With 2022 still in its infancy, perhaps you’re thinking about goals and resolutions for how you want your life to change in the next twelve months. Undoubtedly all of them will, in one way or another, be tied to the concept of living a “good life” (or a better one than last year). Whether, physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually, you want to improve your life. This week and next, we’ll take a look at God’s idea of “the good life.”
A Wasteland Life
Wyoming has been dubbed “the Equality State” because it was not only first to grant women the right to vote (beating Texas by just hours), but also claims the first woman governor, juror, judge, and bailiff. It’s also home to the country’s first national park (Yellowstone) and first national monument (Devil’s Tower). Those facts make a much better bumper stickers than, say, “Wyoming—Home to more antelope than people.” But, alas, that statistic rings true as well. Wyoming, the tenth largest state by area, has the smallest population, which means that the majority of the state is uninhabited. If you’ve driven through more of it than just Yellowstone Park, you know that “uninhabited” in many cases means “nothing but sagebrush (and the occasional antelope) as far as the eye can see.” No trees, no lakes, no cell service, no gas stations, and often no bathrooms. (If you live there, you learn to plan ahead.)
Though the prophet Jeremiah never visited my home state, as a denizen of a desert country, he did know something about wastelands. In chapter 17 of his book, he pictures two types of people: those whose lives end up like an uninhabitable desert; and those who choose the “good life” and a fruitful landscape. First, let’s tackle the bad news: a wasted life.
Trust in Mankind
Cursed is the person who trusts in mankind.
He makes human flesh his strength,
and his heart turns from the LORD.
The first mark of a wasteland life is a misplaced trust in people, which can take many different forms.
Trusting a Person in Power
We may place too much confidence in a person of power. This happens often with our favorite politicians. If your hopes rise and fall with each election cycle; if you believe that if Candidate X just gets elected or if Candidate Y just gets defeated; if you refuse to believe any bad news about the public figure you love; if any of these things describe you, you are trusting a person too much.
But this doesn’t apply just to politics. It can apply in the church as well—both local and global.
We each have “celebrity Christians” who have mentored us from afar and whose ministry we follow from a distance. We are blessed to have many wonderful teachers to learn from in this way. But how would you respond if tomorrow your favorite author was shown to be a fraud or to have been involved in ongoing, unrepentant sin? Would this devastate your faith? Would you label the church as a bunch of hypocritical fraudsters?
Or what about at the local level?
Does your worship depend on who’s speaking at church on a given Sunday? Can you receive the Word with meekness from whosever lips it comes? Do you find yourself skipping if your favorite preacher is on vacation?
If so, you’re trusting a person to a sinful degree.
Trusting a Person Whose Approval We Want
Proverbs 29:25 tells us that the “fear of mankind brings a snare.” This ubiquitous trap takes on many sly forms:
- Reliving a conversation, trying to dissect what I should or should not have said
- Wondering what a certain person thinks of me or will think of me if I do this or don’t do that
- Refusing to participate in an activity in which I might be made to look a fool
- Throwing away an obvious opportunity to share the Gospel because of my fear of the response.
Satan uses each of these thoughts to lay the snare of trusting in a person’s approval.
Does this sound like a junior high problem? I hope not. It’s alive and well in our churches and homes today. From what we choose to wear to church, or even which church we attend, fear of man loves to wrap its nasty tendrils around us.
Trusting the Accomplishments of Humanity
A third way we might place undue confidence in humanity is by finding hope in God’s common grace of the advancement of civilization. You don’t have to be Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, or Jeff Bezos to know that we live in an era of unparalleled technology. Parents can track their teens’ every movement via GPS on cell phones; an app can let you know immediately if you have been exposed to COVID-19; you don’t even need to carry a credit card (let alone cash) anymore—just use your phone to pay for your latte! In many ways, our lives have been improved by these developments.
Using these apps and taking advantage of God’s common grace does not necessarily mean that you’re serving this idol. However, because technology can do so many things for us, we can find so many answers on the internet, and we can accomplish almost any task simply by watching a YouTube video, we can start to buy the lie that we don’t need God anymore. Of course, we’d never say it in such brazen terms. This falsehood, told by the father of lies himself, makes its way slowly and subtly into our minds. Before we know it, we learn of a problem and turn to Google instead of prayer. Slowly but surely, our hearts turn away from the LORD.
My friends, our hearts love to trust in mankind.
Makes Flesh Its Strength
A wasteland life is characterized not only by trusting in people, but also by making flesh its strength. While the first mark focused on trusting in others, this one turns the barrel around to point squarely at the confidence we place in ourselves.
Confidence in My Own Abilities
As a natural problem solver, my first response to trouble is to try to figure out a solution. When I was single and my car broke down, the first thing I would do is think about the amount of money I had in the bank. Could I afford a trip to the mechanic? If so, the monkey came off my back. (Now my first thought is whether it’s a problem my husband can fix.) Whether home repair or technology glitch, I immediately try to solve the problem using my own resources.
While I’m grateful for a mind able to think critically and arrive at a solution to life’s problems, I forget that those solutions are really gifts from God. From roadside assistance and a handy husband to a tax refund just in time to pay for a major repair, each solution is a gift of God’s grace—not evidence of my own sovereignty. Yet I, in my arrogant self-reliance, frequently miss His merciful providence.
What about you?
Confidence in What I’ve Accomplished
We see the quintessence of this sin in Daniel 4 as King Nebuchadnezzar gazes at his kingdom and pontificates,
“Is this not Babylon the Great that I have built to be a royal residence by my vast power and for my majestic glory? ” (Dan 4:30)
Looking at the accomplishments of his hands, the Babylonian king felt that he was really someone. As soon as these words left his mouth, God robbed him of his sanity and reminded him of just who had allowed him to accomplish all of these wonders. After seven years, God restored the king’s reason, and Nebuchadnezzar realized that heaven does indeed rule:
“For his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom is from generation to generation.
All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing,
and he does what he wants with the army of heaven
and the inhabitants of the earth.
There is no one who can block his hand or say to him,
“What have you done?” (Dan 4:34-35)
Is your trust in what your hands have done, or in the Most High God?
Consequences of the Wasteland Life
Jeremiah tells us that trusting in humanity will lead to a heart that turns away from the Lord. James, the brother of Jesus, tells us that trying to have a foot in both camps—trusting man and trusting God—leads to instability in everything (James 1:8).
Jeremiah uses more agrarian terms:
He will be like a juniper in the Arabah;
he cannot see when good comes
but dwells in the parched places in the wilderness,
in a salt land where no one lives. (Jer. 17:6)
A life marked by misplaced confidence will have about as much staying power as a tree in the desert. The heat of life will come—as it does for us all—and the tree will wither and die.
Not a very hopeful picture to end with. Next week, we’ll look at Jeremiah’s recipe for “the good life.” Until then, take some time to reflect on where you’ve misplaced your confidence and allowed your heart to turn away from the Lord. Then, repent and take hope in this precious Gospel promise:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)