In a chapter I read this morning from John Eldredge’s book “Desire”, Eldredge talked about our tendency as Christians to distance ourselves from our desires, and the subsequent danger of that perilous practice. The book’s premise is predicated on the fact that God gave us desires, passions, and hungers as a kind of GPS that should lead us to Him and to ultimate pleasure and satisfaction. That being the case he challenges the modern-era evangelical notion that we are to suppress, or attempt to be rid of, our desires in the name of holiness.
In one of his most profound moments yet, I was captivated by an idea that he presented. It’s not an overly complex idea, but it felt important as I read it; important enough that I was compelled to stop reading and pray after I got through it. The context comes as Eldredge is recounting a time in prayer in which he told God that he didn’t really feel like He cared about his desires, only his obedience and servitude. Then, diagnostically Eldredge analyzes:
There is this hurt and angry place inside, a very old wound, that harbors some rather strong doubts about how much God really cares for me.
We all have this place. Life has not turned out the way we want, and we know God could have handled things differently. Even though we may profess at one level a genuine faith in him, at another level we are like the third servant [in Jesus’ parable of the talents]. Our obedience is not so much out of love as it is out of carefulness. “Just tell me what to do, God, and I’ll do it.” Killing desire may look like sanctification, but it’s really godlessness. Literally, our way of handling life without God.
To live with desire is to choose vulnerability over self-protection; to admit our desire and seek help beyond ourselves is even more vulnerable. It is an act of trust. In other words, those who know their desire and refuse to kill it, or refuse to act as though they don’t need help, they are the ones who live by faith. Those who do not ask do not trust God enough to desire. They have no faith. The deepest moral issue is always what we, in the heart of hearts, believe about God. And nothing reveals this belief as clearly as what we do with our desire.
– John Eldredge
I think that there is a kind of “secret place” that Eldredge has exposed here; the basement of our soul, so to speak. Not one of us has been 100% satisfied with God’s direction, allowance, or inactivity 100% of the time. In hindsight we usually can see how whatever it was became beneficial in some unforeseen way, but that is only in hindsight. And really, the issue at hand is not whether or not things turn out “ok”, the issue is deeper. Do we allow God’s sovereign right to divert us from our “desired” path to become a thief that robs us of our passion and desire for Him? On a more basic level the simple question is this: do we hold grudges against God?
The danger is not first and foremost that we will stop obeying Him or fall away from the faith (if your theology allows for that possibility), the danger is that we stop approaching God by faith and begin merely “clocking in” to our Christianity. We can subtly begin to believe that God really doesn’t care what we want during seasons when He seems to be doing things in our lives that we really don’t want. This can fly under the radar quite easily because very few “good Christian folks” are readily willing to admit that they don’t trust God to keep their best interest at heart. The reason this is so subtle is because we tend to keep plodding along. Most of us won’t go on a 3 day bender with drugs and prostitutes, bare-chested in a pub cursing the heavens and worshiping Dagon. That isn’t the way people lose their passion for Christ, it’s much more reserved, more neat and clean…sanitized backsliding we could call it.
I would challenge you today to look past your behavior and into your heart. I wonder if you asked the question of yourself, with honest intent, “am I disappointed with the way God has directed, treated, or dealt with me in the past or present?”, what the resulting answer would be? I know that some might find that to be an offensive thing to ask regarding a perfect and inerrant God, but I would suggest that if you feel that way you are missing the point of the question. I am not asking that question to try and root out God’s injustice toward me, but to find the places inside of my own heart where I have allowed a miss-perception of injustice to fester. In those places, Eldredge suggests, we don’t turn blatantly evil, we respond by muting and blunting our desires. We attempt to safeguard ourselves so that we won’t get hurt again. Like a dog that has been repeatedly beaten will cower in the corner of the pen regardless of the intentions of the next visitor, we retreat from dreaming deeply, moving forward, and living with the kind of robust fervor that should be normative for a heart set afire by the grace and love of God.
Have you stopped saying “I hope”? Have you become proud of your changeless routine and the monotonous soul-cycle of “burying talents”? Perhaps it’s time you had an honest conversation with God, uncovered the sensitive places you’ve protected for so long, and allowed Him to heal them in His way, with His methods, and for His glory. It’s not easy, but very few things worth doing are.