15 December 2017

Leaky jars

Matthew 19

Last week we looked up and contemplated man standing on the edge looking out from and beyond his world, thinking big thoughts about his world and about himself.  Today we concentrate more on himself.

Plato, the great Greek philosopher of the fourth century BC said  our lives are like leaky jars which keep leaking and require constant topping up.  We long for happiness and no matter how much we find happiness and pump it in, the jars always seem to leak and to need being topped up.  They don’t seem able to hold happiness; it always leaks away.

Many find happiness in achievement.  I remember a farmer telling me there was nothing more satisfying than leaning on the gate of a field of an evening and surveying the fields or looking at the cattle.  That gave him great satisfaction and happiness. We can translate that into many areas of human activity.  Others find their happiness in relationships.  How many there are who  have no greater desires than a happy family life.

Yet, many would define happiness in terms of fulfillment but most people find this very elusive.  It’s Plato’s leaky jars again.  While many things in life bring a sense of fulfillment  and happiness, there always seems to be more, something that eludes us, the last piece of the jigsaw of happiness that lies somewhere over the horizon.  No matter how much we like the song we sing in life,  we always find there’s a better song to sing.  A young woman I know got  a new house and had as we say ‘ all her orders.’ She had everything her mother never had in her early days, yet she confided to a friend, ‘ Now I just want some antiques.’   It was the leaky jars again. George Eastman invented the Kodak camera and put it in the hands of the public with the slogan, ‘ You push the button; we’ll do the rest.’ He made millions of dollars, much of which he gave away because of genuine concern for the community. Yet, with all his achievements, in the end he died a lonely suicide.  Margot Fonteyn, the great ballerina, by her talents and hard work achieved glittering success around the world and had celebrity status, but she said that though she once believed that success was happiness she discovered that wasn’t true.  Jack Higgins, one of our modern novelists, read by millions, said ‘ when you get to the top there’s nothing there.’ Perhaps the greatest tragedy in this story of the failure of success to satisfy is the composer Mozart. I believe God gave him the greatest musical gift He ever gave to a human and he composed some of the most beautiful music we have ever known, yet, when he was dying, he could find no comfort in his music.  It’s those leaky jars again.

Many people are disturbed by the thought of dying, but more thoughtful people are concerned about the possibility of dying without ever having really lived. Many today are obsessed with this pursuit of real  life, even to the extent of making everything secondary to it, even the closest ties on earth, leading to family breakdown and abandoned children. The pursuit of happiness is one of the most common human experiences.  It transcends class, colour, race and creed. Everyone seeks and feels they should have happiness.  Yet it is one of the most elusive objectives in life.  We try one thing after another, move from this to that, hailing each new interest, possession  or pleasure as the last word.  Yet,  we find it is not the last word; there is always another word to be spoken,  always something else to try, only to find again and again that lasting happiness slips through the fingers.  Those who are poor think that if only they had money they would have happiness, and those who have bought all the expensive toys that money can buy – and still have plenty left – wonder why they still have failed to find happiness.  Some look at the popularity of celebrities today and think that they would be happy if everyone knew their name and if they could cut a dash in papers and magazines.  Yet, behind the front door of many celebrities there is often disillusionment and dissatisfaction.  They go from party to party, often from one partner to another, and fail to find satisfaction. One of our modern tennis stars – I think it was Boris Becker – said,  ‘ I had won Wimbledon twice before, once as the youngest player.  I was rich.  I had all the material possessions I needed; money, cars, women, everything….I had no inner peace; I was a puppet on a string.’  Robert Louis Stevenson says somewhere that  ‘ To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.’   That provides some sort of rationale for the endless human search but surely it is a philosophy of despair, saying that there is no lasting happiness, committing us to an endless and futile search after the unattainable.  Another writer suggests that this leaky jar experience is just one of the sad paradoxes of being human. He suggests, ‘ Maybe we will have to get used to the fact that we are always going to fail in our search for happiness.’  Marcus Tullius Cicero, the great Roman politician, said that he wished everybody could die young because then we would not live long enough to see our dreams and hopes and ideals destroyed by the harsh realities of life and experience.  One of the sad aspects of life today is that so many seem to have come to that sort of conclusion and to accept  that in normal life there is no  real happiness, and so they have to escape from it into another world, through alcohol and drugs.  The real world does not satisfy them, the normal life is not good enough, so they seek a way out of it into another world where their inhibitions and stress and burdens and anxieties are lifted from them and they can live for a little in freedom and delight.  But that is pure escapism.  Is there no lasting happiness in the real world?  An old hymn writer speaks of bending to drink at this world’s broken cisterns and says, “ Even as I stooped to drink, they fled and mocked me as I wailed.”

However, perhaps this search has another meaning.  What if  this restless desire and longing is itself a clue, a message, a pointer,  an arrow, a footprint in the sand leading us on to something we have not as yet found but is there to be found?  It seems unlikely that this human longing is there to be forever unsatisfied, else where did it come from and why have we got it?  What other human desire do we have which has not got something real to satisfy it?  Joseph Addison put this thought:

It must be so – Plato thou reason’st well – 

Else whence this pleasing hope, this fond desire,

This longing after immortality?

 

Perhaps something does lie beyond us which has planted this instinct in us to draw us onward.  Maybe another world where happiness is real and longings are satisfied lies beyond our experience so far, a world that we only know through the footprints that lead us to the edge.  And, what if there we find the answer to our yearning and to the meaning of the universe?  So then, taking this view of our inner longing after happiness, what if this longing is a clue that there is another world beside, beyond, amidst our world, where we may find what we seek for in our innermost beings? What if our inner emptiness is an arrow pointing us in a certain direction?  And what if we were to follow it?  What would we find?  Perhaps those of us with immortal longings so far unsatisfied need to follow that pointer.

