I recently read Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton which inspired my thoughts for this letter. On the whole, I recommend the book to you.
“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” (Col. 3:1-2 NLT) Imagine a jet plane with two engines, the engine of ‘desperation’ and the engine of ‘desire.’ Both of these engines are needed in order to overcome the continual downward pull of the world, the devil and the flesh in order to lift off and soar into the heavenly realm to know the living God. Many of us are more inclined to seek hard after God (Psalm 42) in times of trouble and desperation although some actually turn away from God in tough times in anger toward Him. Thus we may get better (more sanctified) or bitter in difficult times. But wisdom teaches us to run to the One who loves us most in times of pain even if it is self-caused pain. Yet, if we only seek the Lord in times of trouble it reveals the shallowness of our love for Him; i.e., we may know we need Him but we really don’t deeply desire Him. In Scripture, we see both ‘desperation for God’ and ‘desire for God’ working in the lives of many of the saints: for example, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter and Paul.
In her book Barton uses the account of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 when he was desperate and even wanted to die. Over a forty day period when he was alone with the Lord (solitude and silence) Elijah processed his painful emotions with the Lord and heard the Lord speak to him in a still small voice. He was refreshed, encouraged and given his next assignment from the Lord. He went on to finish well “the race marked out for him” (Hebrews 12:1) as he mentored Elisha and prepared him to take the baton of faith and continue the good work of God.
As I reflected on the theme of knowing God through desperation and desire it occurred to me that the content of our desire is probably the most important thing about us. If our desire for God comes down to simply wanting Him to give us a happy life, then when things are going relatively well for us we will lose our passion to know Him more intimately and thus cease to grow. It seems from the example below from Paul’s life and other Scriptures that God calls us to desire 1) to know Him intimately (John 17:3) and 2) through this knowledge, to be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ – the model and the means to becoming what God calls us to be. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:28-29 NLT – Also see 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 4:19)
Let’s look at this in Paul’s life: First, desperation for God: “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Cor. 1: 8-9 NLT) The question we must ask ourselves in the many trials the Lord allows in our lives is, am I relying on God or myself? Am I earnestly seeking God’s help and wisdom or my own wisdom and the wisdom of man? James tells us to ask God for wisdom in our trials, not just to get out of the trial but to learn what we really believe about God (“the testing of our faith” – James 1:2-5). If we don’t believe that God is all-loving, all-wise and all- powerful as Scripture tells us He is over and over again, we have flunked the test of faith and will turn to our own resources. We may even solve the problem temporarily but we will fail to grow in the knowledge of who God really is.
Now let’s look at Paul’s greatest desire, his holy ambition: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord (intimately), for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ. I want to know Christ (more intimately) and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (becoming like Christ in living a sacrificial life of love and service for others). Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (See Philippians 3:7-14)
Now if we put these two together we see that if our greatest desire is to be more and more like Jesus in living a sacrificial life of love and service for others to the glory of God (Phil. 2:5-11) we will remain in a continual state of desperation for God’s power to change us into the image of His Son. And to add even more motivation to our desire to be conformed to the image of Jesus, Paul tells us that the only thing that will survive the fire of God’s judgment for us as believers is the character of Christ (“gold, silver, costly stones”) that has been formed in us (See 1 Cor. 3:10-15), especially sacrificial love. “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Cor. 13:1-7 NLT)
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30) “Soul rest” trusts all the trials and outcomes of our lives into the hands of God. (See Hebrews 4:9) Our Lord Himself perfectly submitted to the Father and obeyed His will all the way to the cross. He modeled humility which is absolute dependence on God (desperation) out of a desire to be totally submitted to God for His honor and glory thus accurately reflecting the very image of God. God is not only all-loving, all-wise and all- powerful, but the God that spoke the world into existence, is humble. For it is said of Jesus who described Himself as gentle and humble that, “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being (expresses the very character of God.” (Hebrews 1:3 NIV and NLT)
May we like Paul make it our greatest ambition to intimately know the Lord and in rightly knowing Him, rightly respond to Him in passionate love and humble, sacrificial service and reflect His character to a world that desperately needs Him.
Until He comes,
Len and Kristen