This term I spoke in Chapel at Regent College about Desire. Here are some of my thoughts.
There are desires that are so deeply ingrained in each of us. I mean the ones that are more common to humanity across space and time, rather than the surface culturally-constructed needs. We spend a lot of time thinking about them, we would pour money into them if we could; they are the desires that shape our prayers. They are both cognitive and emotional. We have a will to choose, but not only do we want something…we want it with all of our heart. Desire is good. To be able to desire is to be able to love.
To desire something also means that we are not fully satisfied with the way things are. We realize that this is a biblical truth when we think of God’s kingdom: God paints a picture of the life that is not here yet so that we can desire it (e.g. Rev.21). As long as there is evil and injustice in the world, it is not possible for us to be fully satisfied.
The problem with desire is that it entails risk.
To want or love something means risking being disappointed or rejected. In desiring, we risk suffering. One of the teachings of Buddhism is to come to a place of indifference so that you are not able to suffer. No desires, no risk of disappointment, no suffering. But if indifference is our aim, it trivialises our desires and our loves. We know that the Bible doesn’t teach us to avoid suffering. The cost of being Christian is clear – we are to give up everything. That we desire is good, but what we desire is not always good.
So many of our desires seem to be shaped by our culture… we need "xyz" to fit in, belong, and be accepted. I was encouraged to see how Psalm 27 speaks to the deep need inside each of us. David speaks of desiring “one thing” in verse 4: a living, abiding relationship in the presence of God. This is not the only thing David asks for in the psalm, but it is the primary desire of us all. Without it, there can be no satisfaction in the fulfillment of any other desire. David is also aware of the things that may distract us from seeking God above all. In verses 11 and 12 he prays for God to protect him from the inside and out: he wants to walk always in God’s ways, and he asks for protection against Israel’s enemies.
As I have thought much about desire, a key theme has been wrestling. Honestly, most of the time I do not seek God only. My loves are disordered. I find myself frequently in a place of repentance, and desiring to desire. I want to want what God wants, and it is only by his grace and his Spirit that this is possible.
Like Jacob in Genesis 32, I wrestle with and over my desires, not letting go until I have received a blessing. But more shocking than a blessing is verse 30. Jacob named the place Peniel, which means face of God. In his wrestling, Jacob encountered the living God.
What if we lived as though all our desires and our wrestling over our desires were opportunities to encounter God?
Yet there is this virtue of contentment that seems to go against what I have thought. In Philippians 4, Paul says he has learned to be content in every circumstance. But contentment is cultivated by gratitude and is not predicated upon the fulfillment of desires. In the same chapter Paul writes to “present your requests to God” (v6) and he assures that “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (v19). It is quite possible to be content and grateful within one’s circumstances while desiring something greatly.
There is another story about wrestling in the Bible. It also takes place at night, but this man doesn’t get what he wants. Jesus is in the Garden alone at night and he prays in anguish, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matt. 26:39). He does not want to die. Rather than aiming for indifference, Jesus shows us what to do with our desires. He states his desire, but then continues “yet not as I will, but as you will.” It is a place of trust.
Figuratively speaking, Jesus’ hands are not clenched like Jacob’s wrestle; they are open, outstretched in surrender. They look like the cup from which he is to drink.
We too can trust God, this God who Jesus IS! God strengthens. Christ has suffered and strengthens us in our suffering. He is the one who enables us to trust him with our desires, and who sustains us even when nothing changes with regards to what we desire.
I don’t know why some desires end happily and others do not. We can only walk with each other along the way. Perhaps we need to submit our desires to Christ and repent from selfishness, stubbornness, and pride. Perhaps we are too afraid to acknowledge our desires because we have been disappointed in the past, and we need courage and trust. Sometimes the wrestling goes on for a long, long time, and we need hope and strength.
What have you done with your desires? Let us bring them before the Lord with thanksgiving and worship. Let us trust him with our hearts and all of our desires. Let us pray for the strength to wrestle, so that we will want what he wants. Let us hold with open hands the hopes we have, and pray that we will trust God enough when He leads us down a different path. But most of all let us pray that we will desire one thing above everything: to be satisfied in God alone; to dwell in his presence, to gaze upon his beauty, and inquire of him in his temple. Without this, there is no satisfaction in any other desire.
If you’re interested in listening to the full talk I gave (30 minutes), it is available for free download from Regent Audio here.
Sandi has been a part of Redemption Church since Fall 2012. She came to Vancouver to study at Regent College and has recently graduated. She enjoys reading, baking and loves to see how God is at work in the lives of friends and family. She misses the people she loves in South Africa, but Canada has also become home to her over the past three years.