You want things and you don’t get them. Trouble starts. Sometimes you do get them and trouble starts.
When I was nine years old, I suddenly decided I had to have an electric train—an HO gauge Santa Fe Super Chief engine with six cars and an oval track. I begged hard for it from September all the way up until Christmas, making myself a major nuisance. Then came the morning when I finally tore off the gift wrap. It was exactly what I wanted.
I set up the tracks, flipped the transformer switch, and the train began running around and around and around that oval track. After an hour of watching this, I wondered why I had ever wanted the thing to begin with. What was I thinking? Maybe I should have asked for a bigger one with miniature plastic scenery.
The experience was one of my earliest lessons in the trickery of human desire. We have a thought, a what-if, and meditate upon it until it becomes a full-blown want. From there it grows into an Alamo of sorts, as we conclude that if we can’t get it, we’ll die, or at least never be happy.
What We Want Hurts
Out from under the lordship of Christ, our desires can inflict an amazing amount of unhappiness, pain, and dissatisfaction upon us. Our want of things tangible or intangible can become so strong that nothing matters, whether it’s family, health, morality, or even God Himself. Paul called such an extreme “idolatry” in Colossians 3:5.
Idolatry makes the biggest concern in life about how we can get what we want. Our basic solution to satisfying those appetites we believe, lies in feeding them. However, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Appetites grow through indulgence, not neglect.” That astute observation indicates the more we try to satiate our desires, the more unhappy we become.
Unhappy With Everything
Consider the following quotes from men who excelled at getting everything:
John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil –“I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.”
W.H. Vanderbilt, railroad tycoon—“The care of $200 million is enough to kill anyone. There is no pleasure in it.”
John Jacob Astor, once called the richest man on earth—“I am the most miserable man on earth.”
Henry Ford—“I was happier when doing a mechanic’s job.”
Andrew Carnegie, hailed as the richest man who ever lived (est. $350 billion)—“Millionaires never smile.”
Something is obviously wrong when fulfilled desires still fail to deliver.
Many such longings are wild, self-centered, unreal, and frequently unfair and unrighteous. We are full of them, often at levels we’re hardly aware of. The question is not how we can successfully carry them out, but how we can survive them.
The answer is the lordship of Christ, which brings sobriety and focus to the cravings of the heart.
He Changes Your Perspective on the Future
Consider the problem James addressed in these verses:
James 4:13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
Some Christians had begun to view their lives as “Today, tomorrow, a year.” They were acting as masters of their temporal lives and had developed a serious case of shortsightedness. This in turn, truncated the purpose of their existence, turning it into nothing more than to “make a profit.”
James offers the alternative, which is to say “If the Lord wills.” That attitude reflects recognition of the lordship of Christ. It basically states that my desires and resultant plans should never get out of alignment with Him.
The Things Worth Living For Usually Sit at a Great Distance
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob learned this lesson as well.
Heb. 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
God promised things. With eyes of faith these men saw them and greeted them, even though the promises were a great distance away in the future. The patriarchs then concluded that this world was not their home—that they were strangers and exiles here—and were just passing through on their way to the great things God had promised.
They ordered their lives in the present to match what they saw in the future, even though they didn’t fully receive the things promised before they died. If you had asked Abraham about his plans, he might have said something about needing to repair a tent, move some flocks, and take care of his family.
But if you asked him, Why are you living in this world and what controls your values and sets your long-term agenda, he would have said, “God made promises to me and I am living my life in expectation of them.”
Don’t Stop Before You Finish
A married couple had served as missionaries in a foreign land for a number of years, leaving behind family and friends and all the comforts of the west. Finally they came back to the U.S. for a short vacation. As they stood on the ship’s deck, they could see a crowd of waving, cheering people on the dock. The man’s heart swelled with joy. Then he realized they were waving at someone behind him—a Hollywood celebrity.
The missionary husband said with a note of sarcasm, “After all the things we’ve suffered, where are the cheers for us as we come home?” His wife looked up at him and with gentle wisdom said, “We aren’t home, yet.”
Sometimes the toughest thing to remember is that now is not yet the time for cheers and rewards.
Maybe you’re tired of hearing about “the future.” You want to give in, and have something now. You can easily lose sight of where all the service and sacrifice is going. Incrementally, you start hoping and planning and living for the moment, like Demas. Remember him? Demas was a co-worker of the Apostle Paul, which put him dead center in what God was doing.
