Maps can be crucial for providing direction in unfamiliar territory, especially if you don’t have access to Google maps! But the only thing worse than having no map is having the wrong map.
We all have mental “maps” about life by which we formulate our behavior and values. We are free to develop our own mental maps. But imagine the folly of deciding you were going to develop your own map of Chicago, based on your feelings about how you would like the city to be arranged. Such a map would be extremely inaccurate and, as a result, would be of little help in giving direction.
There is only one attitude choice that results in a proper mental “map” of life. All other attitude choices we make should be built on the foundational decision of choosing intimacy with God.
1. Realize that true fulfillment is impossible apart from God. (Ecclesiastes 12:1-4)
Divided affections block intimacy in any relationship. It is impossible for us to develop intimacy with God while depending on something or someone else to satisfy our needs. I believe that is what Jesus meant when He warned in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
We tend to worship that which we think will satisfy our needs. Thus, when we operate under the illusion that people, power, possessions, prestige, or anything else is the answer to our deepest desires, we will forsake our relationship with God. And the first eleven chapters of Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s eyewitness testimony that none of those things is worthy of our affections.
All of his goals had been realized—he was the richest, wisest, most powerful monarch in the world. Yet at the end of his life, he had concluded it was all meaningless. Not only were such goals empty, but they had robbed him of the one pursuit that could have satisfied him—an intimate relationship with God.
2. Honestly evaluate your relationship with God. (1 Kings 11:4)
Where are your affections centered right now? Imagine that you were to suddenly lose everything of value to you—your family, job, reputation, money, and health. What would be your response?
We have the record of a man who suffered such a loss. In a relatively short period of time, Job lost everything. Yet, his reaction was nothing short of remarkable, as we read in Job 1:20-22:
“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.”
Make no mistake about it—Job grieved over his loss. But he was still able to worship, because the object of his worship was still intact. Unlike many of us, Job had not fallen into the trap of worshipping the gifts instead of the Giver of the gifts. In the midst of great upheaval, the foundation of Job’s life remained firm.
What a contrast to Solomon! The twelfth chapter of Ecclesiastes paints a portrait of an old man whose life is beginning to unravel. His health is broken (“the silver cord is broken...the golden bowl is crushed...the pitcher by the well is shattered”), his power has been diminished, his wealth has been passed on to another, and even his wisdom has been called into question. Such a pathetic conclusion to life leads Solomon to advise, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” I think such advice could be paraphrased, “Put God first in your life before it is too late.’’
An honest evaluation of your relationship with God may necessitate a change in the direction of your life. That is the concept behind the word “repent,” which means to have a change of mind or to change direction. If you see that your affections have not been centered on God, admit your mistake and change direction, before it is too difficult for you to make such a change.
3. Remove any barriers to intimacy with God. (Isaiah 59:2)
What is hindering your relationship with God? While a variety of answers are possible, I believe all such excuses can be boiled down to sin. The Prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 59:2: “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear.”
We usually think of sin in terms of certain actions—lying, stealing, murdering, etc. But such actions stem from a basic attitude choice—doing what we want to do, instead of what God wants us to do. Such an attitude, along with the accompanying actions, builds a wall between us and God.
Of all the sins that Christians commit, none seems to block intimacy with God any more than idolatry. Idolatry is the attitude of depending on someone or something other than God to satisfy our deepest needs. And before we can ever hope to develop an intimate relationship with God, we must not only identify idols in our lives, we must also remove them.
4. Continue to nurture your relationship with God. (Mark 1:35)
Unfortunately, many of us are in the process of unintentionally destroying the relationships that are most important to us. We assume that our marriage, our friendships, and our relationships with our children will remain strong simply because they started out strong. Yet the truth is that all relationships take nurturing to remain healthy.
Even Jesus made spending time with His heavenly Father a priority as we see in Mark 1:35: “And in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place, and was praying there.”
How do we maintain intimacy with God? You know all of the answers: prayer, Bible study, worship, Scripture memory; etc. But there is one practice that has done more to strengthen my relationship with God than any other: keeping a spiritual journal. My spiritual journal is simply a record of my relationship with God.
The Book of Ecclesiastes was Solomon’s spiritual journal. And he opened its pages to us so that we might profit from it. Solomon’s spiritual journal led him to the conclusion that purpose in life could not be found in pleasure, work, wealth, or even wisdom.
One of my favorite fablesis about the dog who crossed a bridge while carrying a bone in his mouth. The dog happened to glance over the edge of the bridge to see the reflection of the bone in the pool below. Not realizing it was only a reflection, the dog dropped his bone and plunged into the water in pursuit of the reflection. The dog dropped the substance in his mouth for the shadow, and went hungry.
Solomon made the mistake of dropping the substance for the shadow. The result of his decision was isolation from God and an insatiable spiritual hunger. The wisest man who ever lived reminds us that the most important attitude choice in life is to choose intimacy with God over isolation.