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.
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.
Bull Rider Daylon Swearingen’s dream of making the PBR’s Unleash the Beast has come true, but faith and putting God first remains a priority.
By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross
Part 1 — Following your heart or following God?
People outside the industry don’t think of rodeo cowboys or bull riders as being people who dream big but there are song and book titles that play on the phrase, “gold buckle dreams.”
Bull riders dream of making it on tour with the PBR and ropers dream of making the National Finals Rodeo. Many dream about riding just once at Cheyenne or the Calgary Stampede. Some dream of making an association finals in their home states.
For some, dreams come true. I’ve been fortunate enough to know a few young men who have recently seen their dreams come true of getting a place in one of the PBR’s coveted top spots.
At 19 years old, Daylon Swearingen is one of those young men and I had a brief conversation with his mom, Carrie this week about how to be praying for Daylon.
“This has always been Daylon’s dream,” said Carrie.
But along with following dreams comes the idea of following your heart and that’s where the trap can come in for Christians. It understandably sounds good and I’ve seen many cowboys and bull riders talk about it and give advice encouraging it. But the Bible warns us about uncontrolled emotion and it especially warns us about the heart.
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
The prophet, Jeremiah, is writing to the Jews who at the time are in exile in Babylon after failing to follow God’s path for them but instead, becoming like the pagan cultures they embraced around them.
But we were made with the same hearts and emotions as the Jews back in this time and can take this warning for ourselves as well. Our heart will deceive us. Following our hearts can lead us into sinful decisions more easily than it can lead us toward fulfilled dreams.
One thing that Carrie asked for prayer was that people would see God in Daylon.
“This is God’s platform, looking forward to seeing His plans!” said Carrie.
Yes! Exactly. They understand while this is a dream come true for Daylon, it is God who orchestrated it and the priority isn’t on the dream, it’s on our heavenly Father who gave that dream and directed the family’s path.
By keeping our focus on God and not our hearts, we can see how our dreams are part of God’s plan.
And if following our hearts isn’t how we chase our gold buckle dreams, then what is? That’s found right here in Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
It’s God that we’re to trust instead of our hearts and in trusting Him, he will direct us where He wants us to go. For Daylon, it is a time with the PBR. For me, it was into full time ministry. For you, it could be anything but when you follow Him, your dreams will follow His path and He will be glorified through all you do.
You can’t get to Heaven without knowing ‘The Way”
With most everyone owning a smartphone now, road maps and guessing how long it will take to get to the rodeo or bull riding are long gone replaced by Google Maps and GPS. Replacing guesswork is a precise arrival time based on traffic, construction and alternate routes.
And out of that arrival time comes a new challenge. Beating it. Most of us joke about it but if we’re being honest, we love seeing that time estimate drop a minute or two juggling the maximum speed we can get away with without getting a ticket with the distance we’re traveling and the potential for an extra five miles and hour to beat that initial arrival time.
I wrote a social media post about it this week in fun because I knew the route I was on was taking me around a long city block with a bunch of traffic lights. If anything can cause you to lose the game and see the time kick up a couple minutes, it’s one too many red lights. So…I cut through a mall parking lot that I knew exited on the next road I needed.
At the end of the lot, the time dropped by four minutes.
(By the way, the dictionary definition for Booyah, by: used to express joy, especially over a well-played or victorious moment in sports.)
But regardless of how quickly you get to your destination, you’ve got to know where you’re going and how to get there or there’s no point starting out on the journey.
Working in rodeo ministry, I’ve met a lot of cowboys and bull riders who are either new to their faith or don’t know what they believe and struggle with what their purpose is.
They lack direction and it can lead to a lot of feelings of being discontent and unhappy. It can be bad enough to damage relationships and impact their rodeo and bull riding careers when it starts to affect their riding.
The most important starting place is the gospel.
It’s here that we learn that Jesus came to show us the way.
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…
The disciples were still trying to understand what was going on. They still didn’t understand that Jesus was here to die in place of our sins so that we could all, through him, have a place in Heaven, our final destination if we have a saving faith in Jesus.
Sin separates us from God and God is going to both judge and punish unforgiven sin, however big or small. It all gets punished equally and that is eternal separation from Him in hell. But, through a belief that Jesus was the son of God sent here to die for us and that he also rose again and through a repentant heart, asking for our sins to be forgiven through Christ’s sacrifice, we are assured a permanent future in Heaven.
All of John 14:6 says this: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The disciple, Thomas, had just said he didn’t know where Jesus was planning to go as Jesus was trying to prepare the disciples for his pending death on the cross. Thomas said he didn’t know the way and Jesus made it clear, it would be through him.
Earlier, Peter had similar questions, letting them know that he would be leaving them for a time but was going to prepare a place for them (and us).
John 13:36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.”
It doesn’t matter what time we’re arriving or how quickly we can get there; when it comes to Heaven it simply matters that we are going to get there when we’re supposed to.
But for those of us that feel lost or discontent, when we can learn to focus on what is coming and our faith is put in Jesus, we find it’s that faith, through what we learn in the Bible, that guides our steps and helps us make decisions. We don’t know the route we’re going to take to get there while we’re here on Earth, but we know our destination is Heaven and we can learn to take comfort in that, no matter how hard this road sometimes gets or how lost we might sometimes feel.
And isn’t it nice to know that when you get to where you’re going, there’s someone waiting there for you, happy that you’re coming?