All posts tagged Desire

An Interesting Quote from Eugene Peterson on the Trinity

The following excerpt is taken from Eugene H. Peterson’s book Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids; 2006) pages 31-33.  It is a lengthy quote and may need to be read several times, but it speaks with great clarity (at least in the mind of this blogger) to the times in which we live.  The bold-faced, under-lined, and italicized text have been added to Dr. Peterson’s work to add emphasis to the portions this blogger believes capture the essence of texts meaning.

“Here’s how it works. It is important to observe that in the formulation of this new Trinity that defines the self as the sovereign text for living, the Bible is neither ignored nor banned; it holds; it holds, in fact, an honored place. But the three-personal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is replaced by a very individualized personal Trinity of my Holy Wants, my Holy Needs, and my Holy Feelings.

We live in an age in which we have all been trained from the cradle to choose for ourselves what is best for us. We have a few years of apprenticeship at this before we are sent out on our own, but the training begins early. By the time we can hold a spoon we choose between half a dozen cereals for breakfast, ranging from Cheerios to Corn Flakes. Our tastes, inclinations, and appetites are consulted endlessly. We are soon deciding what clothes we will wear and in what style we will have our hair cut. The options proliferate: what TV channels we will view, what courses we will take in school, what college we will attend, what courses we will sign up for, what model and color of car we will buy, what church we will join. We learn early, with multiple confirmations as we grow older, that we have a say in the formation of our lives and, within certain bounds, the decisive say. If the culture does a thorough job on us – and it turns out to be mighty effective with most of us – we enter adulthood with the working assumption that whatever we need and want and feel forms the divine control center of our lives.

The new Holy Trinity. The sovereign self expresses itself in Holy Needs, Holy Wants, and Holy Feelings. The time and intelligence that our ancestors spent on understanding the sovereignty revealed in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are directed by our contemporaries in affirming and validating the sovereignty of our needs, wants, and feelings.

My needs are non-negotiable. My so-called rights, defined individually, are fundamental to my identity. My need for fulfillment, for expression, for affirmation, for sexual satisfaction, for respect, my need to get my own way – all these provide a foundation to the centrality of me and fortify my self against diminution.

My wants are evidence of my expanding sense of kingdom. I train myself to think big because I am big, important, significant. I am larger than life and so require more and more goods and services, more things and more power. Consumption and acquisition are the new fruits of the spirit.

My feelings are the truth of who I am. Any thing or person who can provide me with ecstasy, with excitement, with joy, with stimulus, with spiritual connection validates my sovereignty. This, of course, involves employing quite a large cast of therapists, travel agents, gadgets and machines, recreations and entertainments to cast out the devils of boredom or loss or discontent – all the feelings that undermine or challenge my self-sovereignty.

In the last two hundred years a huge literature, both scholarly and popular, has developed around understanding this new Holy Trinity of Needs, Wants, and Feelings that make up the sovereign self. It amounts to an immense output of learning. Our new class of spiritual masters is composed of scientists and economists, physicians and psychologists, educators and politicians, writers and artists. They are every bit as intelligent and passionate as our earlier church theologians and every bit as religious and serious, for they know that what they come up with has enormous implications for everyday living. The studies they conduct and the instruction they provide in the service of the god that is us, the godhead composed by our Holy Needs, Holy Wants, and Holy Feelings, are confidently pursued and very convincing. It is very hard not to be convinced with all these experts giving their witness. Under their tutelage I become quite sure that I am the authoritative text for the living of my life.

We might suppose that the preaching of this new Trinitarian religion poses no great threat to people who are baptized in the threefold name of the Trinity, who regularly and prayerfully recite the Trinitarian Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, who begin prayers with the invocation, “Our Father…,” who daily get out of bed to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior and frequently sing, “Come Holy Spirit, heavenly dove. . . .”

But this rival sovereignty is couched in such spiritual language, and we are so easily convinced of our own spiritual sovereignty, that it does catch our attention. The new spiritual masters assure us that all our spiritual needs are included in the new Trinity: our need for meaning and transcendence, our wanting a larger life, our feelings of spiritual significance – and, of course, there is plenty of space to make room for God, as much or as little as you like. The new Trinity doesn’t get rid of God or the Bible, it merely puts them to the service of needs, wants, and feelings. Which is fine with us, for we’ve been trained all our lives to treat everyone and everything that way. It goes with the territory. It’s the prerogative of sovereignty (pg 31-33).”

What Makes Heaven, Heavenly?

