ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH AUGUST 19, 2018
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
OUR DEEPEST DESIRE
1 Kings 3: 3 – 14; John 6: 63 – 69
A husband and wife in their sixties were about to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. Knowing his wife loved antiques, the man bought her a beautiful, old, brass oil lamp. When she unwrapped it, a genie appeared. He gave them each one wish. The wife immediately wished for an all expense paid, first class, around the world cruise with her husband. Poof! Instantly, she was presented with tickets for the entire journey, plus expensive side trips, dinners, and shows, plus a new wardrobe and limitless spa services and shopping. The husband pondered his wish for awhile. Taking the Genie aside he said, “you know, I’ve been looking at my wife for 40 years and to be honest, she’s not gotten better looking. I love my wife, but I wish she was 30 years younger than me”. Poof! Instantly, he turned 96. We love genie jokes because they allow us to imagine anything is possible. We can have anything we desire! They also warn us – be careful what you wish for!
In today’s scripture, God offers King Solomon his heart’s desire. Essentially God says, “I’ll grant you one wish”. Not to be disrespectful, but those words sound like a genie. Genies are slaves, imprisoned in a lamp. Whomever sets them loose becomes their new master. They must do the master’s bidding. Here, God demotes himself to serve Solomon. Whenever God invites us to come to him with our prayers requests, he lowers himself to a place of service. I marvel at God’s character. I’m humbled by it. God gives us a privilege we don’t deserve. Why should the Eternal Sovereign Creator even listen to our prayers, let alone answer them? Only because of God’s generous, serving heart do we have the honour of approaching the Lord of All. I’d encourage you to remember how awesome God is, whenever you approach him to ask for something.
In the scripture, God appears to Solomon in a dream, ready to give him whatever he requests. Solomon was the youngest son of King David. On his death bed, David named Solomon as heir to the throne of Israel. A daunting task for anyone, but Solomon was young, “a mere child” (1 Kings 3:7). The task was overwhelming. Just as David had faced Goliath, Solomon faced a giant responsibility. Like his father, Solomon turned to God. The night after Solomon had worshipped God and made a significant sacrifice, he had a dream. In the dream God spoke to Solomon, “What can I give you? Ask.” (vs 5).
What would you ask for? No doubt we all have wish lists worthy of a kid on Santa’s knee, but God isn’t Santa and he isn’t a genie. He is the great “I am”. When God poses such a question, we’re at a critical juncture. Be careful what you wish for! Solomon could have asked for “long life or riches or the doom of [his] enemies” (vs. 11). Even God braced for that. Instead Solomon asked, “Give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well, discerning the difference between good and evil. For who on their own is capable of leading your glorious people?” (vs. 9). Solomon’s request was for the wisdom to reign well. Behind Solomon’s words was a deeper desire. A desire for a connection with God that would allow God’s “will to be done on earth as it is in heaven”. A desire to serve God in a way that would bring the fullness of life to Israel. How would you respond? Think carefully. What is your desire? What is the longing behind that desire? And what is the deeper, the deepest, longing of your heart? Christian author John Eldridge suggests our deepest yearning, “is the desire for life as it was meant to be.” Does that resonate with you? What he’s saying is that the human heart longs for heaven, for Eden, for the fullness of life, for peace and joy, for love and adventure and meaning, for unbroken communion with God. Life as it was meant to be. Author Norman McLean in A River Runs Through It describes a moment of perfection where his brother, holding up a huge fish he’s caught, is aglow with joy. McLean writes that it was a moment “suspended above the earth, free from all laws, like a work of art. And I knew… life is not a work of art and the moment could not last.” That is the human dilemma. Life is not “as it was meant to be”. There are glorious moments that give us a glimpse of perfection, but they cannot last. In this world, beauty exists in a sea of affliction. Life’s responsibilities, trials and sorrows overwhelm us. What’s worse is: we get used to this disappointment. We come to expect it. It chips away at our hope. It clouds our vision. As Eldridge puts it, “The people who walk in great darkness have adjusted their eyes”. And darkness kills our desire – if we let it.
