Fill in the blank: I want ______________.
Today, I have wanted meat (my new workout regime has me craving protein), a wicker tea tray, a cute Aztec cardigan, Piper & Leaf tea (Front Porch Blend and/or Peach), water, time alone, to be thinner, a magic solution to moving issues (going from a larger kitchen with a pantry to a smaller kitchen with no pantry, #movingprobs), a book contract, tickets to Wicked, everything I have pinned on Pinterest, a haircut, salvation for the Togolese, and not to waste time with the girls God has put in my life. Oh, and let’s not forget, a husband. And that’s just the list off the top of my head from today.
We all have things we want. We have appetites – God-given appetites. The problem comes with where we go and what we do to satiate our cravings. Look at Eve in the Garden of Eden. She had a desire for wisdom (Gen. 3:6), which in and of itself is a good thing, but she sought wisdom outside of God, listened to horrible counsel from the serpent, and ate the forbidden fruit, introducing sin to the human race. Abraham and Sarah had a desire for children so strong that after decades of infertility they chose for Abraham to have sex with Sarah’s servant to produce a child instead of waiting on God to fulfill His promise (Gen. 16), and Esau hungered for food but chose to trade his birthright for a bowl of stew (Gen. 25:29-34). Along these lines, G.K. Chesterton once said, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” We all have desires for acceptance, affirmation, security, etc., but like the man searching for love from a prostitute, if we do not turn to God as our sufficiency then we will find nothing but emptiness and a craving that becomes even more insatiable.
Why the Hunger Pains?
Have you ever stopped to think why God allows us to hunger (not literally)? I had lunch today with a precious Samford girl wrestling with the common college student question of what God has for her after graduation, and she noted how if she had the answer up front, she would not be spending as much time turning to God. Her lack of an answer right now – her lack of what she wants, which is direction and the security it brings – has caused her dependence on God to increase and her relationship with God to deepen.
Immediate gratification might lead us to utter a quick thank-you to God for His good gift (maybe, if we remember), but God wants more for us than we want for ourselves. Sometimes He withholds to teach us to hunger rightly. The hunger is already there, but when the fulfillment of that hunger is beyond us, it should motivate us to turn to Him. Now, this does not mean that we treat God like our personal genie where if we turn to Him, we'll magically get what we want. Another conversation today with a different girl involved her recognizing that her motives for becoming more consistent in time with God and for pursuing greater contentment in Him found root in an attempt to manipulate God into giving her a husband. "If I do this for God, then He'll give me what I want." She recognized this as the false theology that it is.
As Russell Moore puts it, would you rather be “fathered or fed”? Do you want what you want when you want it? Will you manipulate circumstances, take control, and make it happen for yourself (whatever “it” is)? Or do you want Him more than you want “it”? Would you rather have Him? Can you sing the following lyrics and truly mean them? “Give me Jesus! Give me Jesus! You can have all this world. Give me Jesus.”
Open Hand or Vise Grip?
When I was dating this guy during my seminary days, I had an “open hand policy” about the relationship. While I was in this relationship, my pastor at the time preached sermon after sermon about having a blank check with God. Think about that – a blank check. My mind flashes back to the '90s Disney movie with the kid who somehow gets his hands on a blank check, fills it in for a million dollars, cashes it, and blows it on a house, stuff, and entertainment. To intentionally hand someone a blank check requires an incredible amount of trust.
My open hand policy was a variation of the blank check. I could either hold that relationship with an open hand, or I could hold on to it with a vise grip. Tightly gripping it indicated my desire for control, to make things happen the way I wanted them to. But an open hand demonstrated my trust in God to either make the relationship progress or to take it away if it wasn’t His will. Well, guess what. It wasn’t His will. The open hand policy – the blank check – got me a broken heart (and motivated me to take up running. Gotta love exercise-induced endorphins).
What I wanted was the happily ever after. The ring. The wedding. The person to have and to hold till death do us part. The two kids with the Pottery Barn house and the dog (although the dog was negotiable). I wanted to be fed. I had a desire, and I wanted God to fulfill that desire (still do, in fact).
