Recently, when I’ve asked others how to pray for them, they often respond and ask me to pray: “that I would be satisfied with God” or “that I would not desire the things of this world but desire Him more.”
Truly, I relate wholeheartedly to that petition. I have prayed this for them and for myself and continue to do so even now. The battle against the idol factory of the heart is a daily one and we need the Holy Spirit to increase our faith so that we desire and pursue that which is truly beautiful and glorious. Lately, in my reflections of this inward battle, I have come to realize that all of our sin stems from a place of discontentment with the Lord. It was the devil’s ploy to lie to Adam and Eve about a more desirable life outside of the pure and love-filled communion they had with God. Satan’s tactics continue until today in tempting us to diminish the gloriousness of our Creator and to turn our eyes to the lesser gratification of created things (Romans 1:23).
Even a seed of doubt that God is all-satisfying for our deepest needs and desires can cause us to fill the hunger pangs of the soul with lesser things and lead us to sin. So with our heart, we either set our faith and pursuit on the things above or the things below – we become what we behold.
I hope then, in the next few paragraphs, to proclaim the excellencies of Christ and His preeminence over all created things in hope to exhort us to set our pursuit, desires and affections on Jesus. And then, let us receive deep satisfaction from the one who called Himself, the “bread of life”, the vine and the source of living water.
Naturally, we understand what it is like to experience the excellencies of created things. Furthermore, any experience we view as preeminent will naturally lead to satisfaction and satisfaction spontaneously always gives way to praise and worship. This is the “modus operandi” of the human heart. We exclaim with a happy rant when the sun comes out after a long, rainy winter. We goggle at the views of mountains and oceans bathed in sunset rays of orange and purple. We reel at the flavours of the gastronomic sensation that just touched the tongue.
Yet to truly experience communion with Jesus is to cause all these pleasurable experiences to be rightly seen – fleeting and depraving to our souls when they usurp His place as preeminent.
Psalm 90:14 demonstrates what happens when there is a proper orientation of the heart’s “modus operandi.” The psalmist says to God, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps 90:14). The psalmist views God’s love as preeminent and desirable. It is unrivaled, unending, undeserved and always abounding towards us. As the psalmist receives this love, he exclaims satisfaction leading to rejoicing all of his days.
We must see that Jesus’s death on the cross is God’s love poured out for us; Jesus is the giving of God’s steadfast love to humanity. Jesus is thus preeminently worthy of worship because He reconciled us to God and now we commune with the Father in love and not in wrath (Colossians 1:12-14; 19-22). In Revelation 5, all of heaven erupts in praise for Jesus saying, “Worthy is the lamb, who was slain…” thus establishing a direct connection between the worthiness of Jesus to receive worship with his death for our sake. There is no doubt then that we ought to worship Jesus for His saving work of our souls. Yet, as if the love of God poured out for us in Jesus was already not enough reason for our souls to be satisfied and worship, Paul gives even more fodder for our worship of the preeminence of Jesus in Colossians 1:15-20.
Inspired by the Spirit, Paul says of Jesus that “he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). This statement gives us the most primordial underpinning of the preeminence of Jesus. “Yes!” – we rejoice because Jesus rescued us from our sins eternally, but he did not need to die on the cross to deserve our worship. In other words, Jesus’ preeminence predates the gospel and of His free gift of salvation to us. If he never saved us from our sins, He would still be worthy of worship.
To elucidate this further, I borrow an illustration from Pastor John Piper. He gives the example of a man escaping a burning house just in time, who then turns with gratitude to the Lord for rescuing him. This man rightly praises God for his safety and that he did not suffer injury. But Piper points out that the same God who rescued this man in the nick of time is also providently sovereign over the fire itself. He could have ordained that the fire would never have been started at all. Thus, Piper points out the preeminent glory of God in His providence – His working of all things for His own praise and purposes. It is not only His rescue of this man that makes Him worthy of worship; it is God being God in all situations that makes Him worthy of worship.
In Colossians 1:15-20, Paul rightly attributes this same primordial, autogenous glory to Jesus by saying that Jesus was “before all things”, that “by him [and for him] all things were created”; that “in him all things hold together.” That is, that before our existence, our need for redemption and His accomplished salvation for us and its miraculous application to us – before anything, He is worthy of worship. He does not need the gospel to be shown as preeminent and so we are called to worship Jesus’ primordial preeminence.
But then the gospel did happen. Jesus did come, did live perfectly, did die for us, did rise again for us and did ascend to then send the Spirit to turn our own spirits from death to life. What then does this mean for our worship that the gospel is true and fully appropriated to us through faith? It means yet another, even deeper explosion of our worship because Jesus demonstrated His preeminence over even death (Colossians 1:18b).
Paul declares that Jesus is the “firstborn from the dead, that in everything he may be preeminent.” The words “that in” are written in such a way as if Jesus’ primordial preeminence was being challenged by the last enemy named “Death.” Jesus overcame this challenge with his victory over the grave and He vindicated His preeminence. If Death, the last enemy, could not diminish Jesus’ preeminence, nothing can or ever will. And so while Jesus did not need the gospel to be preeminent, His defeat of death through the gospel fully vindicates it. Now then, we have fully proven the utter preeminence of Jesus – in the beginning, before creation, during creation, before the fall, before our redemption at the cross, over the grave and forevermore into eternity.
A fair question leading from this though, is as follows: “What does Jesus’ utter preeminence have to do with the satisfaction of our souls?” But I ask a question in response, “If you worship what you view as preeminent, are you fully satisfied by the object of your worship?” Puritan pastor John Owen in his book “Communion with God” puts it this way:
“If what you are seeking is like Christ or equal to him, then reject Christ as one who has nothing desirable in him. But if you find that all your life is full of foolishness and troubles compared to Christ, why do you spend your ‘money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?’ [Isaiah 55:2]. Now a word to you that are young, who are full of health and strength and who are chasing after some beloved ambition or some beloved pleasure. Stop and consider. What are all your beloveds compared to Christ the true beloved? What satisfaction and happiness have your beloveds brought you? Show us the peace, quietness and assurance of everlasting blessedness that they have brought you. Their paths are crooked. Whoever walks in them shall not know peace. So look and see that there is a fit object for your highest love, one in whom you may find rest to your soul, one in whom you will find nothing to grieve and trouble you to eternity.”
If we would only take the time to feast on Him, as He has invited, there we would find all our joy and satisfaction and from it, the resultant resounding worship confessed with our lips and in our hearts. When we properly orient the “modus operandi” of the heart to Jesus, we echo the psalmist saying, “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (Psalm 107:8-9). Jesus is that “good thing”! Jesus’ preeminence over all things, including death, is the only worthy object of all our affections and thus is the only true satisfaction we will ever come to experience.
Finally, let us bring all of these truths into consideration during this current season of Lent. During this season, we fast from things that tend to predominantly take our attention away from Jesus. The heart of this Christian tradition is to deny ourselves of the lesser preeminence of created things in order to turn our affections towards the preeminence of the agent of creation, Jesus Christ. May it be that we turn our eyes from worthless things and set them on Jesus. Let all our longings and worship be cast upon Him and be met abundantly and satisfactorily by the riches of His love, mercy and peace for this life and into eternity.