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The Deep Longings of the Soul


This morning, I’m going to do something a little different. I’m going to share some information with you on modern life as kind of a way of introduction. As you’ll note, some of this is opinion, but these are opinions from very well credentialed people, and, if nothing else, I think you’ll find it very interesting. I’m not sure how many of you are aware of this, but the span of recorded human history is roughly 5000 years. Think about that. 5000 years. In other words, all we have that has ever been recorded and documented by human beings, it only goes back 5,000 years.

Now I was thinking about this on the way over here this morning. I’m 56, so 1% of those 5000 years I’ve been alive, some of you have almost been 2%. I noticed we got…. (laughter) Now I share this because I’m going to read three different statements about us. About people who live in the modern era that sets us apart from all other people that have lived in human history or, let’s put it this way, in recorded human history. The first statement that I want to read to you comes from a guy by the name of Peter Kreeft. He’s a brilliant man. He teaches philosophy at Boston College, he’s written over 50 books. He’s highly regarded, has great credentials, in fact ironically, he’s going to be in Birmingham speaking at one of the Fixed Point luncheons that Larry Taunton does in a couple weeks. But in one of his books, he’s made the statement, which I found quite incredible, but he said simply this, “We’re the first civilization, we are the first civilization that does not know why we exist.” Now what he’s saying is, because of, we don’t know or we don’t live with a real sense of purpose in our lives, because we don’t even know why we’re here. I don’t know if you ever given that much thought, why do I exist, why am I here. Now he says, we’re the first civilization that really doesn’t have any good answers to those questions.

It’s interesting, a number years ago I the opportunity to go to the President’s prayer breakfast in Washington. This was when Bill Clinton was president, and the speaker, they always bring in a well-known speaker, and for this particular year was Billy Graham. Before coming to Washington to make his address, Graham said that he’d spent the day before at Harvard with President Derek Bok and he said that we spent almost an hour together. And he said, “As I got up to leave I asked President Bok, ‘What is the number one problem you believe that the students of Harvard have to contend with, that they’re having to deal with in their lives?’” And Graham said Bok didn’t even have to think about it. He said very forthrightly, “Living with emptiness. Living meaningless lives.”Now, a second quote comes from someone I quote quite often, Dr. Tim Keller. He’s a very prominent Presbyterian minister in New York City, and he says this about our culture. “We’re the first culture in history where men define themselves solely by performing and achieving in the workplace. And because of this,”he says, “there is never, in men’s lives, there’s never been more psychological, social, and emotional pressure out in the workplace as there is today.” You see, cultural analysts tell us that, with almost universal agreement, that in more traditional family-based societies in the past, a person would get their identity and meaning from family relationships. A man’s status would come from fulfilling a defined social role. A son, a husband, a father and work, interestingly, was a discipline, which, of course, creates tremendous value in any social order, but it wasn’t as nearly as important as the fabric of one’s relationships. Because in the traditional social order, work was seen merely as a functional means of providing for the family and improving the quality of life within the community. In other words, work would not and could not define your life worth and value in a more absolute sense, as it does today. So that’s an interesting observation that Keller makes.

Now, I don’t know how many of you know Jay Lloyd; Jay works with The Center, he is our resident counselor, clinical counselor, and he is very good at what he does. And I was just kind of chatting with him about some of today’s message and he said that these first two statements that I’ve made, that I’ve read to you, may be why this third statement that I’m going to read to you is true. I shared this a couple years ago. It comes from a Dr. Martin Seligman, who is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and he wrote an interesting article in Psychology Today titled Boomer Blues, and he’d obviously done a great deal of research on the baby boom generation which many of us are members of. And he said, what he did is he compared our generation with our parents’ generation, and in his research, he found that the rate of depression among baby boomers compared to their parent’s generation is 10 times higher. Ten times. And that’s the rate, not the number, the rate. And he says it has become an epidemic, and then he made this incredible statement. This is the third statement I’m going to read to you about modern people, he says, “We’re the most depressed generation in all of history.” Now, I don’t know how he comes up with that, I don’t know how he comes to those conclusions, but again, this man has great credentials and he doesn’t say it lightly. And as I said, I talked with Jay about this, and several months ago, we had lunch with a local psychiatrist, Jay and I did. And, you know, we just immediately want to attribute depression to biological reasons. Yes, it’s something wrong with you chemically, and there’s no doubt that’s an issue but clearly, there’s much more with men struggling with depression, and many other factors involved, including the two that I just read to you.