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“The point is not that God will refuse you admission to His eternal world if you have not got certain qualities of character: the point is that if people have not got at least the beginnings of those qualities inside them, then no possible external conditions could make a ‘Heaven’ for them – that is, could make them happy with the deep, strong, un-shakable kind of happiness God intends for you (p. 81).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Am I prepared to enjoy Heaven? When I take away the presumed “yes,” then this question is quite startling. I might be the kind of person for whom Heaven would be miserable or, at best, boring. Heaven might be an acquired taste that only those who have been transformed by God can enjoy.

Considering this question for a moment has made me realize how self-centeredly I have thought about Heaven. Honestly, I have always thought of it as my Heaven more than God’s Heaven. I thought of it as an eternal playground built for my preferences and specifications. I thought of it as a place where “my will be done” was the guiding force.

Unless that changes, my Heaven might actually be Hell (C.S. Lewis fully develops this theme in his book The Great Divorce). Unless my way of thinking were renewed ,then my dreams come true would be so inherently contradictory, consuming, exhausting, disappointing, or otherwise damaging that if I had to live with them for eternity it would be torturous.

This reveals another dimension of my depravity: I am unable to enduringly desire and enjoy God’s goodness apart from His grace. This should humble me greatly, but not necessarily in the sense of shame (which is not really humility at all). It should humble me when I disgruntedly try to tell God He has not been good.

Discontentment is predicated on the assumption that I know (or get to define) what is truly good. If C.S. Lewis is right about Heaven, then discontentment is not only wrong but foolish. I am much more like my 4 year old who wants to only eat marshmallows for every meal than I cared to admit. I think I know what happiness (Heaven) is and am offended by anyone (even God) who would tell me differently.

If I truly believed this, I would pray differently. I would ask more questions and seek more guidance while making fewer petitions. Not that petitions are bad, but my petition-to-question ratio displays a confidence that I know what I am asking for and how it should be defined.

I pray, “Lord, help me lead a healthy family” assuming I know what “good” is and what “lead” means. It might do me more good (in terms of refining my character, not altering God’s willingness to answer) to pray, “Lord, show me more of what a good family is and how you would have a husband to lead one.” With that prayer, I am allowing God to define Heaven and lead me into it rather than verbally drawing the dots and asking God to connect them.

This view of Heaven excites me more than my previous perspective. This understanding reveals how Heaven can truly be “better than I imagined” because my imagination is not yet prepared to ask for Heaven. But as God continues to refine me I will see more clearly through a dim glass and those things that I want will be in line with the eternally satisfying place God has prepared for His children.

Communication with Our Desires “On the Table”

Communication is hard, especially “in the moment.”  It is one thing to be convicted by a sermon on the power of the tongue or the way our words reveal our heart.  It is another thing to be “in the moment” with your spouse (child, sibling, parent, friend, co-worker, enemy, etc…) and to have the awareness, self-control, courage, and humility to acknowledge what is ruling your heart and change the direction of the “discussion.”  That is the purpose of this article, to help you “in the moment.”

The battle begins with awareness.  You must be able to answer the question: what is it that consistently rules your heart?  Do not say, “Nothing.”  Whenever we sin, we are loving something more than God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.  In addition, we are loving something more than our neighbor—usually self.  It is fair to say that for most people this “something” usually orbits around a particular theme: peace, respect, affirmation, appreciation, fairness, order, predictability, status, power, influence, affection, etc…

If this is a new thought for you, or if you have trouble identifying your “something,” take this opportunity to read Ken Sande’s excellent article “The Heart of Conflict.”

Once you know your heart theme, you are a step closer towards being ready “in the moment.”  The next step is to humbly confess to your spouse that this is the theme of much of your sinful actions during conflict.  If you are unwilling to confess to your spouse when you are calm and “out of the moment,” it is unlikely you will repent and change when this theme has activated your defensiveness and self-justification.  This confession might sound something like this:

“Snoochums [or your preferred pet name], I have recognized that when I sin against you in conflict it is usually because I want appreciation [or your “something”] more than I want to honor you in that moment.  Appreciation is important, but not more important than treating you with love and honor.  When I raise my voice, call you names, give you the silent treatment, distort your words, walk away, change subjects abruptly, make false accusations, and things like that [make statements that reveal your conflict patterns], I am punishing you to try to get appreciation [or your “something”].  That is both wrong and ineffective.  I am committing to trying to see and acknowledge that in the midst of our future disagreements.

