Self-Serve

By

I wrote a post a while back that never saw the light of day–and for good reason. It was written in a fit of depression as I tried to express my exhaustion with the burden of hope. In it I suggested that hope was something I didn’t want anymore.  In fact, I said that I wanted to crush it dead and rip it out of me. It took a while for me to realize that what I was really exhausted by wasn’t hope, it was myself.

I have an ongoing struggle with trying to discern what God wants from what I want. You hear it all the time, people say, “If it’s God’s will, he’ll open a door.” The problem with that advice is that God isn’t the only one opening doors. I can open doors on my own and Satan certainly opens them all around me, all the time. It’s figuring out which one to walk through that is the problem.

Quite a few times in my life I’ve tried to walk by faith and walked through an open door only to find a precipice waiting. I’m still bruised from those falls and these days I find it harder and harder to take those leaps of faith. I feel like I’ve trusted God and he’s let me down, let me fall. Why should I bother trusting him again?

This week, over lunch, I discussed this with a wise, old friend of mine. How do I tell the difference between what God wants and what I want to see? He chewed his food and didn’t reply for a long time. I wasn’t sure if he’d heard me or not. Then he looked at me and said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” He shrugged, as if to imply that there was nothing more to be said. He was right. My first reaction was irritation, I hate having scripture quoted at me, but as I opened my mouth to offer my ‘yeah, but’, I realized that I had nowhere to go.

The mistake I’ve made is trying to find a way to align what I want out of life with what God wants out of me. I have always tried to find a way to serve both desires but I can’t serve both God and myself and I’m sure that far too often I’ve ended up serving only the latter. My efforts to serve myself have been consistently confounded and in retrospect, I don’t know that I have ever sought the kingdom first. Therein lay the root of my depression.

When I wrote that I wanted hope to die, what I was really trying to say was that I wanted my self-service to die. I want to be dead to my own desire and alive in God’s desire for me. That’s not an easy prayer. In fact, it’s damnably hard to pray that and mean it. But I pray it. If only by rote at times, I pray it. And my hope is that one day my desires and his will be one.

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


23 Comments

  1. Joel Bassett

    Thanks for your words.

    Conflict in the soul is hard to deal with honestly, and sometimes the hardest in Christian community. Some of the Psalms of Lament have been courage for me, for they often say words far more bold than I would be willing to piece together, though the thoughts and conflict are all there within.

    I am so thankful that Jesus came down here to seek God’s kingdom for us.

  2. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Pete,

    It’s a long process to unravel the mystery of who we really are – perceptually long, but in light of eternity so very brief. Our deepest desires, the kinds of things we want for our lives when we look ahead to our deathbeds, are the real you and me. That’s the new creation man – a new heart and a right Spirit, a union of His Spirit with ours. No one pours new wine into old wineskins – that’s why we have new hearts that are then unified with God’s Spirit.

    But the trouble is we don’t know we’re new. We don’t believe it, we don’t rely on it – and we don’t see Christ in the mirror. We see miserable failing me.

    But the real deal is “When I sin it is no longer I that does it, but sin that dwells in me.” That self-service we want to die to is something we’ve already died to. But we haven’t appropriated it as our own, much like when we get a check in the mail and it gets lost in the shuffle. It does us no good sitting there in the pile; it’s ours, but it’s merely potential money until we cash it in.

    That other-serving life of Christ in us is dormant in us in whatever area we are believing in an independent self that can find its own happiness, its own fulfillment. So many of those books out now – The Secret, The Law of Attraction – are all about “how to create the life you want.” The believer, deep down, as you are coming to know, wants the life God wants for him. But we’ve got to cash the checks – we’ve got to appropriate Reality, God’s Facts, and rely on those Facts.

    When someone asks me “How do I know God’s will for my life?” my answer is usually this: What are your realest, deepest desires? What do you love to do? What sort of things are you good at? Screwtape said, “The deepest likings and impulses of a man are the raw material, the starting point with which the Enemy has furnished him. We should always move the man away from the food or books or people he likes and toward the “best” food, the “right” books, and the “important” people.” (a paraphrase, but I don’t have the book with me here in Calgary).

