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The hunger for significance

September 2016 | by William Mackenzie

Richard Gere, in a recent film, plays the part of a homeless man who has this line: ‘I’m nobody; I don’t exist’. Andrew Carnegie was asked how much money it took to make a man happy. His answer was, ‘A little more’.

The relentless hunger for significance in the human heart cannot be satisfied in or by our culture. The media’s message is, ‘Paradise is the luxury cruise’ and ‘You will find freedom with the new car’.

A film about sexual relationships and alternative family types has been given free to many schools across Britain. One of the main characters featured is 10-year-old Emma. She says: ‘Some of my friends have one mum and one dad. Some of my friends have just one mum. Some have one dad, and some have two mums and two dads like me.

‘I spend weekdays with the girls and weekends with the boys. It’s just normal. Some of my friends have even more mums and dads than me and that’s cool, but four is enough for me’. And then the words came up on the screen — ‘Emma is free’.

New transgender proposals from the five main Scottish parliamentary parties declare, ‘We should seek to enable young people to make informed choices about their gender and sexual identity, to support them to be themselves and to fulfil their full potential’.

Church impact

Has all this affected the church? I think it has. The questions worshippers are now inclined to ask are, ‘How did it feel for you to be in church today?’, ‘Was the message entertaining and engaging?’ ‘How slick were the facilities and announcements?’, and ‘How cool was the preacher?’

I am reminded of a significant remark made by Rev. Eric Alexander, in the East Church in Inverness, some years ago: ‘I am all for consumer worship, provided we recognise Who the Consumer is!’

We go to worship to receive and to give our hearts, but there has also been, throughout church history, a recognition of the need for reverence. The Shorter Catechism speaks of ‘the holy and reverent use of God’s name’.

If you have read this far, you will be saying, ‘Yes, I know all that, but it doesn’t affect me’.

Well, are you sure? We have a gospel responsibility to ourselves, our families, our neighbours and our world. Are our priorities right? Let’s do a little self-diagnosis: do I love to read God’s Word, meditate on it and pray using it?

Yes, there are parts I don’t fully understand, but there is much that is perfectly clear. I remember discussing this with my mother some 50 years ago, when she said, ‘William, you like fish. Don’t become preoccupied with the bones, enjoy the bits you can eat!’

Am I thinking, ‘If only I had a new kitchen or a better car or a better body shape, I would be more content and better suited to live in this culture’? Do I occasionally find reasons not to attend the public worship? This may be because of a sporting event or TV programme I want to watch. Maybe I am undertaking a project in the house or getting ready for a holiday. What are we captivated by when we ought to be devoting ourselves to worship, along with our brothers and sisters?

J. K. Rowling said recently, ‘The day is fast approaching when the whole world will know the name of Harry Potter’. I find this a challenge to my own enthusiasm to convey something of the glory of the person of Christ, who everybody needs to know.

Standing firm

By now, if you’re like me, you will be saying, ‘Yes, guilty as charged. The culture is having an impact on me’. What then might help us resist? Let me suggest five things we can remember, which, by God’s grace, will help us resist culture’s onslaught.

The last day

Even the very longest lives are as short as a vapour. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to answer for the deeds done in the body. So much of our lives are taken up with living for today or for tomorrow; we need to heed the words, ‘Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom’ (Psalm 90:12).

The Lord’s Day

The Fourth Commandment, which is so positive, so encouraging, and yet so misunderstood, is designed to help us resist the onslaught of the culture (Exodus 20:8-11). We neglect this to our peril. It is a wonderful help to lay aside the normal pursuits and business of the week and give ourselves to the great priorities of life.


Sin is so pervasive — in thought and in look. Isn’t it Anselm who said, ‘You have not adequately considered the nature of sin’? An understanding of this helps us cry for mercy. What a glorious place to meet God, the place of mercy. He delights in mercy, and so should we.


There may be times when we don’t feel like being with others, and yet we are reminded not to neglect the gathering of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). We need community. There we find support and encouragement.


When I am weary and faint and struggling with many issues, how glad I am that Hebrews tells us, ‘Consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners, lest ye be weary and faint in your mind’ (12:3.)

There are practical things to remember too. I find it helpful to read a good book (then you would expect me to say that, wouldn’t you?). What about a biography or a book addressing the issues above?

A visit to a lonely, housebound or sick person helps put things in perspective. And we discover that, ‘He who waters others is watered himself.’ (Proverbs 11:25). Let us trust and obey the Lord, knowing that he is for us. He is a present help in this great time of need when the culture is so dark and threatening, although ultimately will be defeated.

The author is a farmer, founder of Christian Focus Publications in Scotland, and chairman of Evangelicals Now. He is husband to Carine — they have three daughters and eight grandchildren.

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