The years rush by quickly while you’re earning a living, paying the bills, conquering the world, rearing the kids and fulfilling your dreams.
Like most blokes I’ve largely found identity and meaning within my job, but at the end of the day the satisfaction provided by even the most successful venture cannot answer that nagging question “what is life all about ?”.
Sure your job or business can provide economic rewards and the occasional ego trip, but at the end of the day the size of your pile of bucks doesn’t really mean much – especially if your marriage is a mess or your kids are screwed up. I count myself most fortunate to have paused to ask “what is life really all about ?” at a relatively early age.
When I was a teenager my parents wouldn’t let me have a motorcycle; they said “iron horse cowboys die young”. After lots of arguments I disobeyed & bought one anyway. As I rode my Triumph Thunderbird I felt like I owned the road. Helmet laws didn’t exist, radar & red light cameras weren’t invented, booze buses were parked in the future, & they never showed blood & guts road smashes on TV. Heaven was on my bike, girl on the back, wind in the hair, vibrating burble of a Big Twin, praying that SOMEONE would want to drag. Hey, I firmly believed I was indestructible & that I’d live forever !!
Then at age 18 I decided to get married. My Old Folks were very negative, “you’re too young & silly to marry, it’ll never last”. They finally gave permission on the condition that I went for professional “counselling”. The Shrink told me I had one chance in a hundred of a happy life; but I got married anyway. It was a case of TRUE LOVE !
By the time I was 25 I had a wife & four kids (3 of my own plus a young orphaned rellie). Suddenly I was up to my ears in “responsibility” & life wasn’t quite such a rage. The Thunderbird motorcycle had turned into a washing machine, which sucked & sloshed its way through never ending mountains of stinking chocolate-coloured nappies
But it wasn’t all bad news; there was “money”, which I started chasing with great energy. Since at that stage of my life I had no money, I decided that having lots of it would provide satisfaction and real meaning in my life. It was sort of like I believed the stuff that they now peddle in the Soapies (M+F=S). (That is, Money plus Fame equals Success !)
I started quite a few business ventures, some of which paid off. I remember one lucky deal on the stock exchange. After a tip from a friend, I bought some shares which I later cashed in for a $5,000 profit (more than my annual salary at that time !). I thought I was set for life ! But a strange thing happened; I quickly learnt that money didn’t bring happiness. In fact, it brought the opposite because I found myself lying awake worrying about inflation & whether my money was earning enough interest. Here I was being freaked by money which I had thought would bring me happiness !
By this time I realised that there had to be more to life than motorcycles, wheeling and dealing, chocolate nappies & money. So I embarked upon a “spiritual pilgrimage” to try and find the REAL meaning of what life was all about.
I started by reading Eastern religions & got hooked on the teachings of a Tibetan monk called Lobsang Rampa. I studied his secrets & believed in reincarnation and auras. I believed it was possible to leave my body and “travel in the astral”. Many nights I’d lie in bed grunting and groaning in a attempt to have an “out of body” experience. I chucked all this away the day I learned that Lobsang Rampa had died, & far from being a Tibetan monk he was actually a Pommie journalist making a quid on the side. What a con !
Next I joined a mystical group called the Rosicrucians & took a course to develop the powers of my mind. I used to sit up with candles in front of a mirror at night, chanting mantras at my own reflection ! When I found that this didn’t bring any satisfaction or enlightenment, I read the book of Mormon, I checked out the Jehovah’s Witnesses, & studied a number of American “prophets” like Edgar Cayce, Jean Dixon etc. I didn’t consider that any of them had the real answers to life; none of them fulfilled the emptiness I felt deep down at gut level.
Then I came into contact with a bloke called Al who seemed to have found “the meaning of life”. He had none of the possessions I felt were necessary for happiness. He didn’t own a house, he didn’t have much money, he wasn’t a super success in business. BUT, he did have a great wife and family, and he had what I saw as a deep-seated satisfaction with his life. So I started to talk to him, picking his brain. But whenever I asked him a question he would respond by quoting the Bible.