    Bottom line is that we’re already dead to self-service. Do we always feel dead to it? No. But as we rely on the Fact – (really on the Person behind the Fact) – we are saying, “God, you’re not a liar. You tell the truth, and I’m going to rely on what you say and stand on it as Fact.” And we begin to see His life come through us. We have been promised rivers of living water. To get that we’ve got to rely on it and hold God to His promise.

    I’m not pollyanna about this, Pete – everything I have learned about the truth of Christ living in me has been hard-won. I was beat to Hell to learn it, inside my consciousness. I dealt with satanic oppression, depression, fear, doubt, demonic dreams, despair, self-hatred, self-consciousness, and all kinds of stuff thrown at me in the last fifteen years – demons of childhood. But I know – I really know deep down – that Galatians 2:20 is Reality. Sometimes I pop out of it and live for moments in Romans 7, but as I go back to inner reliance I pop back into Romans 8.

    We are meant to live in a spontaneous, restful freedom in Christ, where we rely on Him and He lives through us. It’s real power, and the Church will one day wake up to her real identity in Him.

    God has freedom for you, for all of us, and when we come to the point of being sick of the Lie of an independent “I” that can choose good, God opens the heavens for us. That’s where He wants us – in total dependence on Him, seeing Him in the mirror, walking in that reliant trust every moment of every day, where life is not a chore but amazing adventure.

  3. Josh

    hope was something I didn’t want anymore. In fact, I said that I wanted to crush it dead and rip it out of me

    Pete wow! I’ve said that same thing quite a few times lately myself. I don’t know if what i’m about to write will serve any other purpose than allowing me to vent, but here goes: I just want you to know, Pete, that I know exactly how you felt when you wrote those words. I graduated college last May and have not been able to get a steady job yet and it’s been nearly a year. I’m 26 and still living at home with the parents. I’ve been passed over for every job i’ve applied to in the past year without getting so much as an interview. I’ve been single for over 5 years now and every time I try to change that I get (figuratively) ninja-kicked in the throat. Just recently I asked a girl out 3 times and got the three lamest, most transparent excuses i’ve ever heard. (i thought about asking her out one more time to see what she comes up with next but I don’t think i’ll do that) I’ve had the chance to be with two of the most incredible women i’ve ever known, but I sabotaged my chances with both of them and doomed myself to this fate. I watch my friends all get married, have kids, start out on their own, move forward, but i’m still here at the parents house unable to get a job, a wife, a family, a life of my own. This life is not kind and it would be so easy to just give up and throw my hands in the air and just walk away. But just when I get to the edge of despair, something always calls me back and convinces me to just wait it out, endure it a little longer. Something better is coming, it’s just over the horizon, or just around the next corner.

    Wow I read back over that and it sounds like such a pitty party, but sometimes you just gotta clean house i guess. There’s something so strangely encouraging about reading posts like this from people who’ve been where I am. I guess knowing you’re not the only one can take the edge off.

  4. sevenmiles

    Pete, thanks for sharing. What a powerful way to start my day. I’ll be thinking about this post for awhile.

  5. Dan K

    Thanks for offering this up Pete.
    This very much reminds me of something I read last night in Yancey’s new book on Prayer.

    Poorly paraphrased:
    Basically there is no atheist idea offered that has not first been mentioned by Ezekiel, Job, or the Psalms (Yancey had other examples too); usually in heartfelt prayer.

    That really hit me that some of the most powerful prayers are offered from the tension of the soul and aren’t focussed on flowery wording but on emptying out.

  6. Drew

    One of the problems I think we have in approaching the concept of hope is that in our culture it is typically used as a synonym for ‘wish.’ “I hope the kids will sleep through the night.” “I hope my client pays that invoice.” “I hope I’m doing the right thing.”

    So when scripture encourages us to have ‘hope’ we immediately think of it in the realm of wishing. In this sense, hope can be a terrible burden, being tied up in unfulfilled dreams and heavy regrets.

    Hope is a strange word. My understanding is that in scripture one of the words that gets translated as ‘hope’ has a meaning closer to ‘know’; the connotation of assurance is present. I leave it to theologians of better stuff than me to delve into its usage in scripture, but this meaning of hope is hard for me to grasp. Probably because it’s very close to ‘faith.’ Hope asks more of me than I can sometimes give.