Now that you have your “something” (as Ken Sande would say “idol”) identified and acknowledged it to your spouse, you can put your imagination to work.  What object best represents this “something” to you?  There are no right answers here, so long as the object is not offensive or inflammatory.  For our case study moving forward we will say there is a husband (Bill) whose “something is order and is represented by his PDA and a wife (Sue) whose “something” is affection and is represented by a heart-shaped pillow.

Bill and Sue have a conversation that begins to go nowhere fast.  Bill remembers his confession above and asks Sue to sit at the table for the talk.  They acknowledge their thematic idols, commit to honor one another in the conversation, and say a quick prayer for God to give them awareness of their own hearts as they work towards unity and agreement.

Bill goes to get four items to bring to the table: two copies of a picture of them as a couple, his PDA, and a heart-shaped pillow.  Each spouse sits down with a copy of a picture in their hand and their item on the table in front of them.  The rules are simple.  If either begins to communicate with dishonor (raised voice, calling names, silent treatment, distort the other’s words, walking away, changing subjects abruptly, making false accusations, etc…), they must put down the couple picture and pick up their “something.”  This is visualization of their heart at that moment.  In that moment of dishonor, they are discarding the marriage for their desired “something.”

If they pick up their desired object, they are faced with a choice: repent or harden my heart.  Hopefully they will see the sinfulness and foolishness of their choice.  Neither order nor affection will be attained through dishonor.  As they see this, the offending spouse should put down their object, repent to his/her spouse, pick up the picture again, and ask to resume the conversation.

Once the conversation is culminated the couple is ready to see the Gospel in their marriage (Ephesians 5:32).  However, culminated does not mean resolved.  The conversation may have only reached a stopping point or a point of agreed mutual reflection.  But it did so with honor.

Here is the Gospel in this moment:

And he [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.  For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”  (Luke 9:23-25 ESV)

Bill and Sue have denied themselves and been willing to lose their life (or at least that “something” they had centered their life upon).  At this point, Bill can pick up that heart-shaped pillow, hand it to his wife with a hug and a kiss, and affirm to her that he has loved her as himself.  Sue can pick up Bill’s PDA, hand it to her husband, and affirm to her husband that their marriage is moving towards a place of sustainable order.  In their willingness to die to self and lose their life they have saved what is most precious.  In effect, this process of conflict resolution can be as much a picture of the Gospel as baptism or the Lord’s Supper.  We can see the Gospel enacted and participate in the drama (that is what an “ordinance” is) in our homes with each conflict.

This is hard!  But it is worth it!  It is the battle between our flesh and the Spirit (Galatians 5: 19-26).  But this methodology gives us tools to allow biblical insight to bear fruit “in the moment” of conflict.  Acknowledge your heart to your spouse.  Place your heart on the table in the midst of the conflict.  As the conflict unfolds, maintain honor so that the two of you can encourage one another with the Gospel truth “whoever would loses his life for my sake will save it.”

10 Pre-Marital Questions on Sex (Part 8)

This series of blogs comes from FAQ’s from the guys in Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry. They represent a conglomeration of questions from many different husbands-to-be during the Engaged Discovery Weekend. If you are interested in serving as a marriage mentor or are engaged, click here to learn more about Summit’s “Preparing for Marriage” ministry.

How do we control the carnal nature of ourselves and replace it with selfless love that the Bible teaches with regards to sex in marriage?

I think the most effective place to begin with this question is with the verb “replace.” The verb implies that we need to remove one type of desire, discard it, find another type of desire, and fill the void with this new desire. I would recommend we use the verb “transform” instead.

Let me illustrate the difference with an extended quote from Joshua Harris as he summarizes C.S. Lewis.

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis tells an allegorical story about a ghost of a man afflicted by lust. Lust is incarnated in the form of a red lizard that sits on his shoulder and whispers seductively in his ear. When the man despairs about the lizard, an angel offers to kill it for him. But the fellow is torn between loving his lust and wanting it to die. He fears that the death of the lust will kill him. He makes excuse after excuse to the angel, trying to keep the lizard he says he doesn’t want.

Finally, the man agrees to let the angel seize and kill the lizard. The angel grasps the reptile, breaks its neck and throws it to the ground. Once the spell of lust is broken, the ghostly man is gloriously remade into a real solid being. And the lizard, rather than dying, is transformed into a breathtaking stallion. Weeping tears of joy and gratitude, the man mounts the horse and they soar into the heavens (p. 27-28 in Sex Is Not the Problem Lust Is).