In fact just about all the answers he gave me came from that book, which I thought was irrelevant to life. I had been to Sunday school as a kid and had rejected “christianity” as dull and boring. I perceived the people professing it largely hypocritical. So Al and his “answers” annoyed and challenged me greatly !
Since Al kept quoting the Bible, I decided to give it a go and read it for myself (maybe hoping I could show Al the error of his ways). I got hold of a modern translation (Good News for Modern Man) and in about six months I read it cover to cover. I was truly amazed by what I read ! Compared to all the other mysticism and rubbish I’d studied and read, the Bible represented a quality message that stood head and shoulders above the rest. More importantly, the Bible seemed to hold answers to many of my questions – it made the world, as I saw it, start to make some sense. With help from my mate Al, who had a few serious chats with me, I started to get a handle on the basics of what life was all about.
To cut a long story short, I got hooked ! I decided that the message the Bible told was absolutely true – that God had in fact come to earth in the body of a man – Jesus Christ – and that THAT man had done something two thousand years ago that was so incredible that I could scarcely comprehend it. I changed my mind about the meaning of life.
I BELIEVED !
I decided to accept Jesus for who the Bible said he is – the Son of God Himself, the Creator of the Universe, the Prince of Peace, and someone who loves me more than I can ever really comprehend. I accepted Jesus as my only means of entering into everlasting life, and he became the bottom line in my relationship to everything else in life. In traditional terminology you could say that I had “become a Christian”, but I hate to use that term because it doesn’t communicate to others the reality of what had taken place.
I thought at that time that I had arrived at the end of my spiritual pilgrimage, but how wrong I was. I wasn’t at the end, I was in fact at the very beginning, and the best, and the worst, were yet to come !
After I became a Christian (that is, trusted my present and future life to Jesus), I started attending “church”. In fact I have now been a Believer in Jesus about 25 years and during most of that time I have attended various churches.
My church experiences were not limited to a single denomination; in fact I spent quite a few years at each of a number of different church denominations, from one end of the organised Christian spectrum to the other. I went to church religiously – as a discipline – because I was told, and firmly believed, that that was what “Christians were supposed to do” – in fact I felt bad if I didn’t attend. During those 25 years I have:-
I’m not trying to big note; I’m simply trying to make the point that I put a significant and continuous effort into “being a Christian” over a 25 year period. You could say I gave it my best shot, humanly speaking.
The positive side of my church experience is that I have met some of the most wonderful people on planet earth, many of whom have become life long friends. And I mean true friends. The sort of friends with whom I can openly discuss the most intimate thoughts and feelings, without fearing derision or betrayal. These are people who would give me their last dollar, or the shirts off their backs, if I needed them. Blokes with whom I’ve motorcycled across the USA, dirt biked into volcanic craters in New Zealand, and ridden around lots of our own wonderful country. Blokes with whom I’ve crewed international sailing ships. And all without having to wear that false facade that tends to occur in many social situations. In each others company we are able to be OURSELVES. We are able to laugh, cry and argue together in a way that leaves our basic friendship firmly intact, even when we strongly disagree (as sometimes we do), all because we share a common acceptance of Jesus as the true basis of meaning in our lives.
Another great positive benefit of reading my Bible over the years relates to my marriage and family life. I was able, as a young adult, to see that a lot of what society tried to thrust down my throat was simply a load of crap! Why ?
The Sixties, Seventies and Eighties were times of huge social change. In less than a generation most of the moral foundations that preserved family life and individual happiness in Australia were swept away. The sexual revolution left individuals hurt and in pain, it devastated many families, it left thousands of children in a home without both a Mum and a Dad. The “womens’ movement” left many blokes feeling confused and alienated. Then “gay rights” emerged to cause a further wave of devastation.
