My son, Nathan, is almost two years old. His two greatest obsessions at the moment are cookies and cars. He is starting to speak in simple sentences now, and it is a real privilege to watch him learn and grow. From what he says, I am certain that he believes that a limitless supply of cookies and a few sturdy racing car toys would make his life complete.
Fatherhood has taught me a lot about the heart of God, and as Christmas approaches – the first one where Nathan will have even a vague inkling of what is happening – I have been thinking a lot about desire.In particular, this verse from Psalm 37:4 has been on my heart:
“Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Christians seem strangely scared of desire. We have been conditioned into thinking that desire is not okay. As if somehow admitting that sometimes we feel a bit let down by life is blasphemous. But let’s admit it: the kind of contentment promised in this verse doesn’t really match up to the lived reality of any thinking Christian.So often I am left looking at my life and the chaos of the world around me, at the suffering – often of children, or of those who seem to me to “delight in the LORD” more than most – and thinking: there has got to be more to life than this.
Now I am not one for turning a verse quoted out of context into an entire theology, which I think it is relatively easy to do with this verse, and I hope what I am about to say doesn’t fall into that category. But the fact is that this is a problematic verse for many. If God gave us desires, and promises to fulfil those desires, why are we still yearning?
My stance on things spiritual is usually this: if God, who is by definition an infinite being – infinitely wise, infinitely loving, infinitely just – does not conform to my understanding, if His ways are incomprehensible to finite me, then it is not He who is at fault, it is my understanding. That is the only logical conclusion to draw, by the way. One cannot logically blame an infinite being when our finite understanding falls short of comprehending Him.
Clearly an infinitely loving and infinitely wise God would not plant desires in us that he had no intention of fulfilling. Maybe my understanding of what is meant by “the desires of your heart” is faulty.
As I said, fatherhood has taught me much about God, who calls Himself our father. I found something that looks like an answer in Nathan’s cookies and cars. Much as Nathan may think that cookies and cars are what makes life worthwhile, I know differently. As a father I am already saving for his education, working to ensure that all his needs are met, forming meaningful relationships with people who I believe will provide him with a strong support structure later in life, and planning how to raise hims so that he becomes an independent, critical-thinking, proactive man, with Godly character. I can see even now that he is happiest not when he is alone with his cookies and cars, but when his parents are with him, spending meaningful time with him. Even now, the greatest desire of his heart is the security of a loving relationship with his parents and a sense that this will continue in the future.
I suspect we are much like Nathan. We know – although we have not fully understood – that God, as the author of our desires, knows better how to fulfil them than we ever will. He knows the real desires of our hearts, even when we don’t. His thoughts are above ours, and his ways beyond our comprehension (Isaiah 55:8). To quote Tennyson,
“So runs my dream, but what am I?
An infant crying in the night
An infant crying for the light
And with no language but a cry.” (In Memoriam)
I think that as we trust God more, we will see that ‘delighting in the LORD’ and ‘the desires of our hearts’ are essentially the same thing. He provides a security that we are loved, we are treasured, and that won’t change. If we think about it, we will see that those are the real desires of our hearts.
At Christmas, as I look at Jesus, I see a gift that satisfies those desires. The gift of Jesus is about so much more than the forgiveness of sins. I am not downplaying the necessity and the beauty of that part of the gift, but the gift is so much better than that.
I am sure I am not alone in confessing that I battle to relate to an invisible God. In the light of the ugliness that is most of life on this planet, I need some hope that there is more than this. If there is not, the Creator is cruel. And just the assurance of somebody calling himself a prophet promising that there is a caring God (really, there is!), and that he is in control, and there is method to all this madness, is not – frankly – comforting. I need to see it to believe it. There are just too many weirdos out there for me to accept blindly. The fact that God sent Jesus at all addresses a very great need – and not only of mine, I suspect – to have a God that demonstrably cares. In the way he related to people, in the miracles that he performed, in the death he was prepared to die, and in his resurrection, I see a promise that God wants to and is able to provide the kind of security I am looking for. He answers that yearning deep in my heart for something more. Some of the most profound words in Scripture are these, from Jesus, hours before he knows he is to die, he speaks to his disciples’ deepest fears and to their desires for security, and I think to ours too:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
God knows that life is hard. He knows the longing in your heart for more. He sees the frustration with a life that is profoundly unjust and unfair. And he shares that pain. But he also promises that it is not permanent. In him (delighting in him), we will find not only the courage to endure until He makes all things whole, which He promises to do, but the assurance that He is in control, even when it may not seem like it. He knows that the real desires of our hearts are the assurance that life has meaning, that suffering will end, that we are loved. The rest is cookies and cars.