(Photo: Paul Tripp)
You and I are creatures of desire. Everything you ever choose, do, or say is the product of desire. Desire not only directs your choices, it also shapes your dreams. Desire forms your moments of greatest joy and darkest grief. Desire makes you envy one person while being glad you're not another. Desire keeps you awake at night or puts you soundly to sleep. Desire makes you willing to get up in the morning or causes you to be frustrated at the end of the day. Desire makes you expectant and hopeful in one moment, and demanding and complaining in the next. Desire sometimes makes you susceptible to temptation and at other times defends you against it. Desire can lift you up to God or it can make you a willing friend of the Devil. Desire can make you celebrate or drive you to the pit of depression. Desire can make you the best of friends or cause you to drive people away. Desire can cause you to lovingly edit your words or make you let it rip with little regard for the damage your words will do. Desire will make you willing to give or cause you to hoard everything you have. Desire will cause you to submit to the King or set yourself up as king. Desire can cause you to fight for freedom or can be the very thing that causes you to be addicted. Desire can give you power or rob you of the power that could be yours. Desire is your biggest problem and one of God's sweetest graces. There's one thing for sure: your life and your ministry is always shaped by desire.
The great spiritual war being fought for control of our hearts is a war of desire. (See James 4:1-4 and 1 Peter 2:11.) Remember this biblical principle: whatever rules your heart will control your words and behavior. We do not live by instinct. We've been designed by God with the capacity to desire. This means that everything you do or say is done or spoken out of the want for something. You and I are always seeking something. You and I are always living for something. Beneath everything we do is the desire for something. Here the war of right and wrong is fought. Here the direction of our lives will be shaped. In your personal life and in crucial moments of ministry response or decision, you can't let yourself think that the war for what's right is a war of behavior. If you fight the battle of behavior alone, the battle won't be won. You must be willing to fight the spiritual fight at the place where your behavior is formed: in the desires of the heart.
You must humbly realize that every day, in all the situations and relationships of your life, this war rages. It's about whether you'll minister out of fear of man or fear of God. It is about whether you'll live to possess some part of the creation or live to please the Creator. It's about whether you'll minister to achieve some personal success or live in the way the Creator designed you to live. This war is about what in ministry you treasure the most. This war is about what set of desires will set the agendas for the way you respond in the pastoral situations and relationships where God has placed you.
What Do You Really Want?
I invite you to be humbly honest in this moment. What do you really want? If you were to respond to the following, how would you fill in the blanks? "If only I could have ______________ then my life would be ______________ ." It's so easy for us to say that we're living and working for God, when, in fact, at the street level our lives are often shaped by the anxious pursuit of other things. Perhaps your desire to realize ministry dreams preoccupies too much of your thinking and shapes too many of your choices. Perhaps the desire to be successful has eaten your schedule with frantic workaholism. Perhaps the desire for physical things has left you empty and in debt. Perhaps the desire to avoid ministry failure has made you more demanding and controlling than you thought you'd ever be. Perhaps the desire for physical health has reduced you to fearful body self-consciousness. Perhaps the desire for control has turned you into more of a mini-messiah than a servant. Perhaps the desire for comfort and ease has caused you to be self-absorbed. Or maybe the desire to be affirmed and respected causes you to ride the roller-coaster of people's responses. Where does the war of desire rage for you?
Could you say with the psalmist, "There is nothing on earth I desire besides you"? Does this sound ethereal and impractically super-spiritual to you? Does it feel like a moral impossibility? In fact, he is expressing in a phrase exactly where God wants each of us to be. It's the reason each of us was given life and breath. We were made for God. We were created to love him above all else. We were designed to live with his glory as the single motivator of all that we do. It's why we've been called to ministry and what God wants to create in the hearts of others through us. Desire for him was intended to shape all the other desires.
It isn't wrong to desire comfort, acceptance, peace, success, order, or health. In fact, there'd be something wrong if you didn't desire these things. But these desires must never rule you, because when they do, they replace God as the ruler of your heart. Even in gospel ministry, the move from desire to idolatry is a shockingly short step.
So we all need to cry out for help once more, we all need to seek God's rescue and his power. We must all humbly admit there's evidence in our daily lives and ministries that the war of desire still rages in our hearts. There are times when Jesus is our priceless treasure, but there are other times when we'd rather have other things. This means that we can't quit seeking his help until the day when we can say with complete singleness of heart, "There is nothing on earth I desire besides you."