Love is not love without waiting.
This is why we are moved when a beautiful young woman waits faithfully for her fiancé to return home from a long journey. And why we cringe to hear of a man coming home to his beloved only to learn she’s pregnant with another man’s child.
Most of us don’t think of our love for God in these terms.
He’s God and his power is limitless, after all. Somehow we think this means our love should be exempt from waiting. “If he loves me, why won’t he change my circumstances, heal me, remove this temptation, give me a husband or wife, fix my marriage, do what I want when I want it?”
I remember years ago walking across my college campus late one night filled with regret. I’d viewed pornography again, even after so many years of pleading with God to deliver me. I took my self-loathing and aimed it at him, railing, “Why won’t you just take this from me?!”
It’s so easy to interpret seasons of waiting as evidence God is absent or uncaring.
Jesus reveals a different picture of God.
Think of Jesus weeping outside Jerusalem: “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I’ve longed to gather you as a mother hen gathers her chicks.” Think of Jesus’ question to his disciple: “Have I been so long with you, Philip, and you do not know me?” Think of the question he asked his three closest friends in Gethsemene: “Could you not wait with me for even an hour?”
Do we think he is lounging poolside somewhere? Do we think angels will have to wake him from his reverie and remind him of our need?
No. He is not the one lounging. He’s preparing a place for you (John 14:2, 3). He is not the one indifferent. He is patient for your sake, not wanting you or anyone else to perish (2 Peter 2:9). He is not the one hiding from you. He is waiting desirously for you like a faithful bridegroom waits for his wedding day (Song 4).
Jesus desires us like a waiting lover. As much as we feel we’re waiting for him, he waits more for us.
Every day you wait for him to return, he waits a thousand years for you. (How else are we to understand 1 Peter 3:8?)
It is he, not us, who has opened himself up most to the risk of love, he whose Spirit intercedes within his bride with groaning too deep for words (Romans 8:26), and even so, he who has chosen faithfulness knowing he may return to a bride pregnant with another lover’s child.
When Christ returns for his bride, banqueting table set, new home prepared, will he find faith on the earth (Luke 18:8)?
O Christ, Lover of my soul, have mercy on me.
O Christ, Lover of my soul, I confess the paucity of my waiting.
O Christ, Lover of my soul, teach me to turn my longing into prayer.
O Christ, Lover of my soul, when you return, may you find me chaste and waiting
for you, as you have waited so long
O Christ, Lover of my soul, don’t exempt me from waiting.
Often when a man or woman gives in to the same temptation for years without making much headway, it’s because there’s something under the surface that needs tending.
When wiser men in my life began helping me with this, I was surprised to discover a bustling city of angers, fears and faulty beliefs powering the temptations that plagued me most. Over time, this self-awareness enabled me to better handle temptation by tending to my emotional, physical, and spiritual needs in healthier ways.
But there’s a danger that comes with self-awareness.
Sometimes, paying too much attention to what’s going on inside can unintentionally make it worse.
- Discovering that you’re angry with your spouse is better than letting it seep out through sarcasm, but ruminating on that anger can also add fuel to the fire.
- Recognizing you feel lonely is better than pretending you’re fine, but focusing on your loneliness can lead to a self-pity that is both anti-social and unpleasant to be around.
- Facing the shame you’ve been living under is better than numbing it with porn, but giving it too much attention can mean listening to shame’s messages more than before.
So how can we reap the benefits of self-awareness without making our inner landscape more difficult?
- Talk to yourself. My wife teaches many of her clients, “Don’t just listen to yourself, talk to yourself.” As Paul wrote, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
- Practice God-awareness. My colleague Bob Ragan regularly teaches the importance of becoming more God-aware than we are self-aware. This means seeking what God is doing, saying, and asking in the moments of your day and in the inner-workings of your heart.
- Bring your fish and loaves (see Matthew 6:33ff). Bring to Jesus not just what you don’t have (This place is desolate and it is already quite late.), but also the little you do have (We have only five loaves and two fish.). If you’re “stuck” with a husband who keeps relapsing with porn, can you bring to Jesus the good you see in him? If you’re lonely with no prospects for marriage, can you bring to Jesus the friendships you have? If you distrust God, can you bring to Jesus the sliver of trust you do have?
In each of these, I’m not suggesting distracting yourself by “focusing on the positive” so much as simply this: Jesus is aware of the magnitude of your need. The disciples’ idea was to “send the people away” from Jesus. His idea was to keep them close, and to make a feast out of the little they had. If God doesn’t seem to be feeding you as you wish he would, maybe he’s preparing a table for you in another way.
Self-awareness is essential in your battle against life-dominating temptations. But it alone can’t save you. It’s meant primarily to enable you to bring yourself, as you are, more fully into relationship with the God who is here.
