finding joy instead of chasing happiness
Part 5 Chasing Dreams, Chasing God
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
One of the most common pressures on us in our culture is the pursuit of happiness. We’re bombarded with advertising pushing us to buy products and take trips to make us happy. We’re taught to pursue anything in our lives that will make us happy from pot and partying as we see as more states legalize recreational marijuana, as if alcohol wasn’t enough. We see opiode overdoses becoming a leading cause of death as we chase a bigger high. We feel unhappy in a marriage because it was more work than we expected so we chase an affair or dump the marriage to live a single life again because we thought that was what would make us happy.
Chasing our dreams fits right into the pursuit of happiness. When we’re chasing our dreams with our eyes set on ourselves, like those selfish motives James talked about in Part 4 in the series, and we think winning that gold buckle is what will end up making us happy. Then our sights get set on the next biggest championship and finally the PBR. But what comes after we get that buckle? What makes us happy?
The Bible doesn’t promise us happiness. In fact, it promises us trials, struggles and pain. Those are the consequences of the sin that Adam and Eve brought in the world when they chose to disobey God and eat that forbidden fruit. They traded perfect happiness for the temptation of sin and now we all live with those consequences.
Jesus himself tells us that we’re going to face struggles.
John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
But he also tells us not to worry. His death on the cross has overcome the sin that causes us to face struggles. In this world, we’re going to face suffering but in the next, we face a perfect life in Heaven if we repent of our sins and ask Jesus to forgive them. For God to be a just God, sin has to be punished, but Jesus took that punishment so that God could see us as clean and perfect, fit to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
And James brings us to what we need to pursue instead of happiness—joy!
James 1: 2-4 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
When we face a struggle, like being broke, injured and not being able to pay a doctor’s bill, never mind entry fees when our physical therapy is over, James tells us to actually take joy in that struggle. Why? Because God will use it to work out something better in us—to shape us and make us more like Christ.
Joy is basically a Biblical opposite to happiness. It’s considered a fruit of the Spirit which is a characteristic that grows in us when we’re saved through that faith and forgiveness found in Jesus.
Instead of chasing happiness through our dreams, we find ourselves experiencing joy. We can feel it when we make the fastest catch, quickest barrel run or score our first 90-point bull or bronc ride. And we can feel it when we are always one hole out of a check and not sure how we’re going to have gas money to get home. It comes from knowing who we are in Christ and that with every success or every failure on our path to chasing our dreams, we’re one step closer to being more like Christ and we’re one day closer to our perfect life in Heaven.
As we chase our gold buckle dreams and remember that our focus is on doing it in a way that glorifies God, we can take joy in knowing others can see Christ in us when they see how we handle our successes or our failures.
Happiness comes from the false idea that something other than Jesus is going to make us complete or fulfill the holes in our lives. Joy comes from knowing we are saved by Christ and have a hope that those without him can’t know or understand.
When we can find joy in us instead of chasing what we think will make us happy, we can also feel peace and a lot of the challenges we face become easier to deal with.
Contestants at a weekly bull riding in Van Wert, Ohio (Hat Creek Ranch) decided who would get this buckle based on bull riders who demonstrated fruit of the Spirit in their life.By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Part 4, Chasing Dreams
What if you have chased after that win but your horse has come up lame again and you just missed the cut for that finals you set as this year’s goal? Your truck breaks down and your entry fee money is gone because you need it for work. The guy you cover for at the sales barn is given the weekend off to rodeo and you have to draw out.
Remember, God comes first.
Everything is meant to bring Him glory and carry out His perfect plan.
Two possible reasons our gold buckle, or anything at all we set our hearts on, stays out of reach come right from the book of James: God is doing something in us through our struggle or our motives are messed up.
James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
As hard as you feel like you’ve fought to get a spot at the finals and however many years you’ve put into making the PBR, James reminds us that a struggle can be a test of our faith that produces perseverance. What comes out of perseverance? Maturity (as a Christian) and someone who resembles Christ. From God’s perspective, being more like Christ is going to be more important than the next win.
When we can learn to see how much more that matters, we can find ourselves not only being at peace when our dreams seem to stay out of reach, but as James tells us, we can also find joy in that.
But in just a couple verses, James also paints a very clear picture about our heart conditions and why that might stand in the way of our dreams.
James 4: 2-3 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
There are times we’ve all seen people cheat or be cheated at a rodeo or bull riding. You can’t prove it, but you know the draw was rigged. A bull’s brand gets switched out with a better bull to win a bucking competition. The rules get bent to favor another contestant. A lot goes on in just rodeo alone when you’re trying to win that gold buckle, never mind everything else we see going on in the country around us.
Then James tells us we’re focused on ourselves so much that we forget to ask God what He wants for us and when we do ask Him for something, it’s to fulfill our own desires without considering what He wants for our lives.
Remember, everything we do is to glorify Him. When we seek what He wants for our lives, the focus of our dreams might even change but as the desires of our heart line up with God’s desires for us, well, we find our dreams do start coming true.
Bull Rider Dixon Holland from Virginia pauses to pray during the opening of a recent bull riding in Wise, VA sanctioned by SEBRA (Southern Extreme Bull Riding Association) .
Chasing Gold Buckle Dreams Part 3
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
How do we know if we’re chasing our God-given dreams or we’re chasing our heart in the wrong direction?
We know that the heart is not to be trusted—that our emotions can mislead us and that can get in the way of God’s plan for us. We also know that as we grow in our faith and put it first, our goals can change to line up with what God wants for us. Sometimes that’s the same as what our original dreams were and sometimes it’s not. If our dreams are changed but our focus is on our relationship with Jesus, we’re going to be happy with the new dream in front of us.