Lewis is portraying that selfish lust is a distortion of selfless love. It is the real thing made perverse. Our goal is not ultimately to destroy the perversion, but to die to it so that God can transform it back into the blessing He intended it to be. It is not the desire that dies, but self. As desire is freed from the bondage of self, it becomes the reflection (image) of God it was intended to be and transforms from a curse (burden) into a blessing.

It is always good to quote C.S. Lewis if you want to sound smart (hence, I quote him frequently), but this concept needs to become more practical if God is going to use it to “transform” our lives. The following list of ideas is meant to help you transform selfish lust into selfless love.

1. Focus on your spouse’s pleasure during sex and foreplay. Getting lost in your own pleasure during sex tends to make the experience shorter and less intense. Watch her eyes and face. Listen to her voice. Give a massage that helps her to relax and prepare for sex. As you massage express thanks for the things she has done to grow tense or tired (see #3 below). Rejoice in the fact that God has allowed you to love this woman in a way that blesses her and brings her joy.

2. Daydream about how to make sex more meaningful and satisfying for your spouse. Daydreaming tends to be a very self-centered practice. We think about what we want most. Then (because our spouse cannot read our mind) we have a tendency to be disappointed. Counter this by allowing your desires to drive you to become a more creative and expressive lover. At the end of the day you are more likely to experience a dream come true if you daydream this way.

3. Verbally affirm your spouse during sex. Sex can be verbal. “I love you. You are my best friend. Thank you for giving yourself to me. You are an incredible blessing. You make me feel very loved. I enjoy loving you. It is a joy to be your husband,” and similar statements should be made frequently. Occasional references to key events in your courtship, honeymoon, marriage, or future dreams can be meaningful especially during foreplay.

4. Do not stop loving your spouse after the climax of sex. It is easy to become selfish again after climax and to retreat back into one’s own world or think the love making is over. Taking time to continue to hold, caress, talk, or look into each other’s eyes is an important way that you were not just engaging is a highly pleasurable form of personal recreation, but that you were making love to a person who is immensely important to you.

If these do not sound exciting to you, then there is some transformative work that God needs to do. In light of these things, I would encourage you to meditate on Luke 9:23-24. Pray that God would allow you to see the Gospel in your marriage (Eph. 5:32) to such a degree that even in sex your greatest pleasure would be found in sacrificing your pleasure for your spouse’s. Trust that when this happens, you will have found the “(sex) life” (v. 24) you were aiming for all along.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Sex and Sexuality” post which address other facets of this subject.

Good Things Wrong Methods

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“But pleasure, money, power and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that the people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way (p. 42).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

The phrase, “Is it so bad for me to want [blank]?” is a dangerous question. It is a chief culprit of many a discussion, turned argument, turned broken relationship. The speaker feels completely justified in his/her actions (notice the change from desire/want to behavior/attitude) because his/her motive was legitimate.

The conversation can go in dozens of satirical directions:

  • “I guess I don’t know anything if it is wrong to want that.”
  • “Well, tell me you wouldn’t be upset if you had to do without that.”
  • “I read a book and it said this was a ‘need’ of people.”
  • “If you don’t do/give what I want, then you’ll have to do without what you want.”

The problem is that the speaker does not hear what he/she is saying. The reason process goes like this:

  1. If I have a good desire
  2. Then my actions are righteous
  3. You are mean, crazy, insensitive, or stupid if you do not cooperate

The striking thing about what C.S. Lewis has to say is that “desperately wicked” people want good things. That should cause us to pause.

What does it mean to pursue a good thing in the wrong way?

  1. To love that thing in a way that results in replacing God as our source of joy, security, contentment, identity, hope, or peace. Notice how in the dialogue snippets above the absence of the “good desire” is perceived as a threat.
  2. To love that thing in a way that allows us to dishonor, ignore, cheat, violate, or abuse another person in the pursuit of what we want. Notice how in the dialogue snippets above the other person is demeaned and trivialized in the pursuit of the “good desire.”

As I consider this (again), I realize how much my greatest battle is within me. It is so easy to be blind to this. I can go through my day pursuing the things God wants me to have and quickly/quietly drift into idolizing those desires and demonizing my closest companions—the whole time providing proof texts and research to substantiate my blindness.

What is the answer to this dilemma? Humility expressed in community. Notice how little listening is going on in the conversation snippets above. Humility invites critique (both of desire and pursuit). However, unless we are regularly inviting people to speak into our lives this way we will not have the attitude or access to receive perspective in our moments of temptation.

What Would Make a Devil of Us?

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide (p.11).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I cannot say that I have ever thought about becoming a devil, even for a Halloween costume, but as I read this quote from C.S. Lewis it was not the way I thought (if I did think about it) of becoming one.