Question: How has self-awareness helped you? In what ways have you learned to keep it in check? Leave a comment below.
Christians who want to do right can be far too quick to self-criticize and self-correct.
- A single man in his forties has the impulse to leave halfway through the church service because the affectionate couple in front of him reminds him how lonely he is. “You’re here to worship God,” he reprimands himself, “Not to think about yourself!”
- A young woman feels a familiar tug to indulge in pornography. She thinks, “Something’s seriously wrong with you! Porn is something men struggle with.”
- A guy driving home from work sees another man jogging without a shirt on and feels drawn to him. “Why am I so gay? Other men don’t feel this way.”
- A married pastor is only half-listening to the person talking to him because a beautiful woman from the congregation is headed for the exit. “You’re a terrible pastor,” he thinks to himself as he realizes how often during his sermon preparation he’d imagined her thanking him for such an “amazing message.”
When thoughts or desires like these (and soooo many others) come to us, we can be so quick to criticize ourselves, believing self-criticism will help bring about the change we need in order to become who God wants us to be.
But self-criticism and self-correction can be our ways of keeping from God the parts of ourselves we think God won’t like. And when we do this we compartmentalize sacred from secular, sexual from spiritual, good from bad.
Said another way, it means the parts of our lives that need Him most see Him least.
This is akin to hiding a festering wound from the doctor because we know we should have come to the hospital weeks earlier. Or shoving a dangerous convict into the closet when the police arrive because we know we’re not supposed to be harboring criminals.
There’s a more effective way to respond when you experience feelings, desires, or temptations that seem wrong to you:
Practice opening what you’re experiencing, whether good or bad, to God.
This isn’t about passively doing nothing, sinking into a self-pitying entitlement that demands God needs to change you or you’ll indulge in sin and blame him for it. It’s about instead of striving to align yourself with God, bringing your unaligned self to Him for realignment. As much and as often as needed.
This can be difficult because it means being honest with God (and others, too) about the good, bad, and ugly in your life. It means bringing yourself to God and others as you are rather than as you think you should be. It’s about entrusting yourself to his care more than to your own.
And it’s also about getting to know Jesus better by allowing him to actually relate with you, rather than just pre-empting his movements toward you with self-corrections of your own.
(In my experience, one of the most life-changing things that happens as we practice this is discovering the ways he responds very differently than we’d always imagined.)
One more note: If you try to open yourself to God as I’m describing but find you’re mistrustful, resistant, or not ready to give up a pet sin, then can you find in yourself a willingness to open that part of yourself to him? He is not unfamiliar with the mistrust, resistance, and love of sin found in within us, nor is he offended when we need his help even with these.
Emmanuel means “God with us.” And if the gospel is true, than God with us is good news. The only question that remains then is whether we’ll let him be with us or only the fictional versions of us we wish we were.
Question: Can you relate with the urge to self-criticize and/or self-correct? What do you think makes it difficult to open ourselves to God “as is” instead?
Opening as is,
Desire is also what enticed me to indulge in porn, haunts me when I yell at my kids (when all they’re really doing is being kids), and drives me to perfectionism and people-pleasing.
Desire sets me on the path and entices me from it.
Christopher West has said that just as a man and woman’s bodies don’t make sense without the other, so it is with the incredible depth of our desire: It doesn’t make sense apart from God. And Pascal wrote long ago of an “infinite abyss” within every man that can only be filled by God.
And there’s the pinch. Facing an infinite abyss is frightening.
Why would He want us to face the depths of our cavernous desire?
Here’s what I’m learning:
First, allowing myself to experience the depth of my desire brings me face to face with my doubts that Christ really is enough for me. And that’s scary. What if my desires remain unmet in a visible way-can He satisfy me? Will He? I want to face my doubts with Him instead of running from them.
Second, plunging the depths of our desire connects us with every human being on the planet. The older brother could not relate with his younger brother, could not fathom how he could travel to a distant country and squander all he had on loose living. As we face the depths of our own desire, we find common ground with even those whose lives we disagree with most. This allows us to see human beings Christ died for, rather than monsters or aliens we can’t understand.
And most importantly, facing the depths of my desire leads me out to a place where I become acutely aware I cannot satisfy my longings myself, where I realize my utter dependence on God’s mercy and love rather than my ability to control. Again, this can be frightening, but this is ground where we learn to open our hearts even wider to Christ Himself, choosing in faith to let Him fill us.
In this light, it is not an overabundance of desire that leads us astray, but our lack of it.
Leave a comment below.
Where in your life do you find yourself getting angry that others have something you want?
- Maybe a co-worker got the promotion you felt you deserved.
- Or your ex is happily remarried, leaving you a single parent trying to raise your kids.
- Or maybe you’re angry at the overly affectionate couple in front of you at church, while you long for a same-sex romance that God forbids.
