What do you desire?
We are driven by our desires. Now there’s a lot more that could be said about that, you could offer numerous qualifications, but that is the bottom line: we are driven by our desires. Consider your average day. You get out of bed because you want to, and if you don’t want to get out of bed, you eventually get out of bed because you want something else. Perhaps you’re hungry. Perhaps you want to go to work – and if you don’t want to go to work, you at least want to be able to earn money so you can eat etc.! We’ve looked at breakfast and work… what’s next? You shower because you want to be clean, or at least you want to create a good impression with the people you’ll see that day. You take the train instead of driving because you want to save money, you buy coffee and a donut because you want a caffeine and sugar hit, maybe you go for a walk at lunch because you want some fresh air. There are countless other potential examples from everyday life as well. You want to worship so you come to church, you want a nice property so you garden or repair things, you want to marry so you propose, you want a house so you save your money. We are driven by our desires.
Now the first thing to say about this is that there is nothing wrong with desires as such, God made us to be desiring things. When desires are twisted by sin, that’s a problem (Romans 13:14), but in general there’s nothing wrong with desires themselves. In fact, there are many things that God instructs us and encourages us to desire. The Word of God is to be desired (Psalm 19:10), wisdom is to be desired (Proverbs 3:15), spiritual gifts are to be desired (1 Corinthians 14:1). When we come to Christ, and receive His Holy Spirit, we actually receive a whole new set of desires. Whereas our old, sinful nature had corrupted desires, as the Spirit dwells within us our desires are renewed and made pure (Galatians 5:16-17).
But I want to bring this in and make it a bit more specific, I want to talk about the relationship between desires and prayer. Now Scripture makes it clear that when our prayers are flowing out of sinful desires, God will not answer them. James 4:3 says “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” When we desire things rightly, however, and ask them of God in Christ’s name, He will give them to us (John 16:23). The key, of course, is to have our desires rightly ordered according to the will of God. In 1 John 5:14 we read: “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us,” and lest you think that God may hear but not answer, the Apostle John goes on to make things crystal clear: “And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”
Our prayers must therefore be scriptural prayers, they must conform to the will of God. Indeed, this is why our Lord instructs us to pray “Thy will be done” in the Lord’s Prayer. We must therefore know the Word of God, and we must lift that Word back up to God in prayer. Now it’s tricky in some ways, because our desires will always be subtly influenced by our sin.
In this life, we are not fully capable of praying purely according to the will of God. There will be times when we pray for certain things, perhaps even unaware that what we ask for is sinful. Because of this we must keep in mind that God will answer our prayers as He sees fit, and we will not be wholly privy as to how He choses to do that. From our side, again, we simply need to become more and more closely acquainted with God’s will. As we do that, our desires will be continually formed by His, and we will be enabled to pray rightly.
Now I have a point beyond that to make as well, and we’re really getting to the heart of desires now. In John 16:23, Jesus makes this peculiar remark: “In that day you will ask nothing of Me.” The “day” that Jesus refers to, according to the context of the passage, is bound up in His death, burial, and resurrection. The sorrow that the disciples would experience at His death (John 16:20) would be reversed as Christ rose, ascended, and sent His Holy Spirit. In other words, Jesus is saying, in the day when the sorrow of the crucifixion is turned to joy at my resurrection and ascension, in that day you will ask nothing of Me.
But why, in that day, would they ask nothing of Him? The answer is just preceding in verse 22 – it’s because their hearts would be full of joy! Now I find this very interesting. As the disciples’ hearts were filled with joy, they would be so satisfied in Christ that their desires would be met. Questions, like actions, are driven by desires. When the disciples’ hearts were overjoyed and full of Christ, they would thus be contented to ask nothing. When it comes to prayer, this is a good place to be! It is… desirable to be so filled with Christ that the only desire remaining in our hearts is to know more of him. It matters not that we are rich or poor, our circumstances do not vex us, Christ is all to us and our hearts are enraptured in Him!
Perhaps there have been seasons of prayer in your life where you prayed desperately for something that you desired. It is ok to desire various things, and even to make request for them with God. But above all, the greatest thing we can desire is to be known by God and to know Him. This is the heartbeat that the psalmist expresses in Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” As we joy in the cross of Christ, as we are united to Him by faith, there is a joy unspeakable that fills our hearts (1 Peter 1:8). It is this joy in the Risen Christ, flowing from our spiritual union with Him, that causes us to desire Him above all else. It is in this place of rest and delight in Christ that we too will ask nothing of Him. In the Lord’s Prayer we are instructed to pray: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Here then is the heart of that petition: give us this day to be filled with Christ, the bread of life! He is the greatest and highest possible desire we can aspire to. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” Psalm 16:11.
Psalm 27:4 says it all: “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”
Soli Deo Gloria!