From another point of view we are like an  island people who have never been beyond our island home but from time to time strange things wash up on our shores which make us stand on the edge of the ocean and look out and wonder. What are these strange things and where have they come from?

That is where we come to that Man again, for He is like one of those things from an outside world washed up on our shores.  We have noted how He said He had come from that other world to which man looks out and upwards standing on the edge.  He had come to bring to us the reality of something beyond, to assure us that the high and noble thoughts are not a delusion or a con, that there is the possibility of love from out there and of a future after our days on earth are finished.  Yet, there’s more, for Jesus said, ‘ I have come that they might have life and have it to the full.’  How that appeals to us, for it seems to speak into the deepest places in our lives in their hunger for satisfaction and lasting happiness.

Is that, then, a claim that can be substantiated?  Dare we hope that it might happen to us?  Could we have a taste of this nectar for which our inner beings long? Would it be foolish to risk gambling on Him? Well, we can  listen to the testimony of others. Malcolm Muggeridge died a few years ago.  He had a wonderful life, was the Editor of  the satirical magazine Punch, served in  intelligence during the war and later became a well-known television personality.  There was a time when you could hardly put on your TV without seeing him on some programme or other.  In the evening of life, he was attracted to Jesus Christ and wrote a book called ‘Jesus Rediscovered.’  In that book he talks about all his experiences and achievements and then says, ‘ Add them all together and they are nothing, less than nothing, compared with one drop of that living water which Jesus gives to the spiritually thirsty, no matter who or what they are.’  There’s the testimony of one noted person who took the risk of going with Jesus.

Jesus said, ‘ whoever believes on me, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’ And that is a significant statement, for our human trouble seems not to lie in the outward circumstances of our lives but in our innermost being, as He said.  It’s a restlessness there, an inner hunger, a gnawing at the core that the more you feed it with the best things you can provide, the more it  seems to gnaw away, looking for something better. F.W. Boreham said that bells ring at weddings and people seem happy and bells ring at funerals and people are sad, but the feeling comes from within people.  The bells are the same.  Yes, it’s from the innermost being that the ache and hunger and restlessness are found not from outside circumstances.  A man told me recently how he had been in hospital and had a serious operation.  He was only allowed light meals afterwards and one day recently the food was long in coming so that when it came he was ready for it and he  tucked in and had a good meal.  I called soon afterwards and he was sitting in his chair in the corner full and satisfied.  Perhaps that’s a little illustration of what we are looking for in life.  We want to be full and satisfied or as we put it ‘happy,’ and Jesus offers us that satisfaction. ‘ Whoever believes on me, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’ 

T H Huxley was an unbeliever.  A friend told him what Christ meant to him.  Huxley said,‘ I would give my right arm to be able to say that.’  Well, how much is that a true statement?  I don’t think it was in his case.  If we would give our right arm to have our eternal longings satisfied, then is it too big a challenge to step out with Jesus Christ?  Many have taken that step and they say He is who He claims to be and does  what He says He will do.  That hymn writer I quoted speaks of how he came to Christ and what he found

 

O Christ in Thee my soul hath found;

And found in Thee alone,

The peace, the joy I sought so long,

The bliss till now unknown.

Now none but Christ can satisfy,

None other name for me.

There’s love and life and lasting joy,

Lord Jesus, found in Thee.

 

F W Boreham has a piece in one of his books that may be a help to some seeker today.  I quote it as he wrote it, “ One dreamed a dream. He was chasing Pleasure. He hunted her up hill and down dale, but could not clutch her skirts.  At length he gave up the pursuit in despair. And lo, as he abandoned it, he saw One approaching him with marks of wounds in His hands and feet, and with scars of thorns on his brow.  ‘ My ways are ways of pleasantness,’ He said,’ and all my paths are peace!’ And he took the Stranger’s hand and they walked together. And, as they walked, Pleasure returned and took the other hand, and he found that, by yielding to the persuasions of Christ, he had obtained the company of Pleasure too.  And he awoke, and learned by long and happy experience that the dream he had dreamed was true.”  How many have found that to be true. Those leaky jars may be filled to the brim, for Christ made them and can fill them.  A woman was making her way to the sea to throw herself in and end the despair in which she lived.  And as she passed a church, a text caught her eye and spoke to her soul.  She found that she was eye to eye with the Christ who was challenging her to hand over her broken, despairing life to Him.  She did so and found her despair gone and a new peace and joy in her heart.  The leaky jar was filled to the brim.

Perhaps you’ve had the leaky jar experience.  You’ve had this and that which at the time you thought was great but it didn’t last.  You’ve lived out some of your dreams but they didn’t satisfy.  You’ve got to the top but there was nothing there. You’ve bought the toys and they soon lost their appeal. You’ve tried alcohol and drugs but reality is miserable. You’ve lived for lust but you despise yourself.  And your heart aches for one drop of that living water of which Muggeridge spoke.  Some drug addicts would do anything for another  injection, another pill, another snort, and you would do anything to find that lasting happiness for which your heart craves.  Well, listen again to the Man who has come to us from beyond, from out there.  He says to you,” Whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst.  Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  This is what He offers you.  Are you thirsty enough to drink? He challenges you to come to Him today and drink.  Yes, I know it is a gamble and a risk. We call that faith.  But that’s the way it is.  You have to come by faith.  You say it’s difficult for you.  It always is for anyone.  But the question is do you really want to keep the leaky jar or are you desperate enough to reach out for something better?

Sidlow McFarland