily fight of faith. There is no such thing as an easy Christian life. There is an easy life, but it is not Christian. We have a real Enemy with real weapons, and we fight real battles with real victories and defeats.

Conclusion

I don’t want to give the impression that I have fully overcome my attachment to trivial things. Too much television can still be a struggle, and keeping alive a passion for God is a daily battle. I have to preach these things to myself again and again, and you will have to do the same. Let us remember Paul’s words to Timothy: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:12). Keep your eyes on the prize!

Making It Personal

  • What are your passions? Is there anything you love more than Jesus?
  • Are you passionately pursuing knowing and loving God? Are you asking God to help you love what He loves?
  • Have you ever fasted from something that was controlling you?
  • What spiritual goals are you presently working toward?
  • Who are your mentors?


End Notes


[1] John Piper, “The Word That Comes Worshipping: Savoring What We Say of God,” (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God Ministries, 11-3-94).


[2] John Piper, A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1997) 23.

3 comments:

chucklawrence said...

I have heard/read this anecdote concerning the Russian pastor before. I was wondering if you had a positive track on the actual source or whether this is a kind of pastoral urban legend. Not that his comment is incorrect, but I tend to think that American's are not the only humans who have trouble with priorities.

Brian G. Hedges said...

Honestly, I don't remember where I first heard/read this. I wrote the first version of this article six or seven years ago and just reused it for Pastor Connect and for the blog.

But I'm sure you're right. Priorities is universal human problem, although prosperity probably does make it more difficult because it gives us so many more options.

chucklawrence said...

This is true. In the absence of a television I know I do a lot more reading which is why we don't have one! And we can't afford it.