Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Desires of Our Heart

Most, if not all, of us in Christian circles are very familiar with Psalm 37:4: "[God] will give you your heart’s desires."  We love to quote this verse saying, "God created me with this desire, so of course I should have it!" "I have this desire for a reason, so it must come true!" Or "I really, really want this, so God is leading me in this direction because He gives us our desires."  The overall consensus is typically that if you really want or enjoy something then it must be your God-given passion or destiny.  We pray hard for these desires to be filled, and ask others to pray for them with us.  Sometimes they comes to fruition; Sometimes they don't, and we just get frustrated or disappointed.  But why?

I think sometimes we just want things, not because God has ordained it as our destiny but just because we want them.  I think sometimes we use this verse as an excuse to indulge our worldly or fleshly cravings.  Perhaps the motivating factor is prestige or power, wealth or fame, comfort or ease.  Perhaps it is something we enjoy and are good at doing, so we figure it's what we're meant to do or others think it's what we're meant to do.  Or perhaps it is seen as the practical thing to do, so it just makes sense to do it.  I think we all to often latch onto this verse, claiming our desires as God-given without truly examining ourselves and our motives, without consulting God about them.  We pray for our desires to be filled, but we don't pray enough about whether or not our desires are what God wants.  We don't want to consider that, perhaps, God wants us to desire something else.

In doing so, we quote the end without the beginning.  If we actually look at Psalm 37:4, we find there is more to the verse:

"Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you your heart’s desires."

Guess what!  There's a prerequisite to this promise!  The context doesn't say just because we desire something it's God's will for us; Rather, it's telling us if we delight in the Lord, then we will desire what He wants us to desire.  What a huge difference!  I believe we miss out on a lot of what God has for us because we don't delight in Him enough.  Sometimes our desires aren't necessarily bad or evil in and of themselves, but they're not God's best for us.  In our finite wisdom we latch onto the option which seems best to us (whether it be for reasons of wealth, passion, prestige, practicality, etc.) and pursue it.

So the question is: Have you examined yourself and consulted with God about the desires driving your life?  Are you truly open to hearing what God has to say?  Are you open to the possibility that God might say "No, that's not what I have for you"?  That God has a different plan in mind and you're going to have to trust Him that His way is better even if the reason is not obvious to you?  The root is: Are you truly willing to go anywhere and do anything God may ask of you?  

I think we often ask God for guidance with a closed mind -- a mind not willing to accept any answer we don't want, a mind not willing to accept that perhaps our dream isn't God's dream.  We ask God with our lips to reveal His will for us, but in our hearts we have a death grip on our desires or dreams that is unwilling to let go.  We pay lip service to Him to make ourselves feel better, to be able to say we've prayed about it, or to try and convince God our way is the best way.  We vie with God for Lordship of our lives. 

I think we can even struggle with this unconsciously -- we don't always realize that we're holding back.  In our minds we want to follow God.  The knowledge that God knows best is there; The knowledge that we should obey His leading is there.  But deep inside we have reservations.  Deep inside we say, "Yes, I'll go wherever you want me to go, do whatever you want me to do, but please don't tell me anything different than ______.  I really want ______."  But do we realize this is sin lurking in us?

Recently, I heard a message in which John Piper addressed the root of all evil.  He said, "Delighting in God is the root of the Commandments -- the root of obedience.  Disobedience is not the ultimate essence of evil, it is preferring anything over God... The greatness of God is magnified when you are satisfied in Him more than anything."  When we put those conditions (I'll do anything, but ______) on our obedience, on our desires, we are saying to God that we prefer something over Him.  We are saying we know better.  We are saying He is not actually our Lord.  Most of us don't struggle with whether or not we should shoplift the candy bar in the checkout line, desiring the candy bar more than obeying God's commandment not to steal; But we do struggle with "You must not have any other god but me" when we try to usurp His throne, trying to bend His will to ours, by trying to control Him.  He may not even want us to do that thing we don't want to do and He may even want us to do that thing we do want to do, but the key point is having the heart to delight in God and prefer His desire even if it crosses our own.

I'll be honest: I'm working through this right now.  I'm not trying to pretend that I've got it all figured out and you don't.  I'm the silver in the fiery furnace getting refined as things I didn't even know were there get dredged up and filtered out.  Ultimately, this post is for me to work through these questions, but I invite you to share in the journey. 