- Maybe for you it’s anger toward those who pushed for gay marriage and won.
- Or maybe you have a friend or loved one who seems to live a charmed life while you face trouble after trouble.
We see something similar in the parable I wrote about last week: The younger brother wants his inheritance. Without commentary, the father sells half the family property and writes him a check. And the son is on his way. When he comes back penniless and looking for a job, the father throws a party.
During the same time, the older brother works dutifully at his father’s side, takes care of his father’s business, does what his father wants him to do. One evening, he returns from his father’s fields, sweaty and covered in dust and dung, and gets what must have felt like a slap in the face: His brother is back and Dad’s killed the fattened calf to celebrate.
I said last week that in this parable, Jesus reveals the Father as a Lover brimming over with desire. This is why the father had to let the younger son go. And why he couldn’t just pay the older son what he deserved.
Because every lover wants to be loved.
And this is also why the father’s gift to the younger son was a gift to the older brother, too.
Because of the father’s over-the-top generosity to the younger son, something unusual happens for the older brother. In a moment of passion and anger, he sheds his compliance, shouting accusingly at his father: “I’ve slaved for you, been the faithful one, never complained! But this other son, the one who trampled all over you, you throw him a party!?”
What’s changed? He’s no longer happy being the dutiful son, the hard worker, the loyal one. A deeper desire in his heart is rising to the surface.
He’s coming face to face with the reality that doing what the father wants is not the same thing as being whom the father wants.
He could never earn what his younger brother was receiving. And that’s what he wanted.
What I want.
Is it what you want, too?
Would you dare to face this?
Because believing that what you want is within your grasp actually means you don’t know how deep your desire really goes.
Do others get more than they deserve? Sure they do. Do wicked men prosper? Yes. Does God allow people to misuse His gifts? He does.
Wherever you find yourself angry at what others have, how others are winning, what others are getting away with, let it incite desire in you. And turn your desire toward Him, daring to believe He is what you want, and He does indeed desire you.
Question: What are you typically more in touch with: your desire for what others seem to have or your desire for God? In what practical ways can you “turn your desire toward Him?” Leave a comment below.
What does God want us to do with the problem of desire?
Every one of us experiences desires that seem like they’ll only be satisfied if we choose to set aside God’s commands, at least temporarily.
Stack up the ten commandments or the beatitudes next to the wants and urges that rise up in you during your typical week, and you’ll see what I mean.
If we’re nothing else, surely we’re creatures of desire.
In this clash between God’s will and our desire, some of us adopt a kind of Christianity where grace means God doesn’t really expect us to submit to His commands, because we’re “only human” after all. Or a Christianity 2.0—one that our spiritual forefathers and mothers wouldn’t have accepted but only because we know things today they didn’t back then. Or we jettison Christian orthodoxy altogether, thinking it doesn’t seem in touch with real life experience and the depth of human desire.
The younger son exemplifies this in Jesus’ story in Luke 15. He was in touch with his desire, willing to leave everything, travel far, and give up all he had to try to satisfy it.
The younger brother’s approach: If I’m going to be freely myself, I have to squelch God’s commands.
In contrast, others of us try to jettison not God’s commands, but desire. We try to stuff desire by carefully monitoring intake of “worldly influences” and surrounding ourselves with others who are similarly mistrustful of desire. Many of us who try this, also end up in a cycle of binging and purging. The pressure builds up in some area and we eventually give in to a little “guilty pleasure.” But at least we’re trying. And we try so hard to repress desire because we think it’s what the Father wants. Be dutiful. Obey His commands. Put your heart aside.
The older brother in Jesus’ story exemplifies this. He tried to shut himself down to desire, stuff it, structure his life around working what was left of the family farm.
The older brother approach: If I’m going to be faithful to God’s commands, I have to squelch desire.
Both believed their father’s will was incompatible with the full depths of their desire
But is it? Can there be no real peace between God’s will and human desire?
We have mistaken both the meaning of our desire and the meaning of His commands.
The parable told by the Bridegroom Son reveals the Father as a Lover. A lover true and good. A lover full and brimming over with desire. No Lover’s heart is satisfied with duty any more than it is with rebellion.
And so on the cross, Christ reconciles God’s good command and our fallen and frail desire.
His cross is an expression of Desire.
His commands are meant to crush desire, yes. But not like a foot crushes a bug. Rather, like a winepress crushes grapes. If we’ll let His will press us, He can transform our desire, make it new wine worth drinking down, more pure, more loving, and more intoxicating than before.
He has made us creatures of desire. Desire’s unquenched ache is meant to drive us to Him from foreign pig sties and family fields alike.
For God, our Lover, desires us. And He intends we would come to desire like He does.
God’s not after extinguishing desire. He’s after igniting it with Himself.
Do you tend more toward squelching God’s voice or squelching your desire? How might you practice walking differently after reading this article?
