Monday, January 27, 2014

Holy Desire

“The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people.”  A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

What images come to your mind when you hear the word “desire?” Our possession-laden, sexually-oriented culture influences our thinking around the whole notion of desire. We desire a lot of things, but do we desire God with a single-minded, panting desire?

Last week, I referenced Psalm 42:1: As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. Do you pant for God? A.W. Tozer speaks of acute desire. What I take from these words like “acute” and “panting” is that our desire for God is to be all-consuming, not an add-on to an otherwise busy and complicated life.

Even within the church, we get so caught up in activities that we can become dislocated from the heart of Christ. Speaking about the church, Tozer says, “The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart.” I wonder if we miss the boat within churches by pasting on more activities instead of teaching people to be attentive to the longing of their hearts.

We are created to long for God, to find our rest and fulfillment in God. When our heart’s desire is God, our action flows from the inner well of deep love and devotion to God. Living with such desire, we can surrender control to God, embrace the rest that Jesus offers, and know the peace that Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:7: Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lukewarm or Longing?

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
                                                Psalm 42:1-2a

Have you ever been really hungry or thirsty? So hungry that all you can think about is finding something to eat? So thirsty that everything in you is focused on finding water to drink?

In college, I was part of a 6-week summer study tour of Europe. Our group boarded a train for a 14 hour nonstop ride between two cities. We were unaware that the train we were on had no food service and none of us had brought anything to eat.  All we could talk about after the first five to six hours was how hungry we were. We were totally focused on our hunger to the exclusion of anything else.

When I read the verses above, I think about that train trip. I believe it gives me a glimpse into the type of longing the Psalmist describes, an all-consuming longing that becomes the sole focus of one’s attention. Contrast that intensity of desire with another degree of desire: I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  (Revelation 3:15-16). Being lukewarm denotes indifference, not longing. We were not lukewarm about food on that long train ride!

So which is the more accurate description of your love for God? Do you ache for deeper relationship with your Creator, or is relationship relegated to a ten minute devotional in the morning and prayer when you are in a jam?

I enjoy reading the works of some of the enduring church leaders, folks such as Augustine of Hippo, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich. You would be hard pressed to find any lukewarmness toward God in their writings. In fact, the way they often describe their love for God would make some modern Christians blush! They describe their love for God with all the heat and passion of an erotic novel.

Hear these words of St. Augustine: You called, you cried, you shattered my deafness. You sparkled, you blazed, you drove away my blindness. You shed your fragrance, and I drew in my breath, and I pant for you. I tasted and now I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and now I burn with longing for your peace.

Does this describe your relationship with God? I know that reading the works of many of the early church leaders challenges me to reflect on my love for God, to evaluate where I am on the scale between lukewarm and longing. I pray to have a burning love for Christ, where Christ is all in all, not a lukewarm indifference toward God that gets lost in competing priorities. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wealth and Worth

But how terrible for you who are rich, because you have already received your comfort. How terrible for you who have plenty now, because you will be hungry.  
                                                                                                                Luke 6:24-25a

Recently I was part of a group studying Luke 6:17-31. When we got to the verses above, the discussion grew tense, pointed and critical. Like a hot spotlight, the group quickly moved the conversation from the recognition that we are the ones who have plenty and that Jesus’ comments might therefore be directed toward us. Instead the spotlight’s heat was focused on a more comfortable target—the poor—as some questioned who deserves our charity and how much charity is adequate.

When we equate wealth to worth, we pervert the message and example of Jesus. When we make ourselves the judges of who is worthy to receive our help, our arrogance is apparent. And when we believe that material wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, we make a mockery of the life of Jesus, who had no place to lay his head. (Luke 9:58).

It is a hard task to hold wealth with detachment, humility and faith. We cling to it, putting our trust in it to save us and we look to it to gauge our self-worth. The difficulty of having wealth and giving oneself in devotion to Christ is why Jesus said “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:24)

You cannot serve God and wealth. But we don’t really believe that, as evidenced from the way many of us live, anxious about our assets and questioning whether and how much to give to others. That is why when passages such as the one from Luke are studied, people get tense and critical. We want to justify our lifestyle choices and try to make them fit with Jesus’ teachings, much in the way we might try to fit into clothing too small for us. Instead of justifying ourselves, it is better to acknowledge our need to be changed and to pray for a heart that desires to be changed. A glad and generous heart gives out of love for Christ, recognizing that all are made worthy by Jesus’ death on the cross, not by the balance in one’s bank account.  Holding wealth with detachment means we give without expectation, we give because love compels us to give, and we trust God with the outcome of our giving.