Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wanting Life: The Call to Selfish Desires

Do our desires reveal a heart for God? Or do we fear desire altogether? These are important questions because desire is what compels us to behave, and if we are compelled wrongly, our behavior goes awry.

Following one’s desire often sounds selfish, at least it does to me. I am surprised by how “selfish” the sayings of Jesus and the Apostle Paul call us to be. For instance, in Matthew 10:39, we read, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Similarly, In Romans 2:7, Paul says, “To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.”

Those who desire glory, honor and immortality are the ones who find eternal life? 

Is it OK to have such a desire for life?

Is it just me, or does this sound like Jesus (in Matthew 10) is calling upon a “selfish” desire for life (I know it says, “lose one's life,” but the fact remains that Jesus is tapping into a desire that is self-seeking--life)? 

On the surface, it sounds like it’s good to desire life, but why do I have such a problem with desire in general? My problem with desire seems to infect every good desire I may have, including how I view these statements of Jesus and Paul. I’m sure that I’m not alone. It feels like desire is what leads to sin, not life, and it’s hard to apply our desires to something good while housing this “distrust” of desire.

Why do I have such an issue with desire? Why does desiring life sound selfish? Why does it feel so sinful to desire, even when it’s something good?

Maybe it’s because it’s so easy to confuse good desires with bad ones. Murder is a bad desire, but  justice is not. Sex is a good desire, but lust is not. Greed is bad, but provision is good. It’s easy to blur lines with desire, and we end up being confused. It’s also easy to fear the bad desires in us that we throw the good desires out with them. That could be why I feel like the desire for life is selfish and why I tend to reject all desires altogether; I have mixed up the desire for life with the desire for the maintenance of my pride--this is my ambivalence with desire.

If we feel ambivalent towards our desires and have a difficult time navigating them, it’s a relief to remember that Jesus himself prompts us to desire. He says:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Navigating the desires of our hearts requires something more powerful than our own consciences; we need divine help. That is why Jesus invites us to desire because he invites us to desire life his way. His way of living life is going to be the appropriate outlet for all our desires. With Jesus, our bad desires get transformed into good ones. He knows that any sinful path that tempts our desires will eventually destroy us, and so he provides us with an alternative route to reroute the bad desires.

For example, if our good desire for sex is not surrendered to God, it’s only a matter of time before it bursts out into something sinful. If, however, we apply it to God’s will, we end up applying sexual desire to the expectant hope of a spouse. Even when God’s ways feel debilitating, they end up being the best path; they satisfy us to the point of spontaneous thankfulness because they rid us of desire’s pressure. When we develop a relationship with God where desires are freely given to him, we have peace with our own desires.

So do our desires reveal a heart for God? I think the more we learn to see all our desires as fuel for spiritual growth and bring them to God, the more satisfied we will be with the results. God ultimately satisfies the good desires and redeems the bad ones, and bringing every desire, great or small, before him is the beginning of satisfaction. Let God navigate your desires.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

(I owe a great deal of thanks to John Eldredge, author of Desire, for this post)

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