This past Sunday night a group of about 10 of us completed the last session of our study of Gary Thomas’ Sacred Marriage. His premise is simple: What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? As I consider the implications of this question, I am forced to apply this principle to many different areas, other than just the marriage relationship. How many times have I become discouraged because I sought happiness from a relationship, job, possession or other pursuit when my personal happiness was not the reason for which I received it? If holiness becomes my aim rather than happiness, I will not be surprised when relational conflict arises, when I fail to find my vocation as fulfilling as I had hoped, or when possessions are lost or lose their luster. In fact, I expect that every relationship will produce friction and disagreement at least occasionally, and that no job can possibly satisfy my constant need for fulfillment and appreciation. Like every child on Christmas morning, the anticipation and joy of receiving some new thing is replaced by boredom quickly, and I find myself playing with the wrapping paper and the box in the vain hope that somehow those moments of anticipation can be reacquired. But for its never-ending newness, the pursuit of holiness is unmatched.
As a man with an inherited sin nature, there seems to never be an activity which I can pursue that doesn’t expose my sin in some way. Conversation with my wife? There’s a reason they say, “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus.” Driving around town? There’s always someone driving too slow or taking MY parking space. At work? The boss is an ignorant buffoon, or the customers are impossible to please. Going fishing? The fish don’t bite, and I lose all my lures in the weeds. My car? It’s always breaking down, and it’s not nearly as nice as my neighbor’s. Sports? My team never seems to win the big games, and if I’m not careful, my idolatry will show through. Playing with my kids? Few things can bring my temper to the surface more quickly than they can.
If we are willing to abandon our pursuit of happiness and replace it with a desire for godliness and true holiness, we will recognize that God has given opportunities for greater personal holiness through nearly every endeavor. Should we be surprised that God has given us never-ending opportunities to grow in holiness in almost every situation? Not if we consider that holiness is an integral part of the nature of God. As Peter explained, “as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” Disappointment will be the inevitable result if we pursue our own happiness, but satisfaction and lasting joy are possible if we seek God’s desired end through the things he has given us.