It left people fighting for their individual rights, madly pursuing their own freedom – restless people grabbing for something that always seemed to allude them. Countless marketing campaigns have been launched exploiting the need people feel to fill this void in their lives.
Through these times of radical social change I was exposed to countless temptations, particularly at work, that had the potential to wreck my marriage and my family life. I was in a position of influence where I was offered huge bribes (including diamonds, cash paid into Swiss bank accounts, and gold bullion welded into the frames of shipping containers) to award tenders to certain organisations. I was offered overseas trips escorted by attractive girls. The opportunities for “fun” were there, but I am forever grateful that knowing God’s ways, through regularly reading the Bible, helped me to reject a lot of the things and values that society said were OK. Left to my own strength I surely would have succumbed – I don’t hold myself out to be anyone of great virtue. It was ONLY by God’s guiding hand that kept me from ruining my life in these areas !
And the great payoff for listening to God’s quiet voice over the years is NOW as well as in the future.
For example …..
After over 30 years I’m still with the same fantastic wife who married me at 18, and our relationship is as exciting, enjoyable and fulfilling as it has ever been; in fact it just keeps getting better. WE can hardly believe it ! (The Old Folks were proved wrong – I was the one in a hundred !!!!!) We share a deep level of intimacy that transcends the best TV romance, which largely owes its success to the foundational faith in Jesus that we share in common. Our faith is not spooky, weird, super-spiro or flamboyant – we don’t push it down other peoples’ throats – it’s just a quiet thankful trust in God and his goodness that undergirds every blessing we enjoy. I cannot stress enough that it ALL comes from Him !
So much for the earthly blessings, but I want to pick up again on my experience relating to my “spiritual” pilgrimage.
In spite of the many blessings that I have related above, there was one area of my life over the past 25 years that caused me huge pain. Even though I was satisfied that I had discovered the basic meaning of life by my faith in Jesus, the harder I tried to understand and live the Christian life, the more dissatisfied I became.
My Bible reading revealed to me that as a “believer” I would experience “peace and joy” in my life, and that I should expect to be able to enter into Gods “rest”. However my experience was the opposite, I was a truly dissatisfied customer in many respects!
The problem was that I continually felt condemned; that my performance as a Christian enough, I felt I didn’t measure up to the high standardsthat were preached at church, I felt guilty about many of the things I thought about, I didn’t feel the faith that others seemed to have, I didn’t feel the happiness and fulfilment that I saw in many of those around me, I couldn’t believe in the “miracles” that lots of others seemed to be experiencing, and deep down in my heart I constantly doubted that God could really love me (as the Bible said he did) because I simply wasn’t good enough !! What was my problem ?
I was strongly convinced that the Bible held the absolute Truth; in fact that’s what kept me going. But somehow it just wasn’t making sense in my life. In many areas of life (business, marriage, family) I was going OK, but I was grossly dissatisfied and hurting deep within myself. I couldn’t relate what I read in the Bible to what I was experiencing in the church or in my life. I asked lots of questions of those in the church, but I received no satisfactory answers. Many of the responses I got from church “leaders” were gobbledegook.
I gradually became alienated from organised traditional churches because the one thing most churches cannot tolerate is “questions”. Somehow twentieth century Christians are expected to leave their brains at home when listening to modern day preaching. This intrigues me, because way back in the early days of the church (first century) the standard procedure was for those listening to preachers to actually question and argue with the speaker – but not so today. Today we are expected to fall into line with the rest of the flock and ask no questions, or go do your own thing. In other words, “shape up or ship out” !
I came to a point where I couldn’t simply live with my inner dissatisfaction while at the same time attend church pretending that everything was OK. It’s one thing to have to put on a front at work or the pub, but I figured if I couldn’t be real and express my true self at church, then it was time to look for a better alternative.
So about five years ago I did what countless millions before me have done, I simply dropped out of the organised Christian church. I was disillusioned, dissatisfied and aching deep down in my gut. I still clung to my basic faith in Jesus, I continued to read my Bible regularly, but those many pews that had welcomed my bum for 25 years remained cold and lonely twice on Sundays.
