This is a world where we are constantly reminded we could be just a little thinner, hip or further down the road from where we are. Religion often adds fuel to the fire by implying that God is never quite satisfied with our progress. We could always be just a little more spiritual, committed, involved and holier. So my relationship with God revolves around being good and bargaining for divine intervention to fix my circumstances. Maybe it’s not my circumstances that need fixing, but the way I live my life in chronic dissatisfaction.
In Philippians 4:11, Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (TNIV). That’s a pretty impressive statement coming from a guy who was imprisoned, tortured, starved, defamed and tossed over the side of a ship. Paul said his secret was the living Christ within him. Through Paul’s union with the indwelling Christ, he found he could live in peace, joy and freedom whatever may come. That’s great news! The same Christ who was inside Paul is inside each follower of Christ.
Paul’s word content seems a little weak, but it actually describes a very powerful freedom. What if we were content (satisfied and fulfilled) with God’s perfect love and were free to give love, rather than constantly maneuvering to get it? Or what if we were content with our identity in God and were free to serve the world, rather than trying to prove we have a right to exist in it?
That’s good Christian theology, but how does this flesh out in reality? Here’s how it recently unfolded for me. Early one morning on vacation I sat looking out across Kentucky Lake, which is about 170,000 acres. Whether it’s the ocean or our neighborhood pond, I have always felt a certain wonder around the water. Sitting at the lake, the Spirit spoke to me the words of Psalm 42: "Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me." The Spirit captured my imagination, which was caught up in the mystery of the waters—its depths, its freedom of flow, its beauty and majesty, its gentleness, its power. The Spirit made me aware of the flow of divine life within. Waves of divine love swept over me. Suddenly I felt freedom sitting there gazing out upon the waters. Its depths had stirred the deep places within me where God dwells.
What is it about the water? Come to think of it, what is it about the sunrise and sunset, the view from the mountain summit, the endless farmland stretched out before the open road, the wooded valley where I hike and the blanket of snow covering the town? Maybe it’s not really the water, sun, mountain, land, valley or snow at all. Maybe these deep feelings of peace, freedom, harmony, joy and love are really God. Perhaps my natural surroundings have helped stimulate those feelings, but the feelings themselves are God alive within me.
Where do feelings come from anyway? Outside or within? I tend to credit something or someone outside of me for creating feelings within me—a person, book, movie, song, life experience or picturesque surroundings. But maybe those feelings come from deep within me as a spiritual response to the external person, thing, experience or surroundings. What if God is always responding to the world in such a way, but most of the time we don’t tap into it? We don’t let our guard down and feel.
Jesus once said, “No one is good—except God alone” (Mark 10:18). It seems to follow then that every truly “good” emotion would have to originate from God. Sure, we are capable of producing all sorts of harmful feelings ourselves—lust, anger, greed, hate, egotism and self-interest. But truly good feelings we experience inside—such as true joy, peace, love, freedom, hope, courage and compassion—must originate from God. Many people strive, struggle and endeavor to experience God. When we experience these deep realities within us, we are.
To the woman at the well Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Notice the location of the living water: “in him.” On another occasion Jesus pointed out “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21, NKJV). When Christ was resurrected from the dead, He took up residence inside us through the Spirit. Paul wrote that God’s Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled (Galatians 5:22-23).
True freedom is being liberated from our misplaced dependencies for life, love, worth, significance, peace and fulfillment. I’ve discovered my most significant felt needs in life correspond with a deeper need that only God Himself can satisfy.
In Colossians 1:26-27, Paul wrote, “The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations … is Christ in you.” I’m finding that true freedom is available in this mystery. The same God who speaks to us through the Scriptures or in worship is inside of me offering the present reality of His kingdom, a kingdom of grace, peace, joy, love, life and freedom. When we feel it, we are experiencing the flow of divine life within us. I don’t need to go to Kentucky Lake to find it.
As I walk through life, when I am confronted with some decision or perspective about something, I ask myself, “Will doing or believing this bring freedom?” If doing or believing it points me in the direction of liberation, grace and love, I go with it. If doing or believing something stimulates fear, captivity, legalism, dependency, hatred or condemnation, I turn the other way. I wonder if that’s why all the sinners in the Gospels were drawn to Jesus. Just being in His presence and listening to His words stirred freedom in their souls.
I am often guilty of thinking an improved set of life circumstances would make everything better, but the Spirit is showing me that God is seeking my welfare on a deeper level. I am prone to depend on circumstances to supply something that only God Himself within me can give. When it all falls apart, and I’m left sifting through the rubble of life’s disappointments, difficulties and disasters, God whispers, “I AM what you’re looking for.” He’s the satisfaction I’ve been searching for. He’s not hard to locate; He’s inside me.
Editor’s Note: This article appeared in issue 25 of RELEVANT.