    The ‘hope’ that is merely a set of empty wishes? I imagine that’s a good place to escape. (Although then I have to let go of my regrets as well, and that’s not entirely comfortable, because I often let my regrets define me.) But the ‘hope’ that is rooted in assurance? That’s a room I want to get into somehow. I can see the light under the door, and I keep testing the handle. It’s not locked. Why is entering it so scary?

  7. Theresa Croteau

    That reminds me of a song that has been spinning around in my head lately, So long self (Mercy Me). The sermon yesterday at church was about the throne of our heart, and that many people except Jesus as savior, but we must also except Him as Lord. The process of doing this for many comes with that point of just being so disgusted in ourselves, and Dave and I reflected on that some yesterday. Sometimes we loose sight that those who have died to ourselves, gotten off the throne and surrendered it to God, are new creatures in Christ and are not slaves to sin. I often need encouraging reminders that the only real hope, is hope placed in Jesus.

    Now I have the Chasing Song of AP in my head too. Paul spoke of us doing what we dont want to do. I dont know much about it all, but how awesome that your wise friend was so right, and thanks for sharing the wisdom today.

  8. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Drew, you’re right on the money. I’m going to step out of my comfort zone here and post the original piece I wrote, even though I know it’s somewhat misguided, because I think it’ll shed some light on just what you are talking about.

    For most of my life I’ve tried to be a hopeful person. “Hope for the best, plan for the worst,” the saying goes. As often as I can I’ve even done away with the ‘plan for the worst’ bit and tried to walk by faith alone. The result is that I’ve spent three decades lying to myself, trying to convince myself that things aren’t as bad as they seem when the truth is that they are worse. Hope is a poison. It is a false god. There is no basis for hope in this life.

    This isn’t a crisis of faith, I believe with my whole heart that Christ is preparing a place for me. But I won’t see that place until this present life has been endured, suffered through and at long last ended. I have no reason to hope for comfort, happiness, security, companionship, an heir, or a legacy. Far better Christians than I have died alone in the dark. Who am I to hope for anything better than what God allowed them? I am no one. Nothing. Hope is arrogant. Hope is the enemy of contentment and therefore the enemy of happiness.

    It seems to me that this notion that hope as a healthy thing is propagated by our American culture. Our music, our literature, our reality TV, all of it teaches us that we should be hoping for a better life, a better house, a better job. Even our Declaration of Independence invokes our right to the ‘pursuit of happiness’. We can achieve anything we want if we just put our backs into it. The rest of the world, I think, must scoff at our happy endings and preposterous hopes. Can you imagine if Victor Hugo, or Fyodor Dostoevsky had been Americans? Raskolnikov would have hired Johnny Cochran to get him off the hook, married Sonya, and retired to Vermont. Jean Valjean would still be mayor and Eponine, Marius and Cosette would live down the street ‘three’s company style’ and throw wild soirées on the weekends. Ridiculous isn’t it? Cormac McCarthy knows this too. Llewellyn Moss didn’t get far with his suitcase full of Benjamins. What these writers knew that most of us seem to have forgotten is that our hope is misplaced if it dwells on the things of this life.

    I want to banish hope. Things will not be better tomorrow. I’ll still be alone tomorrow. I’ll still be broken tomorrow. Hoping otherwise just gives rise to disappointment and pain. And yet, no matter how much I train my soul to content itself, there always seems to be some treacherous ember inside me that flares to life when I’m least ready for it. This week, just when I thought I had a handle on some things, just when I thought I’d purged myself of hope and settled with being content, something happened out of the blue and I realized how utterly I’d failed. Without even realizing it, without wanting to, I’d nurtured some small hope and one innocuous event was enough to ignite a shameful rage in me that I can’t explain except to say that it was a misplaced hope that kindled it.

    I pray to God that all the hope in my heart will die. I pray that God will make me content. I pray that he’ll help me to want only what he gives me. I hope that he will do these things–and he does not.”

    Now, clearly I wrote that from a pretty dark place, a place I’m glad that I’m out of at the moment. But in hindsight I think it’s clear that the issue is not the burden of hope, rather the burden of self-want, self-service and that’s a burden that I, we, can be, should be, and need to be free of.

