Freedom and the Pursuit of Happiness – Part II

In my last blog post, I spoke how modern people believe that happiness is found by being free from restrictions. As long as we can follow our hearts wherever they lead, and as long as we don’t hurt anyone, this is the key to a full and happy life.

I explained how, because of the complexity of the human heart, this modern view of freedom breaks down and fails us.

However, there is a second reason this model collapses, and that is because of the complexity of motivation. Most people never stop and ask the question, “Why do I do what I do? What is it that drives my life? What is most important to me?”

One of my favorite books is Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey says that each of us has a “personal center.” He says, “Whatever is at the center of our life will be the source of our security, guidance, wisdom, and power.” Covey goes on to make it clear that every aspect of your life is determined by your personal center. Another way to understand this is to realize that everyone lives for something. There is something out there in life that gives us a sense of significance and security. It is what makes us feel valuable and believe that our lives are worth something. And without this main thing, there is no way that I could be happy.

Covey says specifically that we can be money-centered, work-centered, pleasure-centered, success-centered, family-centered, or God-centered. There is something out there that is the main thing in our lives, and it makes us feel worthwhile and full of meaning. But what we don’t realize is that whatever is at our personal center becomes our master. You have given yourself to it, you are under its control, and, therefore, you are not free. As an example, most people are workaholics because money, status or achievement is at the personal center, and they are controlled by it. Others enter bad relationships and stay in them, even though, on an intellectual level, they know that they shouldn’t continue. They have a great need for romance and the presence of a significant person in their lives.

No one is free. You might think that you are in control and are your own person, but you are not. As the Greek philosopher, Euripedes, who lived 2,500 years ago said it, “No one is truly free.” You can serve either wealth or the law, or you can serve the people you are seeking to please. We do not control ourselves; we are controlled by that which is at the center of our being.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul brings this into the spiritual realm. He says there are two types of people in the world – those who unconditionally serve God with their lives, and then there are those who spiritually are slaves to something else. There are no other choices.

Bob Buford, a prosperous businessman and founder of Halftime Ministries, shares the conversation that changed his life:

A turning point in my own life was a conversation that I had twenty years ago with Michael Kami, one of this country’s top strategic planners. . . I made an appointment with Mike to explore my own (future) plans. I wanted to get his personal advice about some of the options that I was examining. During the course of the conversation, Mike asked me to describe my basic interests and motivations, and so I began telling him about of the things that interested me. But suddenly Mike stopped me in midsentence and asked me a question that changed my life – “What’s in the box?”

The question took me by surprise. I didn’t get it at first. In the box? What does that mean? So I asked, “What do you mean by that, Mike?”

“What’s central to your life at this point?” Mike asked. “If there were room for only one thing in your life, what would it be?” He took a pencil and sketched out a small square on a sheet of paper and said, “From what you’re telling me, Bob, there are two things at the top of your list of priorities, your religious faith and your career.” Mike indicated that the shorthand for that was a dollar sign and a cross. And he pointed at the box and said, “Before I can help you how to focus your interests, you have to decide: What’s in the box?”

Would it be the dollar sign or the cross? Suddenly I knew I had a choice to make.

Now and then, in the midst of life’s complexities, we come to a point where the options are limited and clear. This was one of those moments. What would it be for me – more money, more success, or more energy transferred to the calling I sensed so strongly? I considered those two options for a minute or so – which seemed like an eternity – and then I said, “Well, if you put it that way, it’s the cross.” And then I reached over to pencil a cross into Mike’s box.

That one decision helped me frame everything I’ve done since that day. It wasn’t that the small cross indicated that the work I felt called to do, to serve God, was my only loyalty in life. There were also family, customers, employees, recreation, and the like, but that little cross has designated the primary loyalty for my life between then and now.

My final thought is that Jesus is a king. In fact He is the King of all kings. Clearly if we don’t choose Him to be our king, we will choose another king. It is not a matter of freedom, it is a matter of who or what will be the Lord of our lives. We will submit to someone or to something on a throne.

The great irony is this – Jesus is the only legitimate king. He is the only king that truly liberates those who choose to serve Him.


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