To be honest, I was now in a pretty dry place spiritually. I had tried everything. I had made my own mega-effort over 25 years, I had listened to the very best preachers that the establishment had to offer, I had asked some pretty honest questions, but the ANSWER alluded me.
Until mid 1996 !
About that time a mate of mine phoned me one day and invited me to attend an evening presentation by an American Bible teacher that was coming to town. I wasn’t in the mood. I had listened to them all – 5000 of them. I was tired of listening. I had given up listening. I just didn’t need sermon number five thousand and One ! In fact I would have paid money NOT to attend.
However my mate was pretty forceful, and in the end I went anyway, only to shut him up. I went with a closed mind, expecting more of the gobbledegook that I had heard so many times over past years.
Was I pleasantly surprised !!
To start with, the teacher was unusual to say the least. He had no formal qualifications, had never been to Bible School, he was a high school drop out, he had lived as a homosexual for 15 years, and had spent much of his teenage years in mental institutions undergoing electric shock therapy. In short, he was the most unlikely type of man for God to use in any awy at all – let alone TEACH Biblical issues! His name is Mike Williams.
Even as I write this, looking back, I can see that what had happened was that God had patiently waited for 25 years while I was making my mega-effort at being a good Christian, and after I had FINALLY given up my own striving, he threw yet another man in my path who had His message – a message I would finally hear – a message that would sink in, and turn me from being a condemned, guilt ridden, disgruntled human-doing into a peaceful human-being.
OK, so now that I’m half a century down life’s track, I want to present you with what I have learned about the true meaning of life. First I’ll start with a summary of what I believe is many peoples’ conception (should I say misconception ?) about Christianity. These views are promulgated by many churches, but I don’t hold it against them, because many times it’s a case of “the blind leading the blind”.
The traditional “western” church presents Christianity as a choice between good and evil. We are told that in our natural state we are sinners (or people who do wrong), but that by accepting Jesus Christ we are made right with God. However while the church rightly proclaims that God accepts us individually just as we are (that is, as sinners), they convey that it is then OUR job to work through our relationships with God over many years, constantly improving and becoming better and better people. The emphasis is on our performance. We have to shed our bad habits – the bad have to become good. If we don’t, we are led to believe that God is not pleased with us, and we become unacceptable as individuals in the vast majority of churches !
This performance orientated Christianity is further reinforced by the churches teaching or behaviour in a number of areas:-
1. We are taught that there are certain things we can do to cause God to bless us. Tithing (that is, giving a percentage of our income to the church) is one example. The church teaches that by giving to “God’s work” (the church), God will bless us and prosper us. Praying and fasting are other highly recommended means of invoking God’s pleasure and rewards.
Conversely, we are taught to fear God’s wrath when we don’t perform well, especially if we openly commit sins. The proof of this mentality can be seen in Christians who, when disaster strikes by way of ill health or other crisis, search their recent performance to try and discover what it is they have done to cause God to remove His “covering” or blessing from their lives.
3. Church services often incorporate an appeal to believers to come forward during services (“alter calls”) to be “made right with God”. The underlying suggestion is that due to their poor recent performance, believers who were accepted freely by God at the time they decided to believe in Him, somehow are no longer acceptable to Him without further confession, remorse and tears.
4. Believers are taught to constantly “confess their sins” to God in their private prayer times. The implication is that God is constantly watching each person’s performance and they can only be acceptable if they acknowledge, and are sorry for, their short comings on a very regular basis.
5. The church loves holding up examples of people who once used to be complete bastards, but after accepting Jesus into their lives they become complete saints. These people are often held up as the standard that is expected of everyone. The pressure is on – now that you’ve come into the family of God you have to perform as specified, or your spirituality is in question.
