This one might lose me a few followers.
Desires. Dreams. Prayers. Goals.
Whatever you want to call them, they are fire to Christians – powerful, vital, destructive when handled wrong. We must be careful with desires these days. There is such bad teaching out there about God and desires, so much energy mischanneled into pursuing your dreams without a thought as to God’s dreams, that we must handle the subject gingerly.
My testimony involves the sanctification of my desires. I found over the years that viewing God as annoyed, threatened, or dismissive of my desires did not bring me closer to him. Of course, nor did clinging to them ahead of his will and love. Neither view is flattering to God, nor entirely Biblical.
Jesus ran into a lot of deep desires in the course of his ministry. Healing, justice, provision, greatness, life. His responses to these pleadings contain surprises for everyone. He granted some, denied some, but most importantly there seemed to be a sifting. He didn’t always heal/feed/deliver immediately; he’d ask a question first, or deny a desire flat-out, in order to get at the heart of the person. Whatever the desire, Jesus was determined to sanctify it, to make it holy.
Interestingly, his denials seem to undergo three distinct tests: faith, paradox, or eternity.
The Gospel of Matthew is big on faith. It’s emphasized in countless miracles. “You of little faith”, “I haven’t met anyone in Israel with such faith”, “Your faith has healed you”, “According to your faith let it be done to you”, and that’s just Chapters 8 and 9.
In 9:28, he asks two blind men: “Do you believe I am able to do this?”
You might think, of course you believe God can do anything. Duh. But I remember a time, just recently, when I realized that I was believing wholeheartedly in my mind that God could accomplish something, but simultaneously fretting and plotting about specific obstacles to that thing – without factoring God in.
The problem is one of recognition: we don’t spot the doubts for what they are, don’t spot the contradiction. You might believe God can get you out of debt but plan to skip your tithe to help – in other words, counting your tithe an obstacle to God. Or you might believe God can find you a mate who will love you as you are, but agonize over your looks or difficult personality (or that debt again) as things that would “drive anyone away” – again, holding up obstacles to God.
Is our faith operating against our real-world doubts? We should ask God to reveal our blind spots.
“But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
“If You can?” echoed Jesus. “All things are possible to him who believes!”
Immediately the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22b-24)
Jesus again takes time to point out the father’s faith before exorcising his son’s demons. He isn’t being difficult; he’s making sure the man can fish, rather than handing him a fish. Our faith muscles need strengthening. Here Jesus establishes the precedent of waiting to answer until we have finished our workout.
A paradox is a contradiction of our perceived cause-and-effect. If I told you the only way for you to live was to jump off a 100-foot cliff, you’d sense a paradox. What? That’s not how things work; jumping off cliffs only leads to getting smooshed. We would instead look for ways to make things work using our own wisdom.
Yet paradox is the rule of the kingdom of God. Where faith asks “Do you believe I am able to do this?”, paradox asks “Do you believe that only I can do this?” God is not disinterested in our desires; he just wants to be their sole provider. That glorifies him.
And his test is making the path to our desires counterintuitive, sacrificial, long, unjust, even scary. Give and it will be given unto you. A soft answer turns away wrath. You want to be great? Place yourself last. The teacher who treats an angry student with grace and respect (instead of eye for an eye) eventually gets the student eating out of his hand; the woman who offers relentless affection to her draining friend (instead of walking away) ends up warming her heart. The sheer number of ways “lose your life and you will find it” works in the real world is simply staggering.
If we trust God’s prescriptions, we’ll find that they work even when the world screams that they shouldn’t. If we trust. Jesus had desires – food, water, companionship, worship – and Satan tried to tempt him into securing them himself. Didn’t work. Jesus steadfastly refused to look anywhere but the Father for his fulfillment. And the Father came through.
Imagine yourself crawling up the beaches of Normandy, rifle in hand, chaos unfolding around you. Bullets zip by your ears. Shells are shaping the beach in great eruptions of dirt and shrapnel. Most heartwrenching are the bodies – countless corpses littering the sand, eyes staring, soggy redness where limbs once were. But you know this war is needed; millions of lives, possibly the fate of the world, hinge upon this day.
Now imagine your buddy throwing down his rifle and helmet, tossing his dog tags aside, and saying, “I’m gonna go chase my dream of being the best superpipe snowboarder at the X games.”
Forgive me for being disruptive, but I won’t mince words: this Normandy picture is much closer to our spiritual reality than we’d care to admit. Thousands plunge daily into hell. More are savaged by their addictions or cratered by crime. That’s just the United States. An urgency is called for here, a re-examining of our priorities.
Now, guys like Tim Tebow and Russell Wilson use their dreams as a platform to give God glory and shovel money into good causes, so don’t hear me dissing every dream that isn’t foreign missions. But you have to ask, what were Jesus’ dreams? He didn’t seem to have one except his Father’s (John 8:28).
This was at the core of some of Jesus’ denials: “Will this desire matter in eternity?” Money didn’t pass his test. He asked the rich young ruler for one more obedience: give his possessions to the poor (Mark 10). They were keeping him tethered to this world. Marriage doesn’t get heavenly standing (Matthew 22), but good deeds do, even small ones (Matthew 10:42). Another man was told not to bury his father (by which, judging by Jewish burial practices, he probably meant months of mourning and then reburying the bones) but to proclaim Christ to those who still lived (Luke 9:60). You want treasures. Jesus asks, earthly ones or heavenly ones? Heavenly ones last longer anyway (Matthew 6:20).
The good news? God
saved hundreds on his car insurance by switching to Geico can revive and return a desire that you’ve surrendered – if not in this life, then the next.
So when God denies our desires (and he will), our hearts’ reactions reveal where our bread is truly buttered. The heart that sinks into despair or resentment towards God needs to be saved from itself; he who has staked his joy on earthly goals is bound for disillusionment. But the heart that can let go out of gratitude and surrender – knowing that life is really about God’s desires – is a heart that will be filled.