We’re the first civilization that doesn’t know why we exist and we’re the first culture in history where men define themselves solely by performing and achieving in the workplace. Some of you may be familiar with David Brooks. He writes in The New York Times. He’s a fabulous writer and he wrote an op-ed piece that was titled “They Had It Made”, which was really fascinating, and he tells about the most fascinating longitudinal study that I’m even aware of. I don’t know if you know what a longitudinal study is. It’s where you take a group of people and you study their lives, not just for six months or a year, but, for decades, and try to come to conclusions from looking at their lives. And this longitudinal study was called  “The Grant Study”. They took 268 men back in 1938, and all of these 268 men at the time were sophomores at Harvard. And they chose what they currently describe as the brightest, the most polished, the most affluent, and the most ambitious men in that sophomore class, kind of the cream of the crop, and they studied their lives for decades.

Ironically, two of these men, one of them was John F. Kennedy, another was Ben Bradley, who was the legendary editor at the Washington Post, and after decades of studying these men’s lives, they said a third of them suffered at least one major bout of depression. And this is interesting; it said that almost every single one of them was plagued by alcohol addiction. Now here you have the best and brightest people in our land, and they struggled, they struggled with depression. The most depressed generation in history of man. That’s an incredible thought, an incredible statement, and I don’t mean to try to sound despairing, but when you take those three statements that are made about our civilization, you have to stop and ask yourself, what in the world has happened to us? How have we gotten to this point? How have we allowed life to become so incoherent and so pointless? Well, Seligman, in that article, “Boomer Blues”, says that we lost the art of learning how to relate our daily lives to the bigger cause for which we are living. And then Ernest Becker, in what most people think is probably one of the most thoughtful books written in the last 30 to 40 years, “The Denial of Death”, which won a Pulitzer Prize, he really had somewhat of a similar take, he says, “Every person seems to have a need for cosmic significance.” In other words, we have this need for purpose and meaning in our lives. And he said, throughout all of history, all the way up until modern times, people knew they had value, they knew they had purpose, because of the transcendent, because of God. And he said, throughout history, people knew their place in the universe, they knew who they were, their value, their identity, he says, but modern people, here we go again, modern people have lost that. We lost a sense of who are we, and what is our life all about and what he says is, this is interesting, he says what’s happened, he says, we have become very secular. Now that word secular is an interesting word because it doesn’t mean Godless, because in a secular society you can believe in God, you can go to church. The problem is, in a secular society God is irrelevant to the people living in the culture.

So, I think the question we should ask this morning in our own personal lives as we evaluate ourselves, and that is, “How relevant is God in my life, and I mean do I get a sense of meaning and purpose from Him in my relationship with Him? Does he impact who I am as a man? Does he impact my character, my sense of worth, and value, or is he just out there somewhere and doesn’t really matter very much to me and my life?” Because that’s the mark of the secular culture. God is there but He’s irrelevant. I was reading an interview from The New York Times where reporter Pat Healy interviewed Don Hewitt. I don’t know if you recognize that name, but if you watched 60 Minutes over the years you would. He was the executive producer for 36 years of 60 Minutes and retired, and this interview was coming on the heels of his retirement. Let me just read a part of it. He said, “Hewitt strode into his office, he gestured toward the walls. There hung photographs of presidents, diplomats, foreign leaders, and entertainers. There were notes from presidents, such as Reagan, Eisenhower, a constellation of Emmy awards, arrays of plaques, posters, and medallions. ‘I’m not trying to be an egomaniacal maniac but look,’ he said, ‘I don’t want to lower the temperature, where the hell do you go? What do you do that’s going to be like this?'” And the person who interviewed him, said, here clearly was a man who had no idea what he was going to do with the rest of life, and yet, in the interview he seems to realize that this flamboyant, exciting life that he had led had not resulted in any real lasting satisfaction or meaning, and, as you read between the lines, you recognize that Hewett understood that over the course of his life, he had neglected his soul, because he makes this comment in the interview, “I need to find ways to feed my soul.”

That’s pretty interesting that he could come to that self realization about his life, and maybe that’s a good question, that we all should step back and ask, because we get so busy and frenetic about our lives that we rarely step back and ask about or consider the care of our souls. Now, I don’t know if you think much about the soul, or your own particular soul, but Dallas Willard, who is a brilliant philosopher, he teaches out at USC, in fact he was head of the philosophy department out there, says this about the soul, he says, “What is running your life at any given moment is your soul, not external circumstances, or your thoughts or your intentions, or even your feelings, but your soul.” He said, “The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self.” And listen to this, he says, “It is the light center of the human being. It regulates whatever is occurring in each of those dimensions and how they interact with each other, respond to surrounding events and in the overall governance of your life.” And then he says this, “The soul of man is buried deep, in the sense of being basic or foundational, and also in the sense that it lies almost totally beyond conscious awareness.”

