By Michael E. Brooks
“A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, but to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet” (Proverbs 27:7 NKJV).
A question I am often asked in Bangladesh or Nepal is, “How do you like our country?” My answer is invariably, “I like it very much. I enjoy its beauty, and the friendliness of its people, as well as many other things I find here.”
It surprises me how often my questioner will respond with harsh criticism of his own homeland, expressing the desire to leave it to live elsewhere.
This is not an unusual phenomenon. There is much truth to the familiar proverb, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” We focus on negative experiences, the things we do not have or the unpleasant features of our homes with which we have become too familiar, overlooking the positive, good things we could note if we were so inclined. We think that other places must be better and are plagued with dissatisfaction in our familiar circumstance.
Solomon states this truth in terms of appetite. A man who is filled does not consider any food desirable, at the moment. But to one suffering from extreme hunger, any food is good, regardless of bitter taste or poor quality. It is not the nature of the food that decides our opinion, but rather the state of our appetite.
This is at least part of what Jesus meant when he taught us that those who have a ravenous appetite for righteousness will be blessed (Matthew 5:6). Why do some find religious activities stale, dull and boring, while others are fulfilled and blessed by the same events? Is it that the two individuals have totally different experiences? Oftentimes we see those opposite reactions to exactly the same assemblies. The difference is not in what they did, but in their perceptions and responses.
Scientific experiments have proven the significance of perception and expectation. In one case several years ago placebos (pills with no medicinal content) were given to two groups of people with similar symptoms. One group was told they were taking a “miracle drug”, proven to have great effect on their condition. The other was not told anything about the pill. Significant numbers of the first group reported improvement while virtually none of the second group did.
When I invite people to go with me on mission groups I am normally met with one of two reactions. Some are excited about the prospect, intrigued with exotic locations and strange experiences. Others are indifferent or frightened, having no interest in going. Those excited about foreign travel are rarely disappointed. They expect to have a wonderful time and do. Those who think they would be frightened or bored or uncomfortable do not go. In all probability, if they did try it, they would be just as disappointed and unhappy as they expected to be.
One of my all-time favorite sermons is entitled, “Making Our Duties Our Desires”. The point is simple. When we learn to want to do what we ought to do, we have laid the foundation for success and happiness. One will never be content as a Christian when he wants to do what he should not, and does not want to do what he should. The world seeks to solve this dilemma by changing the standard – making whatever we want to do all right. Unfortunately we are not the maker of the standard. We can choose what we want, but not what is right. God has determined that.
True happiness comes when we learn that God is right and that what he wants us to do is what will benefit us most. He knows much better than we what we need, just as he knows the results of all our actions. It is when we do “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” that we shall live (Matthew 4:4).
And when we learn that doing those things is both good and enjoyable, obedience will come much more easily to us.
By Michael E. Brooks