6. Much of modern Christianity is based on man’s wisdom, and not God’s wisdom. Man’s wisdom is based on cause and effect. If you behave well as a kid you get praised, if you behave badly you get whacked. If you study hard at school you get A’s, if you fool about you get whacked. If you work hard at you job you get promoted, if you don’t you get sacked. This cause and effect is then erroneously extended into the spiritual realm, so that “if you keep God’s laws you’ll get blessed, if you don’t He’ll whack you !”.
These and other erroneous concepts that western Christianity has woven into its fabric of doctrine and practice have had a hugely NEGATIVE impact on the hearts of struggling individual believers. It has left believers riddled with GUILT because they know they have been unable to keep “the rules” that they hear preached at them regularly. It leaves them CONDEMNED deep down inside they know that they haven’t reached a level of performance that pleases God.
It causes many believers, after years of struggle, to simply give up, often angry with God because they see Him as a demanding all powerful entity who has set the high-jump bar at a level that they can never reach.
I suffered under these illusions and more for many many years, and usually when I articulated my fears and frustrations in church circles, I was branded a malcontent who “had an attitude problem”. Sure I had a problem. The problem was that I wouldn’t put on a happy face and kowtow with the rest of the crowd. My real problem was the fact that I had never heard and understood the COMPLETE Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ !! And I’m not denying that the true Gospel wasn’t presented to me during those painful tears of struggle, but the point was that I never actually HEARD it (my fault) !
So I now finally come to the crucial point of the message that God has recently got across to me, which I perceive to be the fundamental TRUTH revealed by the Bible. It goes like this:
The root cause of all problems on planet earth goes way back to the beginning of time, when God first created mankind. God put man and woman in a perfect world where there was no sin, sickness or death. Pure joy and happiness reigned, because God’s creation was in direct communication with the Creator Himself!
But God gave mankind a great gift – FREE WILL. There was only one restraint or condition in those early days – God told His people not to eat the fruit from one of the three in the garden – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Most of us know the story of Adam and Eve – they disobeyed God, and ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Instead of believing what God had told them (which was that they were ALREADY just like Him – made in His image), they believed the lie that they were told by the serpent – that by eating the fruit they COULD BECOME like God. Ever since that day we (mankind) have been trying to establish our own identity and righteousness, based on our own assessment of GOOD and EVIL, rather than believe what God has told us about ourselves.
And since that day God has still allowed us to operate under our own free will, and we have reaped the consequences of our choice and lost direct contact with our Creator !
God however did not give up on mankind. He has spoken to us in various ways down through the centuries. In the early days of recorded history He sent men he called “prophets” – men who kept calling the human race back to Himself – men who also foretold of God’s plan to enter human history Himself in order to complete the task of bringing people back to Himself. It’s all there recorded in the Bible.
Down through the centuries, preferring their own ways, men continuously failed to heed the call of God’s prophets. As they had started in the Garden of Eden, men continued to exercise their free will fuelled by the wisdom they attained by eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
History is littered with the results of mans’ wisdom based on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – wars, murder, greed, unrest, unhappiness and the never ending quest for personal fulfilment. For something like 6,000 years of recorded history man has never attained the utopia for which so many have struggled and died ! How foolish modern man is to think that he has the ability to create a perfect world when all of recorded history proves otherwise !
Finally, at the most strategic time in human history, God entered the world in a human body – as the baby Jesus – Jesus Christ – who was born into an insignificant family in an insignificant town in the middle of territory occupied by the Roman army.
Jesus said and did many things during his short 33 years on earth, culminating in an event that has had a greater impact on the world that any other event in history – His death ! On a lonely hill in Israel 2000 years ago, he was nailed to a wooden cross, hanging there until he died. His blood was poured out as a sacrifice for you and for me – to pay the penalty for our sinful nature and wrongdoing. No longer do those of us who accept Jesus and his sacrifice have to one day stand before God and be judged – Jesus has taken on all that for us.
And in fact it’s even far more wonderful than that !