Sometimes, God’s sovereignty conflicts with our desires, and His plans for us do not correspond with our desires. God cares about what I want and about what you want. But He also knows what is best, and sometimes, what I want is not what’s best for me. He loves me enough to tell me “no,” to protect me from getting what I want, to protect me from myself. He’s more interested in fathering me, but often, I would rather prefer being fed. His fathering me in that dating relationship meant that the relationship ended, and in hindsight, I am so thankful.
What God has prepared for me may not line up with what I have prepared for myself, but it is so much better (1 Cor. 2:9). As I look back on all that God has taught me and grown me and on all of the college girls He has given me the privilege to walk alongside, I think how I could have so easily missed all of this had I gotten what I wanted five years ago. What He had for me was so much greater than what I had planned for myself, and the greatness of it has been measured in Kingdom impact, changed lives, and a deeper relationship with God.
It is easy to trust God when I am being fed. It gets tougher when I am hungry with no food in sight and when I have to rely on Him to provide and to satisfy. But I turn to Him more often when I lack. My longings propel me to God. The problem is not my desire for marriage (or even for someone just to take me to dinner and a movie). The problem begins when that desire becomes greater than my desire for the Lord. Have you submitted your preferences and desires to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Do you have an open hand policy, a blank check, with Him?
Now vs. Eternity
A desire to be fed brings my attention to the here and now. My vision narrows, and everything else lessens in its importance except the fulfillment of that desire. I become irritable – maybe even angry - at whatever interferes with my pursuit and attainment of said desire. But a desire to be fathered draws my attention to what is eternal. It becomes easier to forsake the momentary for what will last. I endure the hunger because I prefer the end result.
A noted characteristic of physical poverty involves a lack of foresight and planning for the future because people in poverty live in the moment. They are concerned with today and what is directly in front of them. For someone without adequate food or other basic necessities, why would I plan for tomorrow or a year from now or ten years from now when I don’t even know if I will make it through today? But most of us humans (including us as Christ-followers) live with this poverty mindset when it comes to our desires. Why wouldn’t I satisfy myself today? If I do not look to the return of Christ, to the glory of what is to come, and to the worthiness of Almighty God, then why shouldn’t I feed myself when I’m hungry? We need a vision of the eternal! We need a greater vision of our God!
We serve a Savior who put on human flesh and who felt what we feel. He experienced desire. He hungered. And as He spent forty days in the wilderness after His baptism, Satan tempted Him (Matt. 4). As the Creator of the universe, He could have easily fulfilled His own desires, but for Jesus to have done so in the wilderness would mean that He elevated His desires above communion with God and fulfillment of God’s mission. Jesus had a vision of God and of His purpose that enabled Him to resist temptation, to resist His own desires.
Dealing with Cravings
Did you know that most cravings subside after thirty minutes? Knowing this, when desire wells up inside, I can choose how to endure those thirty minutes (or however long the craving lasts). I can be ready with a game plan. A plan that does not involve retail therapy, alcohol, porn, loads of chocolate (or whatever your comfort food is), people, or anything else that we try to substitute for God. Psychologists call this "urge surfing."
How do you normally respond when those moments of intense desire hit you? What’s been your MO thus far? How has it been working for you? Are you a prisoner to your own desires and affections? Have you made an idol out of them? Do you want “it” more than you want God? Here’s the thing, giving in to your desires fails to subside the burning, fill the ache, or enduringly satisfy. There’s a difference between satiation and satisfaction. You give a starving kid a bowl of rice, and his hunger will be satiated. But his body will not be satisfied with all of the nutrients needed to function properly and to sustain his life in good health. Which scenario do you prefer for yourself – satiation or satisfaction?
Let your cravings lead you to God. Everything else is but a poor substitute for what only He can provide. What are you thirsty or hungry for? How are you currently satisfying those desires? Identify those longings or your current methods of satisfying yourself. Expose the counterfeits, the things that you are substituting for God. Confess sin and turn from it. And meditate on the goodness of God and the truth of His Word.
“When obedience to God contradicts what I think will give me pleasure, let me ask myself if I love Him. If I can say yes to that question, can’t I say yes to pleasing Him? Can’t I say yes even if it means a sacrifice? A little quiet reflection will remind me that yes to God always leads in the end to joy.” -Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity
For more on this subject, I recommend Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore, Surfing for God by Michael John Cusick, "Fathered Through Temptation" by The Village Church, and "The Idolatry of Appetites" by Marian Jordan Ellis.