When You’re Distracted By Your Desires

Trust in the Lord

There was a time when I wanted a new house more than anything. It wasn’t that the house we lived in was a hovel. It fact it was a two-story, four-bedroom, two-full-bath residence with a big backyard. The trouble was—it was old. And just a mile away, developers were constructing a brand-new subdivision of luxury homes. Suddenly, all the little flaws in my house were magnified. The windows that were painted shut were infuriating. The floor plan was aggravating. The well water that periodically turned my laundry orange was maddening.

I began to obsess about getting a new house. I lost sleep as I fantasized about a new place to live. I worried about saving money for a down payment. I failed to find anything good about my current home and in the process misplaced any tranquility I might have possessed. My new-house-obsession was a distraction from my real life.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 37:4:

Delight yourself in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart.

A new house was definitely one of the desires of my heart. Every time I tried to open the windows I wished for a new house. Whenever I tried to clean the rust stains off the tub I hoped for a new home. I kept praying that God would answer that desire.

But although I knew verse 4 of Psalm 37 by memory, I had forgotten about verse 3:

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

God promises to give me the desires of my heart, but first He asks me to trustHim.

Lately I’ve been finding that when I’m having trouble trusting God, the best thing I can do is be honest with Him. When I’m distracted by things that I want, I can stuff those desires down because they’re not spiritual. I can avoid praying about them because they don’t seem like something God would care about.

But of course, God knows the desires of my heart anyway. So the best thing I can do is bring my whole wish list to Him. Even if the list has things that seem trivial or (gasp!) worldly, when I talk to God about them, He can help me sort them out.

distractingdesiresThis is more than just asking God to give me everything on the list.

It’s giving Him the list.

It’s trusting that in His love, He will know which of those things are good. It’s having faith that He will answer my prayers when the time is right.

You know, I struggled with new-house-distraction for a long time. But after I decided to trust God to give me what I needed, I learned to see its good points. And a couple of years after that, God blessed our family with a brand new house.

When I tell my gracious heavenly Father that I’m ready to trust Him, that’s when my heart changes. When I give God my desires, that’s when they lose their grip on my soul. When I hand God my list, my distracting desires give way to peace.

Next step: What distracting desires have a grip on your soul? Write down your list of wants. Then give it to God, tell Him you trust Him to give you what is best–at the right time.

 

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How to Live with a Holy Longing

HowToLiveWithAHolyLonging

 

A holy longing.

I love that phrase.

There are a lot of things I long for: my family nearby, time with friends, a little more success, a new handbag, dark chocolate that has no calories. The list could go on and on.

I tend to beat myself up about this because the really disturbing thing is that even when one of my desires is met, I’m not immediately satisfied. Instead of sitting back and thinking–Now I have everything I want, all is well–I start wanting the next thing on my list.

Lately, I’ve been wondering what is wrong with me. After all, I’ve been a Christian a long time. I should have made a little more progress on this contentment thing.

 

Then I read this quote by Augustine:

The whole life of the good Christian is a holy longing.

Suddenly everything made sense. A good Christian will not be satisfied here on earth. In our hearts we will always be longing for more because we were made for more than this world. No matter how big our houses are, or how successful we are, or how much money we have in the bank, we will naturally want more. While all of those things can be good things, they won’t truly satisfy.

2 Corinthians 5:2 puts it this way:

“For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.”

In this life we groan, because whatever we have now simply can’t be enough. We yearn for the time when we will be in heaven, perfected in holiness united with Christ.

Perhaps this is one of those unlikely truths in God’s kingdom, but when I realized that I won’t be satisfied while here on earth, I began to be more content.

To me, living with a holy longing means:

  • I don’t have everything I want–but God has given me some amazing gifts–I can be thankful.
  • I don’t have everything I desire–but I’m trusting that my Lord is leading me on an amazing adventure–I can watch in expectation for His plan.
  • I don’t have everything I long for–but I know that someday I will–I can begin to hold my Savior’s hand with patience.

All my little wantings–all my silly desires for cute shoes and dazzling success–are actually a shadow of something deeper:

a holy longing.

Question: How would you describe a holy longing?

 

 

Book Review: Teach Us to Want

Many, like me, imagine desire and faith in a boxing ring, facing off like opponents.

Jen Pollock Michel makes that statement in the first chapter of her book, Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition & the Life of Faith. This engrossing and challenging book is a theology of desire explored through the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

I, too, have seen desire and faith as opponents: my old self wanting my desires to win and my new self rooting for faith. I have often complained that I have a dysfunctional “wanter.” After all, my health would be so much better if I wanted to do push-ups and eat salad instead of craving couch time and Mint Moose Tracks ice cream. My spiritual life would be easier if I only desired what God desired. In fact, maybe life would be better if I simply didn’t have any desires.

But Michel makes the case that desires are a natural part of us. Without desire we don’t have the fuel to move ahead in life. Our unique desires are part of who we are. Yes, our “wanters” can be corrupted, and so we must be careful to guard our hearts, but desire can be what draws us closer to God.

Reading Teach Us to Want helped me learn a lot of desire:

  • Desire pulls us to our heavenly Father as we pray for what we need.
  • Examining our desires can lead to self-discovery and transformation.
  • Unmet desire is a training program for learning to trust a gracious God.
  • We want too much and we want too little.
  • It is not self-effort that recalibrates our wanters. Only God’s grace can turn our heart’s desires toward His kingdom.

