But in trying to enjoy ourselves we find ourselves in slavery to the most demanding slave-driver ever: our own appetites.
As Bob Dylan sang, "It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve somebody."
When we set ourselves up as judge over pretty much everything (including whether there's a god who measures up to our standards), when we seek our own pleasure and happiness and fulfillment as the basic rule of our lives, we set ourselves up as our own little gods. If we ever take a break from frantically pursuing whatever it is we think we want and have a moment of clarity, we may well find that we have been serving the devil after all.
For all beat-up, worn out veterans of this war, weary of fighting to get free only to find ourselves slaves to our own selfishness, the Gospel of Jesus comes as shockingly good news:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.
(Mat 11:28-30 MSG)
As Eugene Peterson sums it up, "The Christian is a person who recognizes that our real problem is not in achieving freedom but in learning service under a better master." (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, p. 61)
Christians ought to be exemplary in demonstrating this principle of getting free by serving the right master, but there are two issues that obscure the Christians' advantage in the eyes of the world.
First, at least in this life, we are not the only ones who have discovered the secret of living life well. I have known some very admirable atheists and agnostics who lived very attractive lives. These friends seem in retrospect to have had two things in common: they had disciplined habits (even if their philosophies didn't always seem to make self-control a virtue), and they were trying to save the whales or save the planet or save something (sometimes they were trying to save me). Even for those whose philosophy excludes purpose in the universe, who accept it all as just a big physics experiment with no experimenter to start it up, people can manage to find a personal sense of purpose by investing themselves in something bigger than themselves.
So the first problem in having Christians shine as examples of this principle is that some non-Christians are pretty shiny, and the second problem is that a lot of Christians aren't. There's a difference between knowing how this is supposed to work in the Christian life and actually making it work for ourselves. To quote Morpheus (The Matrix, 1999), "there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path."
There are an awful lot of people who think of themselves as Christians who have been pulled off the path by the distractions along the way. They are meant to be people of the Book but have become people of the prevailing consumer culture. They are more influenced by media and advertising than by the life of Jesus.
Though the mechanisms may be new, the problem is not -- Paul wrote about it:
There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I've warned you of them many times; sadly, I'm having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ's Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites. But there's far more to life for us. We're citizens of high heaven! We're waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He'll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.
Joy and purpose and hope are found in waiting for, working for, and cooperating with the right Master. But they are found as side effects, not as objects of our primary focus. Even pursuit of joy and purpose can lead us astray if we are seeking them to satisfy some inner urge, some psychic appetite -- just another flavor of the myopic imperative that insists on serving me.