So it is very easy to neglect your soul because it’s almost beyond your own conscious awareness but it’s there. And, you know, one of the problems I find with men is we really don’t know how to listen to the voices of our souls and nor do we understand the deep longings of our hearts and our souls, and therefore deep down when it gets right down to it we don’t really know what it is that we want in life. We think we do. We’re running fast, but if you stop, step back, and ask what is it that you really want, you really desire, most men can’t put their finger on it. I remember a very successful, very driven businessman suggested to me, he says, why don’t you, at one of those breakfasts that you have at the club, why don’t you talk about what is it that really drives us as men. He says, because, to be quite honest, I can’t quite figure it out. And as I was preparing this, I read something that I thought was quite interesting.

You know Sigmund Freud did not believe in God, and therefore did not believe we have a soul. In other words, he believed we’re just a mass of chemicals, and if you’re a mass of chemicals, you can’t have a soul, and if you don’t have a soul, you don’t have longings in the soul, but what’s interesting is that he admitted that he had this deep longing in his life that he could not quite identify what it was, and he described it this way, he said, “It’s a longing that haunted me all of my life.”So what I’d like to do, I realize this was a very lengthy introduction, but just to take a few minutes to talk about our souls. The life center, as Willard says, of a human being. I’ll start by asking you a question. Have you ever thought about, now I get more personal here, how do you measure up, or how do you size up another man when you meet him, maybe for the first time? Or maybe there’s some people in this room you don’t know them personally, but you know who they are, and you’ve got an opinion of them, you sized them up. You know, we’re always sizing up other people because we’re always comparing ourselves with others and the reason is because we seem to measure how well we’re doing as men by comparing ourselves to other men. But you know when we size up somebody; we always seem to use certain criteria. Think about it. The first thing you do when you meet somebody, you look at their appearance, how they’re dressed, and then, generally depending on how old you are, you ask, where you were educated. Kinda want to know how intelligent they are. Then, of course, the most natural question is, and what do you do for a living? You know we’re always impressed if somebody owns their own business, has some big title maybe in a public corporation, but we want to size them up by what do you do. And then we also will look at them and evaluate them based on their wives. We’ll look at their wives and then we size them up. We want to know where do you live, what kind of car do you drive, what kind of vacations do you take? If you have hobbies, what is your handicap? And then finally, this is interesting, I’m realizing with young kids, what about his kids? Are they accomplished? Where do they go to college? And I would ask you guys if this is that unwritten criteria that we use, I’m curious, how well do you measure up? You know as I look at my own life and use that criteria, I’m not so sure I do that well. I think you’d be impressed with my wife, but everything else I’m not sure about. You know, in reality, guys, the problem with this criteria, it’s all about the externals. It’s all external.

You know as you think back on your life, and you look back, you know, we have some younger men here today, you know most men as they leave the academic world, they go out into the workplace and they have a vision for their life and for their future, and generally that vision is based on how successful they can be in the visible measurable dimensions of life. You see we all have this outer public life that everybody sees and everybody judges us by. You know, it’s a part of our life that we feel compelled we have to manage this well because people are looking and it’s the source, we believe, of our worth and identity as men. However, we seem to have forgotten we don’t just have this outer public life. We have our inner private world. We have our inner life. We have our souls, that life center that Willard speaks of, and this is the part of us, which usually remains hidden from the rest of the world. Nobody else sees it. And let me tell you what goes on in our inner life. As life gets more and more difficult, and as we struggle and as we experience pain, we try to make sense of it, and generally we have all kind of private struggles concerning maybe our marriage, again our sense of worth, spiritual questions, what’s life all about, issues that nobody ever talks about. And so what happens so often, particularly as we struggle in life as men, we withdraw. We isolate ourselves. Outwardly, everything seems to be well. Inwardly though, we’re withdrawn. It’s almost as if we have a divided self. We have this outer public world everybody sees, and we had this inner private world that generally only we’re aware of. I read something recently I think that provides pretty good insight in what were talking about.

This was written by a guy named Miroslav Volf, he is a theologian at Yale Divinity school, and he says, you know, when you get right down to it, there’s “two types of wealth in this life”. He says, “there is richness of having”, richness of having, which is all external, and then he says there is “richness of being”, which is in our internal innermost being. And this is what was so fascinating, he says, “modern man is totally focused on richness of having because,” he says, “We believe this is where happiness lies.” He says, “but this is where it is so ironical, almost a paradox.” He says, “we seek richness of having, but what we’re really longing for is richness of being.” He says, “We foolishly scramble after richness of having because somehow we’ve come to think it will produce richness of being.” Then he says, “but it never does, and the reason is because, it can’t.” He said, “You can have a barn full of money, a boatload of talent, and movie star good looks, yet be spiritually impoverished.”