One of the ironies of the Christian Church is our fear of desire. We are certain desire leads us to “sins of the flesh” and no where else. Too often we’ve preached that desire can only lead us into the wrath of God; that our desires are in direct opposition to the Spirit’s will; that we need to be prevented from doing what we want. It’s true that many human passions lead to misery. Many of our passions, when acted upon, are destructive to our souls, our bodies, our integrity, our relationships, even our freedom. Superficial desires that stand in for the real thing are soul-threatening if not life-killing. When we want what we can’t have, we create a dark pit of despair and anger, and we’re in grave danger of missing the joys that God has in store for us. Desire can get us into trouble and result in a lot of pain and because it can, we’ve learned to mistrust ourselves. Our passions are dangerous, so we choose to settle for less than God wants for us. Believing we don’t deserve “life as it was meant to be”, we get stuck in soullessness, stay in undesirable circumstances and descend into the darkness of self-punishment. We betray ourselves. C.S. Lewis warns, “I knew only too well how easily the longing accepts false objects and through what dark ways the pursuit of them leads us.” We’re wise to fear desire if shallow desires run wild within us. We’re wise to fear desire if it leads to self destruction or the wounding of others. We’re wise to fear any desire that is not our deepest, truest desire. We’re wise to fear desire if it leads us away from “Life as it is meant to be.” If it takes us away from God.
However, we also fear desire because it opens us up to tragedy and pain. To quote Tina Turner, “Who needs a heart, when a heart can be broken?” Love always entails grief. This life always ends in death. We tell ourselves it’s safer to live without hope. That’s a lie. Desire may open our hearts to the possibility of pain. It also opens our hearts to the possibility of joy and the fullness of life. To shut down our hearts guarantees our spirit’s death. It ensures that life won’t be worth living.
Sometimes we shun desire in favour of knowledge and performance. We insist desire is irrelevant. What matters is knowing and doing the will of God. Right belief, right thinking is seen as the means to life. Hmm. Then how come the Pharisees knew more about the Bible than most people ever will, and followed The Law to a “t” and it hardened their hearts? They became self-righteous and oppressive. “Life as it is meant to be” isn’t meant to be rules and duties. Paul proclaims, “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you” (Galatians 5:1). He also warns, “Just make sure you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows.” (vs. 13) Having said that, “life as it’s meant to be” is in complete and easy harmony with God’s will. “Life as it’s meant to be” is not and can not be separated from the One who is Life and gives Life. Scripture and doctrine are lights which help us find the way to the fullness of life, to the heart of God. And so is our deepest desire.
Desire, our deepest, truest desire, is a gift. To desire something, means we don’t have it. We’re on a quest. If we’re able to listen for our deepest longings, the Holy Spirit will guide us, using our desire like a treasure map. We’re unlikely to find the treasure without the map. We won’t find our heart’s desire unless we follow its urgings. God isn’t a genie. Our wishes aren’t granted in a “poof”. God isn’t easily found. I’m sure Solomon didn’t become instantly wise – wisdom comes from experience and experience comes from a lack of wisdom. It was a process, a journey. Our desire leads us up hill and down, through bogs and jungles, by cliff edges and through the sea, to the foot of the cross. It’s not enough to know “the Bread of Heaven” is Jesus, we need to hunger for him. We need to desire him with our whole being. Our desire needs to be so strong we’re willing to become one with him. As Jesus said, “Only insofar as you eat and drink flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, do you have life within you. The one who brings a hearty appetite to this eating and drinking has eternal life and will be fit and ready for the Final Day. My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. By eating my flesh and drinking my blood you enter into me and I into you” (John 6: 53 – 56). Many of his followers decided, “This is too tough to swallow.” (vs. 60). Even though every word Jesus spoke “is a Spirit-word, and so it is life-making” (vs. 63) – “life as it is meant to be”, they walked away. Their hunger wasn’t desperate enough; their desire remained superficial. Only the 12 disciples remained. Jesus said to them, “Do you also want to leave?” (vs. 67). This was the critical moment, the moment of decision. What do you wish for? What is your deepest desire? Peter responded, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God” (vs. 68-69). Only through you can we find “life as it is meant to be”.
So often we Christians are ready to walk away, to give up our desire, to settle for less. We’re offended by the smallest slight. We don’t like the way things are going. People are too hard to love, or they don’t love us enough. God behaves like God when we want him to be a genie. We have questions and doubts. The road is too long and hard. The cross is too demanding. The Bread of Life disgusts us. In those moments we’re at a critical juncture. We need to ask ourselves, how hungry am I? What is the depth of my desire? Where else could I go? Jesus came so we could have “life as it is meant to be.” What is your deepest desire?