In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that we should live in a way that our faith shows through and that when others see us living it out, it gives God glory, comparing us to a city on a hill that can be seen from all around or a light stand that is put in place to shine throughout a home.
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Jesus wants us to live like him but in a way that it can be seen by others, not for us to get attention but so that God is honored by our actions and choices.
When glorifying God becomes our focus, that can impact our dreams. We can still pursue a gold buckle dream, but it’s done in a way that we call attention to God. That involves more than thanking Him like we see when someone wins a Grammy (though there is nothing wrong with that) or taking a knee and pointing skyward in the arena. It includes living in such a way that others see we approach our success and failures differently and through that, want to know what we have that they don’t. That becomes a chance to tell them about Jesus. When that happens, the pursuit of our dream has now become a way to share our faith with others.
Then Paul tells the church in Corinth this: that everything we do should bring God glory.
1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God
Again, how we pursue our dreams becomes an opportunity to do this. Do we get angry at a setback or do we show patience and perseverance? Do we use our success as a way to tell others who Jesus is or do we stay quiet about it in conversations or even interviews with media doing stories about us. Do we show respect and kindness to the people we compete against and to our fans or do we look after our own interests?
Chasing our dreams gives us enormous opportunities to honor God whether we’re the rookie kid just getting started or the person that rookie looks up to.
Christian Bull Righter and pastor Stephen Bruner and his wife Tori Bruner from Indiantown, Florida
Well it all started back in 2007 when I stumbled across Gethsemane Ranch by “happenstance” or what I call a divine appointment.
They were looking for a bullfighter to help protect the kids at the bull riding, and I was on my way to pursue a professional rodeo career in just that event. The only problem was that I was leaving God behind and headed out to glorify my own name. So, being that this church just “happened” to be only a mile down the road from the camper I was living in, I headed on over (without God) to get some practice.
Long story short, that’s when I really met Him again…
I met Jesus first when I was very young, from the years of private Christian school to always being at the Baptist church, but I had walked away from Him during my adolescent years and without really understanding, I was really mad at God about the things He allowed during my childhood. I had heard all the truths about how much He loved me, but it all wasn’t adding up in the environment I was in.
There was a lot of drug and alcohol abuse by both my parents, which led to many forms of child abuse and neglect. From there I set out to disguise the hurting little boy inside me who wanted to feel “real” love and approval. All the way through high school and college I looked to the world for approval; never to find it until my rodeo career and God sent me to that place called Gethsemane Ranch. That’s when I met Him again. That’s when God, through His faithfulness, and the loving and caring people at that church, reminded me how much He loved me and that He had a purpose for me!
I was challenged by God to be a real man and not just a boy. I could not live in the past anymore or identify myself by my circumstances and the lies the devil had told me for so many years. It was time to grow up spiritually!! So I pushed hard into God’s word to get the truth! I needed to hear God tell me how special I was and how much He loved me!
I heard him louder than ever.
I made a commitment to never walk away from Him again or put anything before Him. He has brought me through so much; from broken relationships, broken necks, stage 3 cancer, unforgiveness toward my earthly father (the biggest challenge) and so much more! He has never left me or forsaken me. He has completely restored my physical body and is constantly restoring my spirit! He has given me so much back and a lot of my family. Most importantly, He has blessed me with a wife who has been the greatest “help mate” ever! He is constantly teaching me how to love her like Christ loved the church!
We are so blessed to get to serve as ministers of the Gospel and travel around the country sharing that there is hope in Jesus Christ no matter what! We are sure grateful to be a part of God’s business and all the kids’ lives God has allowed us to be a part of! No matter who you are or where you come from, God is dying to love on you and use you!! HE LOVES YOU A LOT!
Triple T Bulls and Practice Pen
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboy of the Cross
Standing in a barn outside the arena set up to be a practice pen for bull riders leading cowboy church, I would have never imagined that was where my life was going to take me.
I had different dreams of working my way up the corporate ladder driven not so much by a job I loved but almost seven weeks of vacation and the possibility of a six-figure income—not a move into ministry that meant living part time in my van in a church parking lot.
But when we start following God instead of ourselves, our dreams and goals sometimes change.
We often have this idea that what we want is what God will give us but we forget that when we follow God, our heart changes and what we desire changes. Romans offers a lot of teaching about salvation and the changes we encounter when we become a Christian.
Romans 13:13-14 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
Instead of pursuing our normal, sinful natures, we begin to pursue Jesus and recognize that God calls us to a life meant to glorify Him. Paul shows us in 2 Corinthians that we’re made new in Christ through our salvation—that we become a new person that no longer lives for ourselves but for Jesus.
2 Corinthians 5:15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
As we start to live for God and not ourselves, we start to realize that even when circumstances don’t go our way, God is at work. We recognize that regardless of our own plans, even what feels bad to us, will work out toward God’s purpose. Even what feels like a failure or loss for us, will bring a chance to honor and glorify God.
Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
We trust that we are a part of His plan, working toward His purpose.
For some, that can mean success in the rodeo or bull riding arena where God can be glorified through your success and the attention it brings Him. For others, it could mean their entire life shifting. I was working behind the scenes helping with rodeo marketing and working as rodeo photographer part time while pursuing a bigger income in a giant media company. As I let my life be changed by my relationship with Jesus, my focus changed and I began working in ministry as well, helping others with cowboy church and eventually taking on managing Cowboys of the Cross. That became the focus of my life, directed by God, and my goals and dreams changed.
Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.
It’s through God’s word that we can begin to discover the direction He has for us. As we allow ourselves to be changed by what we read and learn in Scripture, what we value and pursue can change as God directs our steps.
That’s how finding myself standing in a barn leading cowboy church on a Sunday afternoon in May can be a dream come true.