Why do I still have unmet desires?

“Why am I hungry, Mamma?” the little boy’s voice pierced the darkness.

His mother sighed. “Yahweh has provided manna for us; it comes from God’s very hand.” 

“But I’m tired of manna. It’s all we ever have, and it’s not very filling.”

Again the mother’s sigh. “You sound just like your father, always wanting what you do not have.”

The Old Testament Israelites did their university training in the wilderness for 40 years; perhaps they could have finished earlier, but they kept retaking the same class: Contentment 101.  Moses gives us a peak back at the course work in Deuteronomy 8.

Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deut. 8:3, NLT)

Reading that passage recently I was drawn to the phrase “by letting you go hungry.” God let them hunger that they might learn to look to him and have their deepest longings met. You see, there is something more to live for than to silence your stomachs growling.

I have desires that are unmet. I’m betting you do too.  What if we began to view our unsatisfied wants as opportunities to turn to God and trust him?  What if, instead of complaining, the Jewish dad had taught his son that man does not live by bread alone? What if the son had seen a smile of knowing contentment on his father’s face even though the unmet desires remained? What if my sons heard in their dad’s voice the simple confidence that God knows best? What if they could never remember their father complaining? They can’t. But, by God’s grace, I can change that. So can you.

What if God has withheld from you the very thing you desire the most so that you might find your satisfaction in him alone? That’s the way you pass Contentment 101 even though you still have those nagging hunger pains.

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Learning to apply the work of the Spirit

One of the most helpful analogies I ever heard regarding the fruit of the Spirit was to think of the fruit of the Spirit as toolbox. Inside were tools for every situation. You wouldn’t send a hammer to do the job of screwdriver, nor would you attempt to saw a board with a wrench. Likewise, when you enter into challenging relationships you should choose the part of the fruit that is most effective for that difficulty. To do so you will need to learn the fruit, and practice it. Only then will you become proficient in its application. I have included my working definitions of each part of the fruit of the Spirit. You can use these or develop your own through reflection and Bible study.

The point is this: until you know them, you will not be able to apply them. Certainly we can depend upon the Holy Spirit to do his part. How are we applying the work he has done on our behalf?

  • Love is a sacrificial choice (1 Jn. 3:16), of words accompanied by actions (1 Jn. 3:18), regardless of attraction or response (Rom. 5:8), generated by God not by oneself (Jn. 21:15-18)
  • Joy is a pre-determined attitude (Phil. 4:4), of praise for God’s goodness (Psa. 5:11), by maintaining an eternal focus (Psa. 16:11), in the midst of difficulty (Heb. 12:2). 
  • Peace is a settled confidence of mind (Phil. 4:7), from a right relationship with God (Phil. 4:9), unaffected by circumstantial change (4:11). 
  • Patience is a learned attitude (Col. 1:11), revealed through a joyful willingness (Jam. 1:2), to remain under difficulty (Jam. 1:3-4), in order to learn God’s lessons (Jam. 5:11).
  • Kindness is a tender spirit purposefully expressed (Rom 2:4), sacrificially given (Eph 2:7), especially to the undeserving (Titus 3:4). 
  • Goodness is focused resolve (2 Thes. 1:11), that drives us to become actively involved, in the life of another (2 Chron. 24:16), consistently expressed through generosity (Neh. 9:25).
  • Faithfulness is a promise (Rom. 3:3; Lam. 3:23), to keep one’s word, and do one’s best (1 Th. 1:3), with a servant–attitude focused on the Master’s approval (Matt 25:21).  
  • Gentleness is an attitude of humility (Jam. 1:21), stirred by grateful spirit (Num. 12:3; Ps. 90:15), revealed in a tenderness to others (Eph. 4:2), sustained by a growing trust in God (Matt. 5:5). 
  • Self-control is the growing realization that one’s desire to please self was crucified with Christ, and replaced with a desire to glorify God (Gal. 2:20).

Working with the given definitions, make a list of the various relationships you encounter and prayerfully consider which tool best suits the challenge in that relationship. For example, perhaps you need patience with your kids, mercy with your spouse, and love with your fellow employee. Keep those ideas in the forefront of your mind as you engage in that particular relational challenge. If your children are disrespectful, ask yourself, “How can I best demonstrate patience in this context?” Now depend upon the Holy Spirit’s leading to enable you to do so.

Six steps to improve communication with others

James gave some of the best advice ever on communication when he penned,

Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20)

This is especially necessary in our family relationships.

The author is unknown, but I have found the simple acrostic ladder to be helpful in applying the truths from James 1:19-20.

Look at the person speaking to you.

Ask questions.

Don’t interrupt.

Don’t change the subject.

Empathize.

Respond verbally and non-verbally.