  9. Peter B

    That’s hard stuff. The best part of your original piece (the italicized part) was the mention of “misplaced hope”, which seems to be the issue when we find ourselves in that pit of bitterness and despair.

  10. Mike

    Pete, honesty is so rare in the modern day church. Thanks. I believe that one of our biggest problems is that the hope that you speak of is perpetuated by the church. If you do “A” then “B” will happen. If you pray enough, are faithful enough, memorize x amount of scripture, don’t miss church too many times etc. then God will bless you. I’ve just not found this to be true. It leads to a false sense of hope. Seeking FIRST the Kingdom of God probably won’t change my circumstances but it will change me. The problem comes for me when I simply don’t won’t to change. I won’t my circumstance to be better.

  11. becky

    This discussion made me think of Bebo Norman’s song, Disappear. I get so tired of myself sometimes. And no matter how I try to think about others, or put God first, so often it seems to work around to being about me.

    One thing that helps me is that the great “superheroes” in the Bible got caught up in themselves, too. But God still had a great purpose for them. He did amazing things through them, and even through their self-serving actions. Even if I mess things up, God is still God. He is still in control. His purposes will still be accomplished, even through imperfect vessels and through actions that I, like Joseph’s brothers, mean for evil.

    My favorite section in Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening talks about God’s will. He writes that we see the end of a thing as the purpose of it, but sometimes God’s purpose is not the end but the process. He cares less about what we are (doctor, lawyer, artist, ditch digger…) than who we are (loving, kind, gentle…). If something doesn’t come to what we consider to be a successful end, that doesn’t mean God’s purpose has not been accomplished. His purpose may be to make me more dependent on him, or to cause me to show more of the fruit of the Spirit. His purpose may be changing who I am.

    I think that some of our desire to know “God’s will” is fear of the unknown. I want to know the future, so I can maintain the illusion that I have control over what happens in my life. But God has never promised me that. He has told me that HE has control of what happens, and I need to trust him. To believe that he is good. That he loves me and will do what is for my good. That he will NEVER leave me. I heard Elizabeth Elliott speak once, and someone asked her a question about knowing God’s will. Her response was deceptively simple. She said “Do the next thing.” She said that God usually doesn’t show us the whole path ahead, just a few inches in front of us. Her advice was to be doing what God has already revealed to you, and do the next thing that he puts in front of your face. When things seem really complicated, and out of my control, it helps me to block out everything else and ask “What is the next thing?” I can’t handle all of that other stuff anyway, but I can usually deal with the next thing.

  12. Seth

    I like this quote from Celebration of Discipline where Richard Foster quotes Kierkegaard about seeking God’s kingdom:

    “Kierkegaard considers what sort of effort could be made to pursue the kingdom of God. Should a person get a suitable job in order to exert a virtuous influence? His answer: no, we must first seek God’s kingdom. Then should we give away all our money to feed the poor? Again the answer: no, we must first seek God’s kingdom. Well, then perhaps we are to go out and preach this truth to the world that people are to seek first God’s kingdom? Once again the answer is a resounding: no, we are first to seek God’s kingdom. ‘Then in a certain sense it is nothing I shall do. Yes, certainly, in a certain sense it is nothing, become nothing before God, learn to keep silent; in this silence is the beginning, which is, first to seek God’s Kingdom.”

  13. Stacy Grubb

    Pete,

    This is wonderful. I’ve got no words of wisdom or moments of epiphany to share…I’m just reading and learning.

    Stacy

  14. Peter B

    Becky, that’s pretty much what it came down to for me. Not that I remember it all the time, but truth is truth whether or not it gets through my thick skull (and doesn’t fall out through one of the holes).

  15. Drew

    Thanks for the Kierkegaard quote. A recent “leap of faith” has been haunting me, and I don’t want to take away from what Pete wrote here. So briefly, I’m self-employed, but recently I took a job working at a Christian ministry because I felt like everything was pointing me in that direction. The timing seemed perfect, the position was exactly what I was looking for, and I felt that many things that I’d experienced over the last couple years had prepared me for it. Everything seemed like a confirmation that this was what I was supposed to be doing.

