“Desiring God”


Lent 3

February 28, 2016

 

Text: Psalm 63:1-8; Isaiah 55:1-9; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

         

          What do you desire?

          I think about some of the things I desire:

  • Financial security. Now there is an elusive desire if ever there was one. Few people ever actually attain this. And I have noticed that much of the advertising for products and services designed to help attain financial security tends to be aimed at those who are already the most financially secure. Indeed, it is the rare person who pursues wealth who eventually comes to the conclusion that what he/she has is “enough”. Most people always want more. Most of us (including me) are never satisfied with how much wealth we have.
  • An easy, stress-free, worry-free life. But life in this world simply does not work that way. Hard, stressful, worrisome, saddening, tragic, and painful things happen to everyone sooner or later. This desire is simply not realistic. In addition, learning to deal with the hard things well can make us better persons over the long haul.
  • Respect. The idealistic part of me says everyone deserves respect. The more pragmatic part of me says respect has to be earned, and that part of me can identify individuals and organizations I don’t respect, especially the individuals I believe are jerks who are only out for their own self-interest rather than the good of everyone and groups I judge to be arrogant, self-righteous, and unwilling to work with those with whom they may disagree. Of course, there are also times when my actions don’t meet my own criteria for deserving respect. And I also know that not everyone respects me. An excessive desire for respect can lead me to try to please everyone, even though that is impossible. Thus the desire for respect is one that cannot be fulfilled.

The things that humans desire in this world tend to be unrealistic, unattainable, and unfulfilling. As God told his people through Isaiah: “Why spend your money for what isn’t food, and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy?” God instead issued an invitation to the people to come to him for food and drink that cannot be bought with money. Of course, God is not talking about literal food and drink that we ingest into our bodies. Instead, God is inviting us to relationship with him: “Seek the Lord when he can still be found; call him while he is yet near. Let the wicked abandon their ways and the sinful their schemes. Let them return to the Lord so that he may have mercy on them, to our God, because he is generous with forgiveness.”

Now in order to seek God, one must desire God. Our Psalm today, Psalm 63, describes that desire this way: “My whole being thirsts for you. My body desires you in a dry and tired land, no water anywhere….I’m fully satisfied—as with a rich dinner. My mouth speaks praise with joy on my lips—whenever I ponder you on my bed, whenever I mediate on you in the middle of the night—because you’ve been a help to me and I shout for joy in the protection of your wings. My whole being clings to you; your strong hand upholds me.” This is a desire for God that permeates one’s entire being, a recognition of one’s emptiness that is begging for God to fill it, an acknowledgement not only in one’s head but in one’s heart that God is always present and ready to help. The desire for God is the only desire that can truly be satisfied.

Perhaps it is helpful to contrast life when God is our desire to what it is like when God isn’t our desire. In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul writes about the former Hebrew slaves God liberated from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Paul points out that they had experienced God’s deliverance in a real and powerful way: “Our ancestors were all under the cloud and they all went through the sea. All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. They drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.” The problem was this didn’t appear to be what they wanted. They were always desiring something, it seems. They wanted food and water without trusting God to provide it. At one point they even wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt because “at least we had something to eat”. They wanted assurance this Exodus thing wasn’t some nasty trick intended to kill them all in the desert. They didn’t desire God; they didn’t even trust God. They mostly desired their own comfort. They complained constantly; they worshipped idols; they tested God’s patience at every turn. Even when God punished them, it didn’t seem to make any difference. They failed to appreciate all that God did for them.

Are we any different, really? I know there are many times I worry, fret, and complain, and don’t trust God to provide for my needs. Even though I have had powerful and meaningful experiences of God in my life, I don’t always live as if they matter. I don’t always desire God above all else, and when that happens, it then becomes easy to succumb to the temptation to try to call my own shots and look out for myself first. I often miss out on what God is trying to do with me, in me, and through me. I am not fully the person God intends me to be. Paul reminds us: “Those who think they are standing need to watch out or else they may fall. No temptation has seized you that isn’t common for people. But God is faithful. He won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities. Instead, with the temptation, God will also supply a way out so that you will be able to endure it.”

Jesus also told a parable about a fig tree that had gone three years without producing figs. The owner wanted to cut it down because it was wasting the soil, but the gardener counseled patience—“Give it another year. I’ll fertilize it and aerate the soil. Maybe it will produce next year. If not, then you can cut it down.” Now there is something really strange about this story. You see, fig trees typically take 3-5 years to start producing fruit, and sometimes take even longer. This story thus only makes sense if we are talking about a mature fig tree that had quit bearing fruit. It should also be noted that the fig tree was sometimes used as a symbol representing God’s people Israel. Jesus, it seems to me, was suggesting that Israel had lost its desire for God, was no longer using the nourishment which God provided it, was not bearing fruit for God, and was being given one more chance to turn back to God and bear fruit once more.

There are those who once desired God but lost that desire somewhere along the way. Such people no longer bear the good fruit of righteousness that God desires. They go through the motions of their faith without really being committed to it. God calls such as these to repentance, to turning back to God, to seeking God with one’s whole heart, to receiving God’s nourishment once more and bearing the kind of fruit God wants his people to bear in the world. If you sense that may describe you, know that God does give us another chance. Don’t waste it. Turn back to the Holy One and live. Jesus said that if we don’t repent, we die. Yes, we all die physically. If we don’t repent and turn to God, we also die spiritually. And that is far worse.

God’s faithful love is better than life itself. It is much to be desired. It is a free gift of God. Let us seek God wholeheartedly so that we may bear good fruit for him.

                                                                   Amen.

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