My instincts said, “I would have to intentionally engage in sinister activities for prolonged periods of time with malice-aforethought in order to become a devil.” As I think about it, though, that is exactly what C.S. Lewis was saying; only the sinister activities are wearing the “costumes” of innocent desires (i.e., impulses).

Impulses such as golf, Facebook Farmville (now I’m stepping on toes), reading, parenting, working, eating, a special diet, theology, loving, being loved, education, and any other pleasure are forms of worship.  When we do these things we are delighting in them and declaring them worthy of our full, concentrated attention (intentionality from my thought in paragraph 2).

When we “set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs” we are declaring it our god. This impulse begins to play all the roles that the true God ought to play – determining right/wrong, good/bad, worth my time, friend/enemy, degree of value, etc… Those who agree and cooperate with my impulse are “righteous” and those who do not are deserving of wrath.

Because I believe I am right (and everyone should agree with me) I follow my impulse for a prolonged period of time. I even begin to read my Bible through the lens of my impulse and God’s Word is muzzled because I read it to say (affirm) only what I am already living for.

Because I have declared my impulse good (and it probably is except for what I am doing with it), I begin to plan my life around the pursuit of this impulse (malice-aforethought in paragraph 2). My schedule and daydreaming become substantially shaped by my impulse.

The end result is that I have a god who is not God and I am verbally and nonverbally declaring its glory to the world around me. All the time the sinister-ness of what I am doing masquerades in the costume of an innocent desire and I do not realize that I have become more devil-ish than God-like.

So the caution is that (1) we should never let what we do for God become our god and (2) we should never mistake the blessings of God as our god. Both are such tempting (but deep) pitfalls.

In light of this consider the story of the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-30). RYR viewed his material possessions as his “stamp of approval” from God in typical Jewish (and often modern Christian) fashion. When Jesus asked RYR to trade God’s blessings for eternity with God, RYR could not let go of God’s blessings to take hold of God’s person.

His “impulse” was to follow God’s rules to secure God’s blessings. It was the absolute rule of his life that he followed at all cost. He came to Jesus asking for more rules to follow for another blessing. He went away sad (to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth) because his good impulse (being good for God’s rewards) had “made a devil” of him.

Good and Bad Desires Do Not Exist

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“It is a mistake to think that some of our impulses—say mother love or patriotism—are good, and, others, like sex or the fighting instinct, are bad… Strictly speaking, there are no such things as good and bad impulses. Think once again of a piano. It has not got two kinds of notes on it, the ‘right’ notes and the ‘wrong’ ones. Every single note is right at one time and wrong at another. The Moral Law is not any one instinct or set of instincts; it is something which makes a kind of tune (the tune we call goodness or right conduct) by directing the instincts (p.11).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I think we too often treat good and bad as qualities (like hot and cold or sweet and sour) instead of directions (like East and West or high and low). In terms of what Lewis is saying, if good and bad are qualities then particular impulses inherently have a particular quality. For instance, mother love would be good in the same way that a jalapeño is hot. The definition of jalapeño necessarily includes hot.

Yet mother love can be both good and bad. Mother love is at the root of fond childhood memories and the negative cliché’s associated with the title “mother-in-law.” This is where the metaphor of direction (towards or away from God) is helpful. If I am traveling North to New York City and reach Canada, then I have gone too far North. North was originally “good” but the excess now makes South “good” and continuing North “bad.”

The movement of the “direction” is love.  Too often we try to think of sin as hate and holiness as love. But in actuality all sin is love and holiness is also love (just in the opposite direction). Consider the Great Commandment passage:

And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).”

If the command to is to love God first and neighbor second, then I break this command by loving something or someone else first and second.  Therefore, all sin is love (in the wrong direction or order). Hence, Paul would warn Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim. 6:10).”

Hopefully this will help us in our battle with sin. Too often we have turned to God and His Word asking, “Tell me what I should and should not do; should and should not feel; should and should not think.”  This is a request for labels; not direction (or a tune).

Now, as we turn to God and His Word we can ask, “Tell me where my love should go; what should it sound like; what is the outcome I should strive for?” The answer to this question is not primarily rules, but outcomes.

A young pianist memorizes notes (and this is good for the novice). An experienced pianist reads the music, understands how the music is to “move” the audience, and delivers a song. As we read God’s Word and learn to follow it, let us begin with memorizing notes (learning good from bad), but let us not be content until we allow the Word to “move” us in the rhythm and direction of God’s heart.