But he began wondering if this Christian thing was going to pan out. Jesus hadn’t come back. Paul kept getting put in jail. Problems large and small had cropped up throughout the churches. Demas might have thought beachfront real estate was a more attractive pursuit, or a merchant line of silk products, or a big vineyard in Thessalonica. At any rate, he left his calling. Paul later wrote of him, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:10). He cared for his present, not God’s future.
Remember Esau? He had a birthright that guaranteed the line of Israel would proceed out of him. In turn, Christ would come through those descendants, die for the sins of mankind and redeem the universe from death and corruption. But Esau was more interested in lunch. He traded his birthright for a bowl of porridge. Again, he cared for his present, not God’s future.
I have No Idea What to Look Forward To
Since our perspective on the future shapes our desires by so large a margin, we should ask ourselves what God has promised us. Most believers would say Heaven, but that’s as generic as saying your mailing address is the western hemisphere. What are God’s promises personally to you as a Christian, say, in the book of Romans? Make a list. Deeply mull over these and you’ll see how they will begin to affect your current hopes and dreams.
He Directs Your Attention to the Present
No, this doesn’t contradict the former point of having an eternal mindset. In order to align our desires on His, the next thing Christ does is call our attention to where He is, in the present. The frustrating sense of unfulfillment you often associate with so many things you want but can’t have, is actually a need for a greater experience of Christ. Consider these verses from the Psalms.
42:1 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
63:1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
David wrote of thirsting, but in each case he quickly identified what he thirsted for: God. He didn’t need a new wife or stallion or house or outfit. He knew the unsatisfied desires rising within him were for God.
This theme is repeated in the gospel of John:
John 7:37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit…”
Jesus was clear that all real thirst of soul is rooted in the human need for the Divine. The way to find it is through a fresh belief in Him. It triggers a torrent of the Spirit through the various parched waterways of the human soul.
I Often Don’t Know What’s Wrong With Me
When it comes to our own desires, we have an interpretational problem. Dieticians have helped us understand that at times we think we’re hungry, when we’re actually thirsty. At other times we think we need a nap when we actually need a glass of water. By hydrating ourselves adequately, we neither get hungry or tired so often.
If I can miss such simple biological cues about my own body, then it shouldn’t be surprising that I can misinterpret cues of my own soul and spirit.
Many years ago, I recall a young man who joined our small church in the Cleveland area. He was an educated and successful banker. He also had something of an obsession with the girl he wanted to marry, trusting she would bring him ultimate happiness. He married her and she was able to deliver for about six months.
But then he began obsessing over a desire to relocate to South America. His new wife didn’t want to go. He grudgingly accepted her protests, but kept mulling over his dream of a South American paradise until his wife became an enemy to Him. She was no longer his happiness, but was a factor standing in the way of it. They divorced, and he got what he wanted—a change of continent.
Later I heard he again relocated, this time to Europe where he tragically lost his life. Presumably, more of his same fickle dynamics had been at work. The trajectory of his life ended up being one of following rainbows that led from one pot of fool’s gold to another. None of them yielded the happiness he imagined.
You’ve Come a Long Way Since High School
Our truest desire is for Christ—an up-to-date resurrected Jesus who is with us this very moment. Think of the gospel of satisfaction we’ve often shared with non-Christians: You search for a great many things that cannot satisfy you, because within you lies a God-shaped hole, a void that only God can fill. We might want to apply this to ourselves.
You have progressed a great distance in life from the time you were in high school. Yet your personal revelation and apprehension of Christ may not have kept up. You might still be running on the steam of glorious church conferences and altar calls and campus ministries from years, even decades back, without much power in the present. As a result you’re left with a feeling of spiritual deficit and void. Unconscious references to “Back in the day,” creep into the way you reference your Christian life.
We need Christ today. His presence powerfully affects our desires, focusing them, and in some cases, overflowing them from a state of pathetic wants to triumphant thanks. What is Christ doing in your life right now?
You know the answer, because it’s more than likely an issue that’s causing pain, worry, doubt, fear, or disappointment. These feelings are signal flares for you. Go there with verses, and with prayer. Drill down on these areas and don’t passively wait for them to go away. Jesus Christ is waiting there for you with fresh knowledge of Himself and His salvation.
But It Would Still Be So Nice to Have…
The Lordship of Christ doesn’t always suddenly take away desires. It more characteristically transforms them. As a result, we will find a lot of things in life still desirable and nice to have, but no longer feel our happiness depends on them. Even when we pray and don’t receive exactly what we want, or in the timing we’d like, our new attitudes reflect that “Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17).
With Jesus Christ enthroned above our desires, and not the other way around, we can actually begin to feel that it’s all good and it’s all perfect.
Part 4 of a 4-part series