Dissecting an expectation…

In sixth grade my parents got me a biology kit. My 12-year-old friends all got chemistry kits, but I think my parents were afraid I might blow up the house, so I received a biology kit–complete with shrimp-like creatures, fruit flies, and a frog to dissect. Perhaps you remember dissection from your high school biology class. You cut, you observe, you make notes, and then you start the whole process again.

In relationships we have expectations. We all have these expectations: whether parent to child, husband to wife, neighbor to neighbor, or employer to employee. Dissecting the expectation helps me understand what’s going on in my heart, and how the Spirit of God wants to change it.

Most expectations are unspoken. Like the inside of the frog, nobody knows what’s going on in there unless you open em’ up. So let’s open up the expectation, discover what prompts it, and where it will lead.

A desire becomes a demand.
I think that would make me happy.

A demand gets expressed as a need.
I think I can’t be happy without it.

A perceived need sets up an expectation.
I think if you loved me you’d give it to me.

An expectation leads to disappointment.
I think you don’t really love me.

Disappointment leads to punishment.
I think I’ll make you pay for not loving me.

Punishment leads to bitterness.
I think I’ll never forget how much you hurt me.

These are six progressive steps, and they reveal just how deadly expectations can be to the growth of a relationship. Jesus said,

Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

What if our only expectation was the desire that Jesus had developed? We simply expected to serve God and serve others better…

 

Why it feels like it somebody else’s fault…

Have you ever felt like you only do what you do because somebody else did what they did? In four brief paragraphs author Paul Tripp brings insights that are at once clarifying and convicting.  Read them first, then go read Romans 7:14-25, and then read them again.  While he applies these thoughts to regret in the middle of your life the broader application is appropriate for each of us.

The reason regret tends to hit us so hard in midlife is for years we have been convincing ourselves that the problem isn’t really us. Perhaps the biggest and most tempting lie that all of us tend to embrace is that our greatest problems exist somewhere outside of us. This is an attractive distortion because we are surrounded, in this fallen world, by people and things that aren’t operating as they were designed – so there are plenty of available things to blame. I can always find someone in my life who hasn’t responded to me properly. I can always identify a difficult situation that I have had to go through. We all tend to take the unrealistically demanding boss, the consistently rebellious child, the all too impatient spouse, the rude neighbor, or the gossiping extended family member as proof that the seeds of what we are harvesting, in fact, belongs to someone else.

There is an important spiritual dynamic in operation here. Because we are believers, the heart of stone has been taken out of us and has been replaced by a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). This means that when we think, desire, say and do what is wrong, we experience a God-given unease of heart – conscience. When this happens we all seek heart relief. There are only two ways to find this relief. We can place ourselves once again under the justifying mercies of Christ and receive forgiveness, or we can erect some system of self-justification that makes what is wrong acceptable to our conscience. An angry father who has just ripped into his rebellious son will tell himself that it is vitally important for his son to respect authority. This justification re-colors his sin of anger against his son. Or a wife, who has developed regular patterns of gossiping about her husband’s sin to her friends, will tell herself she is seeking prayer and accountability. She now feels comfortable doing something the Bible calls sin. Or a teenager who lies to his father about what he is doing tells himself all the time that he has to because his father just “lives for control.”

It’s an old argument that goes something like this, “His sin makes my sin not sin.” We have all used it, and it does us harm. Our growth in grace, our relationships with others, and our harvest as God’s children have all been crippled by our strategies of pseudo-atonement. We have been given a Savior who is magnificent in love and grace, yet in the face of his mercy, we function as our own replacement saviors again and again.

Notice how radically different Paul’s perspective is in Romans 7. The whole logic of the passage is based on the fact that Paul is locating his struggle with sin inside of himself.  For Paul, the foundational war is not a war with difficult situations (in many places Paul recognizes they exist) or sinful people (Paul tells stories elsewhere of having to deal with them), but a war with the gravitational pull of sin within. Romans 7 can be uncomfortable for us because it takes us to the very place of self-indictment that we have tended to work so hard to avoid. In our skill at avoiding this place, we have set ourselves up for the shock of regret that tends to hit so hard at midlife…

Paul David Tripp in Lost in the Middle, p. 113-114

Give us this day our daily bread…

He was from Nigeria, but I met him in Hungary. I was teaching for five days, and he was one of fifty international students studying the Bible in an old communist castle. Over lunch one day, he asked me the question: “Is it right for me to marry an American woman, and expect her to return with me to Nigeria?” I countered, “Why not?” After all the man was tall, handsome, articulate, loved God, and loved his people enough to return to them upon concluding his Biblical studies. His eyes met mine, and he spoke again, “Because it would be a hard life for her there.” He paused. “Sometimes we might go 4-5 days without food. There is nothing available.”