Desire has been a topic I have long struggled with. Teach Us to Want untangled a lot of my thoughts on the subject. In fact, now that I have finished reading it, I plan to read it again. It is a meaty book, filled with honest transparency and personal stories.

I think this quote from the last chapter sums up Teach Us to Want:

There is a biblical case for wanting and wanting well…Although easily corrupted, desire is good, right and necessary. It is a force of movement in our lives, a means of transportation. It can be the very thing that motivates us to change and that carries us to God…Growing into maturity doesn’t mean abandoning our desires, but growing in our discernment of them.

Check out Teach Us to Want on Amazon.

Jen Pollock Michel is a writer, speaker, and mother of five. She is a regular contributor for Christianity Today’s her.meneutics and also writes for Today in the Word, a monthly devotional published by The Moody Bible Institute.  Jen earned her B.A. in French from Wheaton College and her M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her family and blogs at jenpollockmichel.com. You can follow Jen on Twitter @jenpmichel.

When Wait is a Four-Letter Word

Psalm 40-1

To me, wait is a four-letter word that should never be used.

Because I hate waiting.

When I’ve decided I want something, I want it now. I find it hard to be patient. I hate the delay.

But it seems to me that God likes that word–wait. He often uses periods of waiting in our lives. He rarely gives us a desire and then grants that desire right away.

Even King David who starts out Psalm 40 so confidently:

I waited patiently for the Lord to help me,
and he turned to me and heard my cry.

Psalm 40:1

shows that he doesn’t always wait patiently for the Lord.

That same psalm is a desperate prayer for help. For help NOW.

David says:

  • “Do not withhold your mercy from me, O Lord” (v. 11)
  • “O Lord, come quickly to help me” (v. 13)
  • “O my God, do not delay” (v. 17)

It seems David is in a desperate situation. His enemies are coming for him. His foes want to ruin him. Trouble surrounds him like mosquitoes on a sticky summer evening. And he wants God to come to his rescue–yesterday.

We often feel like that. Everything is going wrong. It seems like no one is there to help. Problems multiply daily. We pray and plead with God, but we are still waiting.

What can we do when we are in that place of waiting?

We can be like David who began his prayer for help remembering a time when God did come through. A time when all that waiting paid off and God heard his cry. When God got him out of the pit.

He lifted me out of the pit of despair,
    out of the mud and the mire.
He set my feet on solid ground
    and steadied me as I walked along. (v. 2)

He praised God:

He has given me a new song to sing,
    a hymn of praise to our God. (v.3a)

He looked forward to the time when He could tell others about how God came to the rescue:

Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
    They will put their trust in the Lord. (v. 3b)

And realized that periods of waiting are seasons to grow in trust:

Blessed is the man who makes
    the Lord his trust, (v. 4a)

To me wait is a four-letter word. But waiting is something God often calls us to do.

When you are in a season of waiting, recall the lessons of Psalm 40:

  1. Remember when God has come through in the past.
  2. Find something to praise God about.
  3. Look forward to an amazing story of answered prayer.
  4. And realize that you have been given an opportunity to grow your trust in God.

Question: Which of those four lessons from Psalm 40 will help you most when you are waiting?

 

Give God Your List: Learning to Trust God with Your Desires

Trust in the Lord

There was a time when I wanted a new house more than anything. It wasn’t that the house we lived in was a hovel. It fact it was a two-story, four-bedroom, two-full-bath residence with a big backyard. The trouble was—it was old. And just a mile away, developers were constructing a brand-new subdivision of luxury homes. Suddenly, all the little flaws in my house were magnified. The windows that were painted shut were infuriating. The floor plan was aggravating. The well water that periodically turned my laundry orange was maddening.

I began to obsess about getting a new house. I lost sleep as I fantasized about a new place to live. I worried about saving money for a down payment. I failed to find anything good about my current home and in the process misplaced any tranquility I might have possessed. My new-house-obsession was causing me a lot of anxiety.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 37:4:

Delight yourself in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart.

A new house was definitely one of the desires of my heart. Every time I tried to open the windows I wished for a new house. Whenever I tried to clean the rust stains off the tub I hoped for a new home. I kept praying that God would answer that desire.

But although I knew verse 4 of Psalm 37 by memory, I had forgotten about verse 3:

Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

God promises to give me the desires of my heart, but first He asks me to trust Him.

Lately I’ve been finding that when I’m having trouble trusting God, the best thing I can do is be honest with Him. When I’m distracted by things that I want, I can stuff those desires down because they’re not spiritual. I can avoid praying about them because they don’t seem like something God would care about.

But of course, God knows the desires of my heart anyway. So the best thing I can do is bring my whole wish list to Him. Even if the list has things that seem trivial or (gasp!) worldly, when I talk to God about them, He can help me sort them out.

This is more than just asking God to give me everything on the list.

It’s giving Him the list.

It’s trusting that in His love, He will know which of those things are good. It’s having faith that He will answer my prayers when the time is right.

You know, it took me a long time to learn to be content with that old house. But after I decided to trust God to give me what I needed, I learned to see its good points. And a couple of years after that, God blessed our family with a brand new house.

When I tell my gracious heavenly Father that I’m ready to trust Him, that’s when my heart changes. When I give God my desires, that’s when they lose their grip on my soul.

Question: What do you do when you are struggling with trust?