    After the third day, I knew it wasn’t the right place for me (and the position itself turned out to be much different than was advertised), and I quit the following day. What haunts me is that I was sure God was sending me in this direction. He seemed to be drawing a bright red arrow saying “Go there!” . . . and then on the fourth day, the arrows were saying “Get out of there!” Not only that, I have had several people confirm for me, based on their own experiences with that organization, that leaving the position was probably a good idea.

    But in the end I’m left wondering what that whole thing was all about. God seemed to be pointing me in a particular direction. But just as suddenly he changed directions like a crazy driver swerving from lane to lane.

    I am now a bit hesitant to unpack the whole incident. I circle round it all like an outside observer, but I fear jumping right in and getting messy with it. Does it reveal that we worship a capricious God? I don’t want to go there.

    The only logical explanation that I have is that the incident gave me hope.

    Yeah, there’s that word again.

    Oops. I said I’d be brief. Sorry.

  16. Stacy Grubb

    Drew,

    My dad has talked me about a similar experience. Back in the day, he left a good paying job to take on a position as a teacher when my church formed a school. Even though it was a drastic pay cut, he felt that the Lord was leading him in that direction. Long story short, he spent about 20 years kicking himself over that decision, wondering how he could’ve been so wrong about what God wanted for him. Over the last 4 years or so, my dad’s health has declined quite considerably and he is now on disability. At the time that he retired, he had been working at a local grocery store for about 15 years. Just before his retirement, changes within the company occurred which resulted in his retirement fund being doubled at the last minute. He is now happily retired and can look back at how quitting that good paying job, even though it led to years of financial struggling, was the first step in getting him to the security he can enjoy now. He may have saved himself some heartache in the meantime, but the payoff wouldn’t have been nearly as lucrative. I love it when a plan comes together.

    Stacy

  17. becky

    Listened to appropriate lyrics this morning. From Rich Mullins’ “Hard To Get”:

    I know you bore our sorrows
    I know you feel our pain
    I know that it would not hurt any less even if it could be explained
    I know that I am only lashing out at the one who loves me most
    And after I have figured this, somehow all I really need to know is if

    You who live in eternity hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
    We can’t see what’s ahead and we cannot get free of what we’ve left behind
    I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
    All these words of shame and doubt, blame and regret
    I can’t see how you’re leading me unless you’ve led me here
    Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led
    And so, you’ve been here all along I guess
    It’s just your ways and you are just plain hard to get

  18. becky

    I’ve been thinking about it, and I believe that is was not Spurgeon, but Oswald Chambers who wrote about the end and the process. Sorry for the mistake.

  19. Ann Gehin

    Pete,

    Reading your post really hit home with me. Like you, I went through a dark period about 3 weeks ago. Depression, no other word for it. It hits every so often. However, my despair wasn’t with “hope” but with “My grace is sufficient for you.” His grace didn’t feel sufficient by any stretch of the imagination. I suffered. Talk about walking in a valley. So, I have been tackling what those words actually mean. Was His grace the simple fact that I kept repeating that line of scripture and prayed and prayed that it was true? Was His grace my dependence on His word? A difficult concept for me to wrap my head around.

  20. c.Lates

    it’s interesting that in your original post you wanted God to kill your hope, but at the same time you hoped that God would do this.

    i had a professor recently talk about this. he made the observation that there are so many job/career options that many of us get overwhelmed and wander through life trying to figure out ‘God’s purpose.’ he said that it doesn’t matter what you do, just do it with all you have, serving the Lord with all your heart. if everything we do we do for the glory of God, then it doesn’t matter what we do, because our whole purpose is to bring God glory.

    this is easier said than done when you’re in a job that you don’t like. but it can make things easier when trying to figure out what to do with your life.

  21. becky

    A smart, old, curmudgeon type from Brooklyn once told me that he’d had many jobs in his lifetime. Some he liked and some he didn’t. The ones he liked he was grateful for, and the ones he didn’t like he considered a sacrifice to God. I’ve thought of that many times since, when I’ve been having a really rotton day (or month, or year) at work, and it helps to change my perspective.

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