And you know the best example of that today is Tiger Woods. A wise man said to me about Tiger Woods, and what has just come out into the public, he said, “Tiger had everything and traded it for nothing.” And he said the reason is because “he had a hole in his soul and was trying to fill it experientially, with unbridled sex, all done in secret.” This man went on to say, “Most people have a hard time processing Tiger’s problems because they miss its spiritual nature.”You know, I’ve had more people, when that exploded on the news; I had more men who are just baffled by this. How could a man do this? It’s because all we’ve ever seen and noticed is Tiger Woods’ public life, his external life, because, externally guys, he had it all. But what nobody realized is that his soul was quite destitute. And this is what I see happening in the lives of so many men who seem to have it all and yet internally are spiritually bankrupt. You know many people believe probably one of the most gifted writers and poets to ever live was a man by the name of Oscar Wilde. At the height of his fame, like Tiger Woods, he squandered everything; the only difference is, he died quite young. But right at the end of his life, he penned these words. Listen to them. He said, “The gods have given me almost everything, but I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in search of new sensation. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity came to me in the sphere of passion. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or breaks character and that therefore, what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud from the highest housetops… Now listen to this, this is Interesting, he said, “I ceased to be Lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul and I did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me and I ended in horrible disgrace.” What an incredible admission, but I ask you this question, could this be true of any of us? I think it could. “I was no longer captain of my soul and I didn’t even know it.”

I’d like to wind down our time together reading two different passages from the Bible to really shed some light onto this, and I think it will. The first comes as a simple verse that Paul writes to the Corinthian Church, II Corinthians, chapter 4 verse 16, it says this, “Therefore we do not lose heart, though outwardly externally we are wasting away, yet inwardly, we are being renewed day by day.”You know, guys, if we’re going to live our lives for the external, which is what most men do, we live for the outward man, as Paul uses that word, we need to know that the externals are wasting away. In fact, John says, in the book of First John, they’re “passing away”. And it starts, and you know this, with your body. It is wasting away, and your wife’s body is wasting away. And your career is passing away as time goes by. And if you live for the externals of life guys, I promise you this, as Paul said, you will lose heart as time goes by, and you will exit this life with great despair, and death will truly be your great enemy because it’ll take away all the external things you’ve invested your entire life in. The externals are wasting away. But notice what Paul says to the Christians in Corinth, he says, we don’t lose heart. Though the externals are passing away, he says our inner life, our souls, are being renewed and are being strengthened day by day by day. So, the first problem with externals is, they’re wasting away, and you know, you know it.

With the passage of time, your life slows down and deteriorates. Now, the second passage I want to read to you is, and this is my opinion, one of the most interesting conversations that Jesus has in the four Gospels, and is in the book of John the fourth chapter and he meets this, I would say, simple, Samaritan woman at a well. What’s happened is the disciples have gone into the town to get something to eat, and Jesus is resting at this well when the Samaritan woman shows up and Jesus has nothing to draw water from and she does and He asks her if he can have a drink of water, and she is surprised because Jews don’t have anything to do with Samaritans. And so I would ask you to just take a second to listen to this conversation. Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is who asked you to give me a drink you would have asked Him and He would given you living water.” She said to Him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw, the well is deep, where then did you get that living water. You’re not greater than our father Jacob, are you, who gave us the well and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks the water that I’ll give them, shall never thirst, but the water I’ll give him will become in him a well of water springing up to life eternal.” The woman said to Him, “Sir give me this water so I might not be thirsty nor will come all the way here to draw.” He said to her, now this is interesting, He completely changes directions, He says, “Go call your husband and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, I have no husband, for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband. That you have said truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” You know, in this little incident, clearly, you see a woman who had lived a very troubled life. You know, you’d size her up real easy. Married five times, currently living with a man. You know, she obviously had been looking for romantic love to satisfy the yearning of her soul, and she clearly hadn’t found it, and, what’s interesting, I think, for Jesus shows great compassion for her. You don’t see any condemnation that some people would give. You know it would be very easy to say, no wonder you’re messed up. You’ve been married five times and you’re living with a guy. Basically Jesus focuses on the spiritual need in her life, not her external marital issues. He focuses on her inner life, her soul, and He offers her living water, the spirit of God. But you know what’s interesting, and this is pretty typical of us is, she doesn’t get it. She thinks He is going to literally give her something to drink. Something physical. Something external that she could bring into her life and possibly make her life better or at least, if nothing else, to make her feel better, and that’s a very typical strategy we have in this life, something that can temporarily make me feel better. She was focusing on what Paul called the outer man. Jesus was focusing on the inner man. And this is so crucial to grasp guys, Jesus reveals the problem and the adequacy of the external things of this world when he says in verse 13 and 14, everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again. You see, not only the externals are wasting away, they don’t satisfy us. You get thirsty again.

