Sometimes it does no good to tell people that they ought to have a desire for God. They already know that, and they don’t have the desire. Telling them to hunger for God does not create a desire. It’s like telling a man that he is supposed to be faithful to his wife, when he’s thinking, I know I should, but I really want this other woman, too. Can’t I have both? Can’t I be faithful and still have an affair?
The question in Christianity is sometimes, ‘Well, I know I should love God with all my heart, but my heart really doesn’t care much about that – my heart wants a good job, a quiet life in the suburbs, a few friends, and that’s about all. So if the preacher starts talking about having a desire for God, then I will just tune him out and start thinking about my own desires’.
Can we do anything about the desires of our heart? The Bible says we can. It is not easy, but it is possible if we are to have a meaningful life.
The Bible also says that we can’t do this very well. We all fall short of what we know is right. So God offers help. The Bible calls it a new heart. Now, this “new heart” is not like a physical heart transplant., God works on the heart that we already have, changing it – not putting in a completely new heart, but making the old one new.
This takes time, and it takes our involvement. This process of change comes when we say “no” to the wrong desires of the old heart – “no” to adultery, for example – and “yes” to the right desires .If we don’t have a hunger for God, is it possible to develop one? Is it possible to shape our heart, instead of letting it dictate our lives?
Yes, it is. But of course you have to want this result in your life, so what do you do if you don’t want it? What if this hunger for God sounds really boring, what if you’d really rather have a good job, a nice house in the suburbs, and a few friends?
C.S. Lewis compares it to a boy who is so busy making mudpies in the back alleyway, that he does not want to go on a holiday at the beach. We are too easily satisfied with mudpies, when we should be looking for, longing for, hungering for, something much more.
“But I am happy with what I have,” says the boy playing in the mud. “If I’m happy, isn’t that good enough? Why should I have to take a bath and give up the mud for a long car-ride to the beach, when I am already happy where I am?” Well, the parents might respond, “It is because we are convinced that this period of temporarily going without is only a tiny inconvenience compared to the mountain of happiness you will have on the beach. If you really want to, you can take one of your mudpies with you, but once you get to the beach, you are going to see something so grand that you are going to forget all about your mudpie.”
Christ is offering us something much more than the mundane pleasures of good jobs, nice houses, and a small circle of friends. Those things are not wrong, but they are just pointers to a far greater reality that God is offering us.
Well, as you might know, this idea comes from the Bible, from Paul’s letter to the Clossians..,
To make a long story short, the people in the city of Colosse were looking for salvation in all the wrong places. Now, it is good that they were looking for something more than what this life offers, but they were going about it in some rather odd ways. Some of them said physical things were bad, so we ought to live without them as much as possible. Some were apparently into rituals, and some were saying that if we observed the holy days of the Jewish calendar then we would be closer to God.
Paul responds that no, those festivals were only shadows of Christ. They were a promise of good things to come. It’s like we enjoy being engaged so much that we refuse to get married.
Paul is saying, Do you want to get close to God? “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).
Paul says that we can choose to set our heart on good things, and we do not have to be slaves of our own desires. We can choose to desire the things of God, rather than the things of this world. That does not mean that the things of this world are wrong, but simply that they are not the greatest good in the universe.
Set your minds on things above
The only way our desire can be fully satisfied, is if our goal is something infinite – and that is God himself. We need to hunger for God, not just the things of God. Yes, we should hunger and thirst for righteousness, but righteousness should not be our biggest goal in life, especially if it’s our own definition of what righteousness is. Then we will forget about humility and mercy and grace.
How do we know what the package is like? How do we get a glimpse of what God is like, with the perfect mixture of all his good qualities? How do we see the right balance between righteousness and grace, between love and anger? It is by looking to Jesus. He told Philip, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”. Paul said, In him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells. He reveals to us what the Father is like, and he reveals to us what we should be like.
This is not a matter of seeing and copying, as if we could say, “Jesus did such and such, so I will, too.” That would be acting as if we had the power to be like Jesus, to be like God. We don’t. That is why the Bible talks about God living in us, Christ living in us, the Holy Spirit living in us – we can be like God only if God is in us.
If you hunger for righteousness, then hunger for God. If you hunger for love, or for peace, or for joy, then hunger for God. If you hunger for a good job, or a nice home, or a few friends, then hunger for God, too.
If you like those things, good – God has a lot more in store for you. Just realize that these things are merely mudpies in comparison to what God really wants to give us. Sometimes we have to give up the mudpies while we travel to the beach, but once we get there, we will realize that we really didn’t sacrifice much in order to get there.
We can change what the heart wants – or rather, we can let God change it.
“You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lip. Paul has not listed every sin – he has just given some representative examples. We could add more to the list, if we wanted to, by going to some of the other letters he wrote. Verses 12 and 13: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” When we get dressed in the morning, do we think about clothing ourselves with compassion?
Verse 14: “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” The love has to be defined by who God is, not our ideas about what love is.
God loves us, and he is the source of genuine love, and he gives us strength to love. The human heart is deceitful, as likely to lead us astray as to lead us right. So we need to seek God first, to hunger and thirst for who he is, and all the good things will follow from that.