If God told you to drop everything and go spend the rest of your life proclaiming the Gospel to the headhunters and cannibals of Papua New Guinea, what would your response be?  Now you might be saying to yourself "That's so far-fetched", but someone is called to this.  Who's to say it isn't you?  So think for a moment.  Or if you're the 'send-me-to-the-ends-of-the-earth-I-want-to-go-now-the-crazier-the-better' type: If God told you to stay rather than go, what would your response be?  Or how about: If God told you to quit your high-paying job and work for a non-profit, what would your response be?  If God told you to pursue a career in a field you never considered, what would your response be?  If God told you to open your home to refugees or foster kids, what would your response be?  If God told you to give up your Saturday mornings to serve the homeless, what would your response be?  If God told you to be a friend to that person no one likes, what would your response be?  Seriously, think for a moment.  The possibilities are endless.  Are you truly willing to go anywhere and do anything God may ask of you?

Recently, in the context of anything/anywhere I told someone, "If God would clearly tell me what He wants me to do, I would do it."  Seemingly before that statement had completely come out of my mouth, I felt that still small voice say, "But you wouldn't do it willingly."  Hello, impurity coming up to the surface for dredging.  I suddenly realized I had put conditions on my willingness to obey which would result in grudging obedience depending on what He asked of me.  And this was not okay.  Immediately Psalm 51 came to mind:

"Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins...
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me...
and make me willing to obey you."

The bottom line is He's not going to call all of us to go live in the jungle or give up a career, but I think no matter what the details of our callings are we are called to be willing to go anywhere or do anything because we delight in Him.  Because once we delight in Him, we'll desire to please Him.  We'll desire what He desires above all else.  We'll trust Him and His goodness that whatever we can come up with won't ultimately be as good as what He can come up with, for His thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).

"But doesn't God want me to be happy?" someone will say.  "I'll be miserable if ______ doesn't come to pass.  How can I be happy if I can't fulfill my dream?"  But... where does true happiness comes from?  Is it the fulfillment of our every want and whim?  Is it the satisfaction of our flesh?  Is it an easy life?  Is it having a life everyone is jealous of?  Is it success as society measures it?

The Bible makes it clear that true happiness -- or joy -- comes from God and God alone.  It comes from believing God and rejoicing (1 Peter 1:8); It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit for those who believe (Galatians 5:22).  Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, wrote: "The hopes of the godly result in happiness, but the expectations of the wicked come to nothing" (Proverbs 10:28).  The hopes of the godly result in happiness.  And where do these hopes come from?  Paul writes: "I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13, emphasis added).  The hopes (which may also be called desires -- I mean if we hope for it, then we desire it, do we not?) of the righteous come from God; They come from His promises, which are "backed by the honor of [His] name" (Psalm 138:2).  He's not going to fail us -- what glory would that bring Him?  Trusting Him results in joy, in happiness.  Giving up our desires for His desires isn't saying we're giving up being happy.  It's trading in what we think will make us happy for what God knows will bring us joy.  It's trusting his "Yes", "No", or "Not yet" is perfect because He is perfect beyond imagining; Back to my last post, it's trusting Him and His goodness.

On a final note, the verse immediately after Psalm 37:4 states: "Commit everything you do to the LORD.  Trust him, and he will help you."  Again, this verse is so often misused.  It doesn't say we'll succeed just because we say we're doing something for the Lord.  It's telling us everything we do because we're following the Lord's will come to pass with His help.  God will act on our behalf when our actions are committed to His will, His desires.

I pray I'll be able to truly say I'm willing to go anywhere and do anything at any time.  That whatever God has for me, I'll do with delight.  That I'll know the difference between what God desires and what I desire and be able to let go of any desire which isn't His.  That I'll fully surrender my will to His will.  That I'll know His heart, and it will become my heart.  That I will not be so strong-willed that I miss the things God has for me because I'm so bent on doing things my way.

I don't want a mediocre life.  In this world I have to remind myself, in the light of eternity, mediocrity is not defined by how prestigious my career is, how much money I make, or how many letters come after my name.  Perhaps His desires for me will make me a great success by the world's standards, or perhaps they will seem humble by those around me.  Either way, God knows best, and He's interested in the eternal ramifications of my life, not just the temporal.

May I be like David who wrote, "I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart" (Psalm 40:8).

"Taste and see that the LORD is good.  
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!
... those who trust in the LORD will lack no good thing." 
Psalm 34:8-10

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