When Jesus died he accepted our punishment. But he also gave us something that is quite incredible – his righteousness ! That is, as an unmerited and unearned free gift, he gave us the right standing before God that he himself was entitled to – as a perfect human being ! And the agreement upon which this deal was done was transacted between God the Father and Jesus, God the Son.
So the bottom line is this. Jesus has completely scrapped the concept our relationship with Him being based on our performance and knowledge of Good and Evil !
If we accept that Jesus has in fact died in our place and paid our penalty for wrong doing, and if we accept the fact that he has been raised from death and now sits at the Father’s right hand, we can then enjoy all the benefits that Jesus Himself is entitled to. For example:
We are perfect and righteous in the Father’s sight, regardless of our physical performance (we have no obligation to do evil – in fact our heart felt desire will cause us naturally to want to do good !)
We are free from having to keep the old Law (ten commandments)
We no longer have to comply with any regulations to be accepted by God
There is no one on planet Earth with a better relationship with the Father than you (or me)!
There is nothing in heaven or Earth that can separate us from the love of God
In short, God loves us unconditionally !
He’s no longer angry with us – we can truly believe the words of that old Christmas carol that says “peace on earth and good will to men” !
We are free to live – free to win – and free to fail. Our identity no longer has to depend on our social standing, whether we’re a winner or a loser, what car we drive, whether we’re fat or thin, or whether we are rich or poor. We are ALL ACCEPTABLE to the One who really counts – the Creator of all things.
And once we arrive at this incredible knowledge and accept it deep down inside us an amazing thing happens in our lives. We find that our deepest longings are satisfied, we no longer grieve about how God sees us, because we know that everything is OK because it’s in His hands. And this amazing Truth frees us from all the old emotional and mental baggage that we used to carry, and we’re then able to start really caring about our fellow human beings and feel true love for others.
And I can personally attest to what the Bible states – once we know the TRUTH the Truth shall set us free.
So there you go – THAT’s a brief overview of what I perceive (and have experienced) to be the meaning of life.
I haven’t reached the end of the road – I don’t claim to have all the answers. In fact the further I go in life the more I realise I don’t know. My one hope though is that maybe my pilgrimage may be of some help, comfort or assistance to my fellow pilgrims. If that turns out to be the case then the time I have spent whacking this onto Bluey’s Web site will have been worthwhile….
Thanks for taking the time to read thus far !
Anytime you want to talk about the meaning of life – Email me or give me a call. I’m no teacher or preacher, but I am confident that what I have found to be true in my life is available to every man, woman, boy and girl on planet Earth.
As the Good Book says “seek and ye shall find ……..” That’s a promise that God keeps !
John Bryant 01-06-03
Email: email@example.com Tel (02) 4567 2222
PS – If you’re a dissatisfied Christian then please read on:-
Church Burnout Syndrome (CBS) is a disease that I believe afflicts many Christians. I am an expert on the subject – I suffered from it for over 20 years. Thank God I now know the cure, and already above I have shared that cure with you above.
However maybe these extra few words may help comfort you….
Many Christians conduct superficially happy lives in spite of CBS, and in so doing unwittingly infect many others. They struggle along for years or even a lifetime, buffeted by the ebb and flow of pulpit exhortations and peer pressure. Some hang in there, some end up in asylums, and thousands simply slide off the Christian slippery dip into the sands of despair. Worst of all, some lose all hope and give up on God ! Hence the demise of traditional western style Christian churches.
CBS is like HIV – many carriers of the disease don’t even know they have it, BUT, sooner or later it will activate and ruin their inner lives – stealing their peace and joy, minimising their human potential.
How is CBS diagnosed ?
So, the final solution is:-
Grab your New Testament. Open your mind and heart. Try hard to ignore all the stuff that has been pushed into your mind in the past. Pray earnestly that God will speak His message into your heart. He has promised to reveal Himself to the sincere seeker – and He will !