There’s a very popular magazine that’s published in New York. It’s called The Village Voice, and it basically announces all the restaurants, the different Broadway shows in what’s going on in New York, and has articles, and there was an interesting one written by a woman by the name of Cynthia Heimel, and she said she was reflecting back on all the famous people that she knew in New York City. That she had a number of friends who were famous movie stars, and she was reflecting back on their lives before they became famous. She said one worked behind the makeup counter at Macy’s, one worked selling tickets at movie theaters, and so on. When they became successful, though, every one of them, it seemed, became more angry, more manic, more unhappy and unstable, much more so than when they were working hard to get to the top and why is that? Listen to what she says. “That giant thing that they were striving for, that same thing that was going to make everything okay, that was going to make their lives bearable, that was going to fill them with happiness had actually happened and the next day they woke up and they were still them. And the disillusionment turned them into howling and insufferable people.” Do you realize what she was saying? Once they had achieved the ultimate, they woke up and they were still thirsty. It hadn’t delivered what they thought it would bring into their lives. They were still thirsty, and I’ll just say this, and I think you know this. I think you recognize that the older you get, you can live in the finest homes, you can travel to the world’s most luxurious tropical retreats, you can play the world’s top golf courses, you can eat at the finest restaurants, drink the finest wines, have the greatest sex, but when all is said and done, when the thrill is gone, you wake up and realize, you’re still thirsty.

And this is why Jesus offers to each of us just as He offered to this woman living water which He says will be like a fountain in your soul. And please know this guys, I’m not talking about religion. I’m not talking about being religious, attempting to do good deeds to win God’s favor, because religion is as external as well because it focuses on nothing but external behavior. Historic Christianity focuses on the inner life. It’s about the life of God working in the soul of man. And if you wanted to boil down everything that I’ve said this morning into one idea, into the one simple idea, it would come from the simple words of Augustine uttered 1600 years ago, when he said, “If there is a God who brought us into existence, then the deepest chambers of our souls simply cannot be filled up with anything less than Him.” I’m going to read that again. “If there is a God who brought us into existence, then the deepest chambers of our souls simply cannot be filled up but anything less than Him.”

So, what I’d like to do is conclude with this. Please note that all the externals of life, if you’ve heard this, you heard me wrong, please note, that the externals of life are not corrupt, in fact, I would say most of them are gifts from God which he intended for our delight. The problem is guys, they don’t have the power to satisfy the soul, and God never intended them to. I think C.S. Lewis captured this most beautifully as he recognized we can never experience the true riches of life as God intended until He is the center of our lives. Lewis said, “When one’s relationship to God is given first place; everything else, including our earthly loves and pleasures increases. When first things are put first, secondary things are not suppressed, but rather, they paradoxically increase.” And what’s so interesting, is Lewis for years searched for spiritual truth. He was trying to make sense out of his life, and what’s interesting is he said he felt like he was finally coming to the place of truth only to find that truth was not a body of doctrine but it was a person, Jesus. And Lewis realized that God was calling him to surrender his life to Jesus. And he struggled with that decision. Maybe many of you struggled with that decision. But you know what, he finally let go, because in Christ he found the one person who could unify and guide his life. The very center from which life itself flows, and ultimately, C.S. Lewis found the living water, and he drank. And what’s interesting, and I just discovered this last night. If you turn to the very last chapter of the Bible, last chapter the 22nd chapter of the book of Revelation, and you go down to the very last verse, what God closes up the Bible with, you see this final invitation, the invitation that He makes to you and to me, He says this, “Whoever is thirsty, let him come, and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” And the question is, will we drink or will we turn away?

Let’s pray. Father, we’re so grateful for what you offer us, living water, to satisfy the thirst of our souls. Lord, help us to realize that we need to drink, that we need to come, and yet we acknowledge it’s so easy to be caught up in the externals of life that pull at us, that shout at us, that demand our time and attention. I pray Lord you’d give us the wisdom to drink, to surrender, to follow you, because you promised when we do, rivers of living water will flow in each of our souls, and we’ll find the life that you intended for us to experience. We do thank you. In Christ’s name. Amen.

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