This is more of a personal, confessional post.
I used to be addicted to cycling. I spent a good 10-12 hours a week on a bike, training, working hard, enjoying the world "behind bars". I would get up at 4:30 in the morning to train, I would stay up past midnight to get in the requirements of "the plan", to beat my body to run a physical race. And it was good discipline. It taught me to master a lot of other things, to bend other desires to my will over the pressures of other people or desires. I sacrificed other parts of myself for the sake of what I wanted to see happen for my physical body.
But in this (and through many other things), I was distracted from things that really mattered. It built up to a point where it dominated my thoughts, my going down and waking up, to use Biblical language. I had to plan the day before what I had to get done for the next day. It gets exhausting, but you can see progress from the discipline of physical exertion like that, you can feel the ability to work hard increase. Those physical indicators of a pursuit can motivate you to keep pushing harder.
What you couldn't see, unless you knew me well (and even for some, not even then), was the effect that kind of obsession had on my heart and soul. As my physical muscles grew and my physiological systems improved, my heart atrophied, my soul decayed from lack of engagement, from the absence of stimulation. And at some point, God got ahold of my heart. In the end, this was truly the problem with this obsession, my addiction: My heart's desire was for myself, my own accomplishments over almost anything else.
These verses were written for me (as was all of Scripture). Bonhoeffer used to teach his students to meditate on Scripture as if it were written expressly for them alone. I feel that in these verses. My dad would often quote them to us as kids (namely verse 8):
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:1-10 ESV)
Cycling at that level, while maybe a "good thing" in itself, required me to abandon the time required for making it "holy by the word of God and prayer". I didn't have time for those things because training required all my energy and mental capacity. I had set my hope on the benefits of riding, or on glory in success in competition, rather than on the living God. And God is stripping that away from me. And I say specifically God is doing this stripping away because it is not by my own desire. I have struggled much over the past month or so to be okay with letting go of this pursuit. It became a massive part of my identity, and without it, I find myself a little bit lost, uncertain of what will replace it. My personality is to pursue whatever I do to the utmost of my ability. I did that with music for a time, then cycling, all worthwhile things, but not ultimately The Best thing to seek after with the utmost of my ability.
The way God has done this is to crush me with the glory of Himself. In light of that, so many things have begun to pale in comparison. He is causing in me lately the desire for Himself over all things. This is fantastically exciting and fills me with more joy than I have ever had in my life. Yet the devil loves to creep in and remind me of the personal glories I once had wrought in my own body, to say "Look at how you are wasting all that time and money you put into that pursuit. Wouldn't it be worth keeping that up? You'll still have time for spending time in God's word and prayer..." And I know from my previous behavior and mindset, that is a lie.
In a recent sermon I listened to by John Piper, he said Satan loves to use good things, righteous things, meaningful things, to pull us away from God. It seems so deceptively right to do things good for us even when they cause us to desire God less or find Him less valuable. I know from a very deep and personal level how deceptive these things can be in the Devil's hands.
And so I am on a path of scaling back on this and other things. I don't ride like I used to. I'm not as fast as I could be. And somehow, that will have to be okay for me. I am learning to let my desires be at rest in God. My emotions have bent and buckled some lately, more often than I would like to admit, but I am hoping that this is the making of a life of living sacrifice to God, which is "a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart", which God will not despise (Psalm 51, cf. Romans 12). As an idealist, I seek to pursue the best, but I am being reminded daily that my idealism can only be satisfied by the Great Ideal, who is Jesus, Creator of the universe, Judge of all mankind and Savior to all who will fall on him as the only way out from under the wrath of a Holy God.
For many, perhaps such a pursuit will not be a problem for you. I do not claim to say "If you do what I did, it will be sin for you" unless, of course, it dominates your heart, soul and mind so as to pull you away and distract you from the beauty of God. I encourage you, reader, whatever your desires are, to desire God more. Only he can fulfill.