The phrase “shot yourself in the foot” has been in circulation in military circles for 100 years. No one knows exactly where this idiom originated. Many believe that it comes from World War I. Many soldiers spent weeks in trenches waiting for orders to assault the enemy on the other side of the battlefield. This small, barren strip of land between the two armies was known as the dead zone. It got this name because countless mindless assaults had been waged between armies on this small strip of land. This land was so dense with enemy guns that no one from either army survived an assault across the dead zone.
Many commanders in World War I believed the only way to win the war was to defeat the enemy on the other side of the dead zone. Therefore, they would order their men repeatedly to get out of the trenches and to assault across the dead zone. Everyone in these battles knew this order was a suicide mission. In order to prevent themselves from being killed while crossing the dead zone, some soldiers would give themselves a non-lethal, self-inflicted wound. They would literally shoot themselves with their own rifle in their own foot. Soldiers inflicted this incredible pain on themselves in hopes that it might spare their life. Strictly speaking, shooting yourself in the foot is a self-inflicted pain to prevent the possibility of greater pain in the future.
That’s not really how we use this phrase anymore. In modern vernacular, shooting yourself in the foot often means you did something unintentional to destroy your own chances at success in the future. As I watch people go through life, I am convinced many people shoot themselves in the foot and never know it as they try to find joy in life. However, I’ve also seen people intentionally shoot themselves in the foot, never realizing how severe that wound would be as they pursue temporary pleasure.
Aiming at the wrong target
People look for joy in all the wrong places! Many people simply don’t know where to find lasting joy. They are on a search to find something elusive. These people are becoming experts on our own sources of temporary pleasure. The problem is that temporary pleasure doesn’t last! That’s why it’s called temporary. Very few people understand how to find a pleasure that lasts for a lifetime.
Experts in temporary pleasure are wishy-washy. There sources of joy are fickle (here for a moment and then gone forever). These people routinely move from one source of pleasure to another because their joy is fleeting. You probably know someone like this… a gal who goes from relationship to relationship hoping to find the man who’s going to bring her joy. I suspect you also know a guy who goes from one employer to another, looking for a bigger paycheck and more prestige, hoping that it will bring him lasting joy deep down on the inside. I want to scream at people like this, STOP SHOOTING AT THE WRONG TARGET! These temporary sources of joy will never satisfy you for a lifetime. It doesn’t matter how many times you change your source of joy; it’s still going to let you down in the end. YOU’RE SHOOTING YOURSELF IN THE FOOT!
What’s waiting behind the target
People who look for pleasure in temporary sources are really just shooting themselves in the foot. These wounds are self-inflicted because something dangerous is waiting behind the paper target at which they’re shooting. Don’t be deceived. The quick fix, instant gratification approach to joy is a paper-thin target. Your foot is behind that target!
Seeking temporary pleasure always hurts you in the process. The Bible is clear in Hebrews 11:25; Sin only brings temporary pleasure. Of course, sin brings pleasure, otherwise, we wouldn’t call it temptation. Even the Bible would admit that sin can give you pleasure but that kind of pleasure doesn’t last. Hebrews 11:25 is also absolutely clear that the pleasure of sin is fleeting. It doesn’t last! After the temporary pleasure is over, you’re left with the pain of a self-inflicted wound. 1 Timothy 3:4 contrasts between temporary joy and lasting joy. The passage pits lovers of pleasure against lovers of God. In other words, you can’t pursue both God and temporary pleasure at the same time!
Hit the target and my foot
The more often you shoot at a target, the more accurate you’re going to get. You have a much higher probability of hitting the target if you repeatedly aim at it. This is also true when it comes to hitting the paper-thin target of temporary joy. Romans 14:17 describes people hitting the target of sin. The verse refers to these people as experts in finding physical pleasure. However, they have no idea how to find Holy Spirit-inspired, lasting joy.
If you’re not careful, eventually, you’re going to bust out the center of the target of temporary pleasure and inflict great pain on yourself at the same time. I know a lot of people who are experts at hitting the target of their own personal pleasure and who also have no idea where to find lasting joy.
Learning to walk again
Let me describe where the Bible says you can find lasting joy. God wants to give you this kind of joy. Jesus challenges you to ask for it so that God can give you this eternal source of joy in John 16:24. Don’t make the mistake of thinking about God like a stingy father who doesn’t want to share his joy with his children. Rather, think about God like a generous gift-giver, one who wants to bless you as you turn to him and seek his joy. Did you see what I just did there? God gives his joy to his children. It’s a gift that belongs to him, and he generously gives it away to all who pursue him. God’s joy is not found in temptations and temporary pleasure.
God gives his joy to all his children when they surrender their soul to Jesus. Joy is a gift from God that comes when the Holy Spirit takes up residence inside the soul of a believer. Romans 15:13 describes hope in God as the source of all joy for his children.
The joy that God gives people is much deeper than what circumstances in life can provide. Since circumstances can’t give you lasting joy, circumstances can’t take away this source of lasting joy. This kind of joy is satisfying even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 declares that even suffering and affliction can’t take away Holy Spirit- inspired joy. This kind of joy begins here on earth and lasts for eternity. Even death can’t kill the joy that God offers Christians.
If you have shot yourself in the foot seeking joy in forms of temporary pleasure, maybe it’s time to learn to walk all over again. Perhaps you need to become like a child all over again by being born again (John 3:3). Or perhaps you’re the kind of person who knows Jesus personally but stopped walking with him when you started looking for joy in temporary pleasure. No matter where you’re at in your journey of faith, I challenge you to stop shooting yourself in the foot – stop looking for joy in circumstances and temporary pleasure. Put your hope in Jesus and let him satisfy you at the deepest levels. Make the Holy Spirit your source of joy. Don’t look for joy in anyone or anything else.