Own the Right Things
Dr. Jim Denison
Tiger Woods has been on the front pages all last week, seeking his second British Open championship. After becoming the first player in 30 years to win the Masters and U. S. Open in succession, he was in position to win the Grand Slam—all four major tournaments in the same year. He has amazing gifts, but even more amazing determination. Dallas resident and golfing great Lee Trevino said “A lot of these guys can’t touch that bar Tiger is setting right now. The problem is, the best player right now is the most motivated.”
Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France; Barry Bonds in baseball; Shaquille O’Neal in basketball; Bill Gates in business—men whose determination is even greater than their talent. They are driven people. Driven to excellence, to achieve and then achieve still more. And our culture loves them for it.
What drives you today? What defines success for you? If you could be anything in the world, what would you be? What should you be? Let’s ask Jesus.
What do you want?
“Blessed are the ones hungering and thirsting,” he begins in the literal Greek. Our Lord assumes that we all hunger and thirst for something. He doesn’t say, “Blessed are you if you hunger and thirst …” He knows that we do. And of course, he’s right.
In his day people knew physical hunger and thirst every day. People died without food or water. Droughts weren’t a nuisance for the lawn but a threat to life itself. Crop failures didn’t mean debt but death.
While our society is past that place, we’re no less hungry and thirsty for the things that matter to us. We’re all driven by something.
Theologian Paul Tillich was right: we each have an “ultimate concern.” Something or someone which matters more than anything else to us.
There’s something in your life which means success and significance to you. Raising successful children; becoming president of your company; retiring at 55; publishing bestselling books; getting into the right school, making the right grades, having the right friends; becoming a famous artist or doctor or lawyer or scientist or singer or teacher; being “happy.”
What drives you? What should? How can you be sure that when you climb to the top of the ladder, it’s not leaning against the wrong wall? What constitutes success with God? What makes us “blessed” by God? For what should we “hunger and thirst” this morning?
What should you want?
“Hunger and thirst after righteousness,” Jesus continues. The Greek word here reduces to the idea of uprightness, of doing what is right. But there’s more to the word than that. Unpack it with me for a moment.
First, there’s an internal sense here—personal character and morality. Not just what you do, but who you are. Dwight Moody said that your character is what you do in the dark. Bill Hybels says what you are when no one is looking, is what you are.
“Righteousness” here requires personal, intimate holiness. A person whose attitudes and motives are just. The word means to be the same thing in private that you are in public, to be godly in character both places, every day.
One reason to value such righteousness is that what we are in the dark is usually exposed in the light. We read daily of business leaders who lied about the bottom line, fabricated profits, misrepresented in shareholder reports, and have to “take the fifth.” But there’s no fifth amendment with God.
Sandra Baldwin was president of the United States Olympic Committee until it was discovered that she lied on her resume about graduating from the University of Colorado and finishing her Ph.D, and she had to resign. George O’Leary was head football coach at Notre Dame for five days, until it was learned that he lied about his background. Tim Johnson was fired as Toronto Blue Jays manager after he made up tales to his players about fighting in Vietnam.
A friend called me this week with this statement: “happiness depends on circumstances; blessedness depends on character.”
“Righteousness” is first internal, and second horizontal. It points to our actions with others. The word means to practice uprightness and justice with all we know.
Abigail Adams, wife of our second president, once wrote to her sister Elizabeth, “To be good, and do good, is the whole duty of man.”
Such horizontal righteousness is vital to our society. Speaking recently about corporate dishonesty, President Bush made this eloquent and perceptive statement: “All investment is an act of faith, and faith is earned by integrity. In the long run, there’s no capitalism without conscience; there is no wealth without character.”
“Righteousness” is internal, then horizontal. And it is vertical as well: being right with God. Righteous in the sense of keeping God’s commandments, living by his word, fulfilling his will. Confessing our sins when we commit them, being sure nothing is wrong between us and our Father, walking close to him.
Jesus makes this the key to character, the attribute for which we must “hunger and thirst” each day, the pathway to “blessing.” If you can be only one thing, be righteous.
Nicolo Paganini was in concert with a full orchestra when a string snapped. He continued, improvising his solo. But then a second string snapped, then a third. Three limp strings hanging from Paganini’s violin. He continued and finished the difficult piece with one string. Then he played an encore piece on that one string. And then he held up the violin and said to the crowd, “Paganini and one string!”
What should your “one string” be? Jesus makes the answer clear today.
How do we achieve it?
So here’s the practical question: how do we achieve “righteousness” with ourselves, others, and God? How do we play our lives on this string?
Here’s the first step: want to be righteous. Decide that you will be godly in character, actions, and faith if you are nothing else. Choose holiness above everything. Hunger and thirst for it.