Sunday, September 19, 2010

Desires and Delights

from coffeehouse
Recently I reread a familiar Bible verse:

Take delight in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart
(Psalm 37:4)

Let me be audacious for a second and ask: is this verse true? God does not provide everything you desire, even when you delight in him! But, our hearts grow in the Lord as we seek him, and over time, our and God’s desires become clearer.

This verse makes me think of Jesus’ teaching about “pruning” (John 15:2). This is a difficult topic, because I don’t believe God sends us terrible trouble just to teach us lessons or to discipline us (Heb. 12:5-11). However, in the course of living, we do experience times when we must discard old dreams, old situations, and adapt to new circumstances.

As we grow in God, we may see a confluence of our dreams and desires, our hopes, God’s providence, and God’s direction. But we may not know God’s plans right away. They may never be entirely clear; some things in our lives may always seem painful and inexplicable. All the while, we’re growing in our knowledge of and relationship with God. Later, as we look back upon our lives, we may see how certain difficulties and disappointments became sources of blessing (even though the pain and regret may remain), in the spirit of Romans 8:28.

I thought of all this again as I've reread a favorite book by Robert Corin Morris, Wrestling with Grace: A Spirituality for the Rough Edges of Daily Life (Upper Room Books, 2003). Morris writes, “Many years ago I faced a vague but persistent unhappiness in parish ministry. Why was I so recurrently dissatisfied with a job that was, in so many ways, rewarding? Did this restlessness mean I should leave the ministry? What did I really want?” (p. 204). He went through a process of talking to people and clarifying his skills. Finally he prayed to God, “What do you want me to do?” and he felt the answer in his mind, “What do you want to do?” His answer to himself was that he’d like to teach, and this lead him to establishing an interreligious learning center in 1980, and he has focused his ministry in teaching ever since (p. 205).

He writes, “Conventional teaching leads us to believe that ‘thy will be done’ means our desire won’t be honored. Sometimes that is the case, especially when our will is still captive to the more superficial cravings and fears of our nature. But it is God’s pleasure to delight in our desires for the good. Major decisions in the early church were taken because it ‘seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us’ (Acts 15:28, italics added). ‘Thy will be done,’ quite precisely, includes learning to honor our deepest and most creative desires and finding joy in offering them to be part of God’s work in the world” (p. 205).

These reflections interest me because my own sense of calling and work has followed similar kinds of paths. But I also wonder whether many of us are “stuck” in a sense that, when God calls us, it is necessarily contrary to our desires and preferences. Perhaps we should take a cue from Psalm 37:4 and remember that God is love and "delightful"--not a meany who shames or forces us to seek his will.

But--again---we may not know God's plans right away, or our own deepest desires, for that matter. Understanding the depth of God's love, too, can be a process: God may not seem right away like a source of joy. The psalm verse reflects a journey of both God-discovery and self-discovery!

Just one more set of connections on this theme. While we're thinking of God as a "delight," a nearby psalm verse reads:

O taste and see that the LORD is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him
(Ps. 34:8)

What does God taste like? (Biscuits and gravy, I hope, or maybe chocolate, LOL.) Seriously: the verse is a poetic way of saying, “If you experience God, you’ll discover he is wonderful.” You could also say that God is a better refuge than other things (name your own source of short-term consolation). We won’t always feel upbeat in our Christian lives; the whole idea of “refuge” is, after all, having a place to go when we’re in distress and trouble. But we discover in our personal circumstances (interpreted through our Bible reading and other ways) how God’s goodness and guidance sustains us.

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