Everything you ever want

Feb 2
by Wesley C. Parker
Everything you ever want


It’s everything you ever want; everything you ever need; and it’s here right in front of you.”

So sings P T Barnum (played by Hugh Jackman) in the opening song of The Greatest Showman; a film that is capturing the hearts and minds of moviegoers (myself included) all across the world. But by the film’s end, this rags-to-riches tale of the humble beginnings of the Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, shows a changed, wiser P T Barnum; now realizing that his passionate pursuit of career success and recognition by the elite of society did not truly bring the meaning and purpose he was seeking.  And so, bringing the story full circle, there’s this beautiful moment at the end of the movie where Barnum sings that very same chorus he sang at the beginning of the movie - only now – sitting in a theatre with his wife resting on his shoulder and watching his two daughters in their ballet recital, “It’s everything you ever want; everything you ever need; and it’s here right in front of you.”  He’s seen what truly matters in life and “From now on” as another song Barnum sings near the end of the film goes, “[his] eyes will not be blinded by the lights.” Hearts are warmed. Tears are wiped. Fade to black and roll the credits.

Bad timing

    And yet, this movie (which I’ve already seen twice now) came along at one of the worst times in my life (or perhaps it came at the perfect time) as I was deep in my study of Ecclesiastes for an upcoming sermon series. For there, the “Teacher” (Qohelet) returns at the end of his days from an equally passionate pursuit of meaning and purpose (and at a level that P T Barnum could only have dreamed of) with a very different conclusion:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!  Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”    (Eccl. 1:2)


Hebel. That's the Hebrew word in Ecclesiastes often translated as “meaningless” or “vanity”, yet actually – when translated literally – simply means “mist/vapor/like a breath.” Over the course of my study of this book, I came to strongly favor the literal interpretation alongside a number of other notable commentators, primarily because it gives life the meaning and purpose Solomon seems to mean to give it in Ecclesiastes, while at the same time revealing the utter inability of the pursuits of our lives under the sun to ever fulfil and satisfy us.

Barnum’s pursuit of meaning in life

   Which, in spite of how much I absolutely love The Greatest Showman, led me to this incredibly un-settling feeling at the end, that I couldn’t shake; even as my heart was warmed and my eyes did need drying.  For, while family is undoubtedly a more noble pursuit than career and status, is it also possible that Barnum had simply substituted one misty/vaporous pursuit for another?  Isn’t that how we’ve increasingly come to see (thank you Tim Keller) that idols work: taking good things and making them ultimate things; worshipping God’s good gifts over and above the Giver of those good gifts? Is it possible that what looks like redemption at the end of The Greatest Showman is actually just a chasing after the wind in a different direction?

A single pursuit

   And it led me to think: in leading a church or a ministry, even if – like the apostle Paul himself – we have a rags-to-riches tale of redemption and grace oursleves that has led us to the place we are today, we are still no less in danger of pursuing God’s good gifts over the Giver of those gifts; still no less in danger of seeking our meaning and purpose from things in this life under the sun that have meaning but that cannot give it. Our families, our churches, our ministry: these are all good gifts from God to enjoy. But the second any of those things becomes everything you ever want or needed, they'll vanish in our hands like the temporary, misty things they ultimately are. 


   We have one pursuit above all others in these days we’ve been given under the sun, and that is Jesus Himself.  Seek His gifts above seeking Him, and you’ll find yourself chasing after the wind.  Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you as well (Matt. 6:33)

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