Today the Catholic Church celebrates Ash Wednesday and the beginning of a fresh season of Lent, in preparation for the remembrance of Jesus’ Passion and the celebration of his Resurrection at Easter. Holy Week & Easter remind us of the great love of God, seen in Jesus’ birth, suffering, death and resurrection for us – for you and for me – and invite us to be renewed in that love.
God’s great desire is that we find what our hearts ache for – the fulfillment of the deepest longings of our hearts – to be known & loved, for peace, for justice, for freedom and so on. He also knows that those deep desires of our hearts can only be filled in relationship with Him. And so, Jesus came to make the way for us to receive healing and freedom and remove every obstacle, in the way of that intimacy with Him.
A big mark of our human brokenness – and the result of the Fall – is this tendency we all have to sabotage ourselves. We tend to attach our desires to an object/relationships/goal in this world, believing that it will give us that, for which our hearts long. For example, over the last two years, God showed me how I’ve tended to plug my desire for approval into what I can produce in ministry. Or how I’ve linked my desire for significance with numbers in programs that I’ve run. Not that these things are bad in themselves, but they can never satisfy those deep longings of my heart. (And when I pursue them with the intent to fill my own desires, it becomes a self-centred pursuit, which taints what I do). Desires are a receptacle for God and can only be satisfied by him directly, through relationship with him.
Paul describes it this way in Romans 7, which is a lot about desire. “For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self; but I see in my members (my human-ness), another law at war with the law in my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (v 22-23) *
So, what does that mean? Paul is saying: Ok, in my mind – in my head, I can see God’s law and I want it and I can say, ‘Yes, I’m going to choose God’s law.’ But deep inside me there’s this other law – there’s this thing of desire, that rises up & says, ‘No, I’m not gonna sacrifice what is right; because I want this; I need this.’ And it wars against my will. And the lesson of Romans 7 – if you summed it all up – is: when my will fights my desire, my desire wins. Paul even says, ‘I can will what I want, but I can’t do it. And one of the big downfalls of the Christian life for many Christians is: we believe what the Christian life is supposed to look like, is me willing the right thing. And if I will it hard enough, then I will do it. And somehow, we ignore Paul himself saying, ‘I can’t even make that work’.
So, there’s a whole another way to live the Christian life, that isn’t out of will. This death spiral is swept away for those who have Jesus planted within, because the desire-filling life connection with Him sets you free from the tyranny of striving to meet those needs yourself. This enables & empowers us to do what is right, without striving to do so. For example, when I experience Jesus approving me, because of who I am and who I’m becoming, through his work of grace in me, I’m free from the tyranny of constantly performing, to win his approval. And this experience of Jesus filling my desire for approval, frees me to approach what I do in ministry, from a place of fullness and giving, rather than one of need and driven-ness.
This is not automatic, but only works when we leave the old, driven way of chasing our own needs and desires and have heart-level, relational encounters with the Spirit inside us, who is already meeting them (Romans 8:5-8,13). That’s the ever-growing freedom of the Spirit, that we are invited to experience and commit to afresh, each Lent, so that we may continue to grow in it, through the rest of the year. And this is the spiritual intent behind the practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving, during Lent. We’re called to identify the areas, where God is at work in our lives, to make us aware of where we’ve been seeking to attach to the things of this world – pleasure, power and possessions – to fill our desires. And to then to turn to God instead, to allow Him to fill those desires in relationship with Him. This is the kind of prayer that opens up our lives in honesty & trust to God to fill us & set us free, the kind of fast that really matters to God. And which in turn opens us up to give ourselves to others (almsgiving) with generosity and freedom – to love from the heart!
If you’d like to experience these desire-filling encounters with God for yourself, I encourage you to sign up for one of our ‘Questions for Jesus’ e-courses online.
Credit: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
* St. Paul calls this the ‘law of sin’ in Romans 7:23. Traditionally in Catholic theology, it’s called ‘concupiscence’ – the inclination of fallen peole to misuse our free will in sinful and selfish ways. It manifests itself as an unremitting desire for pleasure, power and possessions. Even Christians have to wrestles with this inner force, although Paul insists that the Spirit can give us victory over its unmanageable urges (Romans 8:2,13). So, concupiscence remains in the believer, but it need not rule us like a tyrant (Romans 6:12-14; CCC 405, 1426, 2520; CCC = ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’)