It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. When you first begin to travel outside of the United States, you meet poverty of a different kind. In many places it isn’t just the poor that don’t have food, it’s often everyone.

I spent 10 days teaching an apologetics course at a seminary right outside of Kiev, Ukraine. The pastors traveled 6-8 hours for these courses. They gathered once a month to complete their master degrees. But these men were not only hungry spiritually, they were also hungry physically. One of the pastors shared that while he enjoyed the classes, he really enjoyed the lunches. It was the most food he would have the entire month. I looked down at my bowl of soup, and wondered if I had ever really been hungry.

I had a similar wake-up call in Haiti in the fall of 2010. Following the earthquake a group of us were on a house-building mission. We completed two small block homes that were 10 feet by 20 feet. The average two car garage is twice that size. When I was praying with Jeordan, a single mother of six, she commented, “My friends say my house is a gift from God…after the earthquake I never thought I’d live inside again.”

There’s a good chance that you have never had to go five days without food, because there was none in the village. Though you might have wondered where the next house payment was coming from, you probably never considered the possibility of sleeping outside the rest of your earthly life.

Jesus reminds us that we should ask the Father for our daily bread (Matt. 6:11). Such a request adds a sense of dependence to our prayer. We don’t assume we will eat because there are leftovers in the fridge. We ask God to provide what we need that day.

What if this was our attitude of prayer in all things? What if, when we prayed, we had this 24-hour sense of urgency to our prayers.

What if we prayed that way for our kids? Truly believing that unless God intervened, they would not grow up to serve him.

What if we prayed that way for our church? Acknowledging our deep dependence on the Lord for the work of His Holy Spirit in our midst.

What if we prayed that way for ourselves? Fully realizing that without God we could accomplish nothing.

What if the purpose of prayer is that we might develop a dependence on the Lord, and grow in that daily?

Analyzing your temptation

I learned a helpful poem when I was younger. But only recently did I begin to use it as an instrument to analyze personal temptations.

I had six faithful friends,
They taught me all I knew
Their names were: how and what and why
When and where and who.

Next time you find yourself falling to a particularly stubborn temptation, analyze the conditions surrounding the temptation to more effectively prepare yourself.

How. What events further your weakness in this area? Do you feel a certain way before you give into the temptation (discouraged, unappreciated, a sense of injustice, etc.). Cain had those kinds of feelings before he killed his brother Abel (Gen. 4:6). God warned Cain that sin was crouching at the door. He was to rule over the desire that had awakened in his heart. Cain never asked the question, “How can I please God?” He simply followed his desires.

What. Have you ever considered the kinds of temptations to which you are most susceptible? Hebrews 12:1 makes a point of saying that each of us should avoid the sin (singular) which so easily entangles. While all temptations are common to man (1 Cor. 10:13), each of us has different temptations that seem especially appealing to our flesh. Categorize your own. Then find the specific Scriptures that combat those temptations.

Why. Understanding your motive for sinning is critical to victory. This is perhaps the most basic question to address, yet the one most often overlooked. Is this pleasing to God or is this pleasing to self? Eve made the choice in the garden to please herself, and so did Adam. He would rather die to be with his wife than live without her (Gen. 3:6). He chose to please himself rather than to please God. A friend of mine captured it this way:

There are only two choices on the shelf: loving God or loving self (Ken Collier).

When. Bruce Wilkerson surveyed men who struggled with internet pornography. Their answers were anonymous and nearly unanimous. His study revealed that most men struggled with internet pornography late on Friday and Saturday nights. With the work behind them and a free weekend ahead of them, they filled their imagined free time with a costly sinful addiction.  Knowing the most likely time for temptation allows you to prepare spiritually for the battle.

Where. I once helped a man who struggled with drunkenness. I grew accustomed to receiving a call at about 4:30 Monday through Friday. He not only knew the time of his temptation, but he knew where it was most likely to occur: A traffic circle north of his home. That’s where the bar was. He would call my cell phone and I would pray with him. One day he remarked, “It’s amazing how that temptation weakens when I get on the other side of the traffic circle.” Do you know where you are tempted? In our home we have a family policy that the family computer is in the kitchen with the monitor facing the door. Even with accountability software on our computers, location matters. Private locations intensify temptation.  

Who. Who’s with you when you’re tempted? Are they a help or a stumbling block? Do they draw you closer to Christ or away from him? Are they the one’s you most admire? (See Phil. 4:9). Who are you following—both literally and on twitter? The Scripture says,

Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33)

These are the six key questions that help us analyze stubborn temptations, develop a plan by God’s grace, and realize our need for total dependence upon the Lord (Phil. 4:13).