How many of us have a hard time saying "no" to ourselves? It might present the opportunity in the department store when the latest fashions hit the rack, or perhaps when we see the advertisement on the television touting the next best invention to make life easier for all of mankind. Maybe it presents itself when we open the pantry and fridge only to tell ourselves there is nothing "good" to eat in the house, launching us into our cars and on our way to the Dairy Queen. Oh, don't get me wrong, the pantry and fridge weren't empty - they were stocked almost to overflowing - there was just not something which tickled our fancy at the moment. I haven't driven a car in over two weeks due to my knee replacement - something I haven't had to "forsake" since I started driving in my teen years. This makes fulfilling my every whim and fancy just a little more difficult right now! It almost forces me to make better decisions - because even my grocery shopping has to be done by another! It is hard to "predict" what I might fancy a day or two down the road and I don't want temptation in my way when I am trying to eat well. So, I don't plan for the "binge" - I deal with it when it comes! Maybe this is something I need to learn in all parts of my life - spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual - to "deal" with the desires as they come and not always provide an "out" for myself when I don't want to deal with the "denial" of a want. Notice, I did not say I would deny my needs - just my wants. There is a big difference - one is fueled by our love for all things God desires in our lives, the other by the lusts or desires of our flesh.
Oh, how I prospered! I left all my predecessors in Jerusalem far behind, left them behind in the dust. What’s more, I kept a clear head through it all. Everything I wanted I took—I never said no to myself. I gave in to every impulse, held back nothing. I sucked the marrow of pleasure out of every task—my reward to myself for a hard day’s work! Then I took a good look at everything I’d done, looked at all the sweat and hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing. (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 MSG)
Solomon, the son of King David, summarizes a litany of accomplishments he has undertaken as King of Israel. In fact, he outlines things such as building grand houses, planting lush vineyards, surrounding himself with luxurious parks filled with all manner of trees and blooming plants. His "grounds" are opulent and make more than a few people envious of his good fortune. He has developed irrigation channels and water holding reservoirs so his fields, parks, and flowerbeds don't suffer in the dry seasons. He bought slaves and watched as their families multiplied, providing him even more resources with which to continue his luxurious lifestyle. Today, it would be likened to hiring all manner of servants - chauffeur, butler, maid, cook, housekeeper, groundskeeper, etc. His herds and flocks were innumerable and yielded a multitude of offspring, ensuring his continued expansion of wealth and fame. Silver, gold, and all manner of booty were claimed in military battles until his warehouses were full to overflowing with his wealth and bounty. He had entertainment any night of the week - right at his fingertips. He even could court and entertain the most luscious of the kingdom's young women - all drawn to him, all available to do his beckoning. Yet, in all he had amassed, he was miserable - because he had never learned to say "no" to himself.
Sometimes things come quite easily to us - without much effort. At others, we have to strive and work and redo and replant. In time, we might see a harvest which resembles something close to what it was we imagined. We envy those who seem to get things given to them on a silver platter of sorts, whether it is in the way of what they own, or in the way of what they are able to grasp intellectually and explain with what appears to be the greatest of ease. I wonder - do we really know what life is like behind the scenes for these individuals, though? I did well in school - as I love to study. I received good grades and enjoyed privileges to learn more as a result. In fact, others noticed how well I did in school, and how well I seemed to grasp the facts I was taught. I have even been told they envied me for how "easily" I "got" what the teacher was teaching. I wish they could see me in the life-lessons I have had to learn at the feet of Jesus and the hand of the Holy Spirit. They might just rethink this idea of me "learning easily"! The life-lessons didn't come as easily as the book-learning!
In fact, the life-lessons had to be repeated on several occasions - simply because I didn't get the lesson the first time around. The lesson may have taken on a slightly different form, but when I looked at the purpose behind it - it usually dealt with one or two of the main issues in my life which Jesus was dealing with me about. Pride and fear were two biggies he has had to teach me many a lesson about - not learned easily in the first hundred or so rounds of life-lessons! Yep, there have been that many rounds - I don't exaggerate! Life-lessons sometimes take us humans a little while to "get" - simply because they are aimed at the heart, the mind, and our will. All three have to get into alignment with his teaching and this is where the "rub" occurs most of the time - either the heart is willing and the mind and will are not, or one of the other two are willing and the heart just isn't in it. When God finally gets hold of all three at once, the light dawns and it is like the lesson I struggled to "get" finally takes hold.
I don't think I am in this "life-lesson" roller-coaster ride alone, though. I believe I have others alongside, ahead of me, and even behind. All going through the ups and downs of learning what God wants. In turn, we will eventually all "get" what God wants us to learn, but until then, we ride and hold on! Solomon realized one thing - learning to say "no" to self is a hard thing, but until we do, no manner of accumulated wealth, fame, or fortune will substitute for the greatness of God's grace connecting heart, mind and will into one. All we strive for outside of this connection is nothing but smoke. The only permanence which brings deep satisfaction is that found in the grace and mercy of Jesus connecting our heart, mind and will into one - surrendered to him, yielded to his leading, and sheltered in his protection. Just sayin!