When the Supreme Court announced its 5 – 4 decision a little over a week ago to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states, news and social media sites lit up with celebrations in the name of love.
I felt sorrow. I know many of you did, too.
Our sorrow may confuse or even infuriate those who know us.
How can you, followers of a loving God, not celebrate when men and women across the country are free at last to express their love?
While I’m sure some want to trump and trap those of us who hold to an orthodox Christian worldview, I think most ask questions like this with sincerity, trying to make sense of us. How can you be against . . . love?
And I think many within the church are stumped by the question, too. We look at gay couples who seem to love as well as the rest of us, we talk with gay friends and wonder, Have I been getting this wrong all along? Am I on the wrong side of history?
Confusion abounds from without and within our Christian circles.
Our sorrow is not because love has triumphed, but because we believe something else masquerading as love has. Christianity teaches that sin is any way we pull away from God and plug into another source, it’s any attempt to be our own gods, beginning with the idea we can know right and wrong on our own. The first sin looked like eating a piece of fruit, after all.
Sin can look religious or profane, deadly or benign, heartless or romantic, horrid or beautiful, hateful or loving. This includes sex between two people of the same gender. It also includes . . .
- Lust that uses another person for its own sexual gratification.
- Strong feelings that stir a woman to leave her husband and kids for another man.
- Words whispered by a teenage guy compelling a girl to have sex with him.
- “Love the sinner, hate the sin” spoken from a distance, apart from real self-sacrificing relationship.
So where do we go from here? What are followers of Christ to do in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling? Here are several things I’m trying to do. I hope they’ll be helpful to you:
- When I get confused about what love is, I do best not to look at anyone else at all, but to gaze directly at Christ on the cross and to let Him gaze upon me. The cross reminds me that the wages of sin is death. No matter how romantic or how religious it looks, sin enslaves and destroys. And we all alike need to be rescued from it.
- Second, I spend time at the cross because Jesus’ love manifested there exposes my love as paltry and small. Compared with His, my love is a wispy and fleeting little thing. Sometimes it’s exposed as no love at all, but as hunger, greed, or self-seeking. This is a bitter pill and a narrow way. But I need to let my little love be assumed into the body of Christ, and to die with Him, that it might be raised new and good and real, like His.
- The Supreme Court’s ruling reminds me I’m an alien and stranger here. The Court has also made rulings advancing no-fault divorce, pornography, and the killing of babies in their mothers’ wombs. Somehow in the midst of this, I grow comfortable and put pursuing an American dream over living for Christ as a citizen of His unseen Kingdom. This is an opportunity to choose again this day whom I will serve.
- As concerns for religious freedoms tempt me to anxiety or fear, I’m seeking to accept afresh the clear teaching of Scripture that those who follow Christ will be misunderstood, hated, and suffer as He did. No, I don’t mean thinking of myself as a victim or martyr (there’s a subtle self-righteousness that can come that way), but that as I look to the future, I don’t need to fear. Jesus and His faithful ones have gone before us. We are free to take our eyes off ourselves and instead choose to love.
- With this in mind, Love Himself requires me to engage relationally instead of just talking from a distance about or down to those who disagree with me. I want to practice laying down my life sacrificially for those around me, even those with whom I disagree. This is what Love did and does. His love within me will call me to do no less.
Now is not the time to slumber. Now is the time to awake, repent, and follow.
If I could ask one thing of you, it would be this: Please pray for and walk with our brothers and sisters who experience homosexual attractions and who are choosing to submit those feelings to Christ. They need our salient friendship now as much as ever.
Jesus, may we come to love like You.
In the name of love,
It’s the tale of a nobody who ends up being something incredibly special.
It’s the tale of Harry Potter, Mia Thermopolis, Alex Stowe, Clark Kent, John Connor, Peter Parker, Thomas Anderson, Luke Skywalker, Bilbo Baggins.
I think we’re drawn to these characters not simply out of some greedy hope that we’ll make it big one day, but because somewhere inside, like a distant memory, we do relate with them.
It’s right that you should feel this way.
As a man or a woman, the image of God is stamped into your body. This means, in all of creation, God has given man and woman an honored roll, a beloved place in the Story he’s writing. He formed your being as a man or as a woman to image (to express, reveal, manifest) something of who God is to all of creation.
You women bear a likeness to God that no other creature in all of creation does. And men, you bear God’s likeness in a way no other creature in all of creation does. Women don’t bear God’s image like men do, and men can’t bear God’s image like women do.
In God’s design, this isn’t a threatening notion to either men or women. It’s a reason for esteem.
If women bear God’s image upon the earth in ways no other creature (including men) can, then how could we not honor women and seek their flourishing that God’s image may flourish upon the earth?
And if men bear God’s image upon the earth in ways no other creature (including women) can, then how could we not honor men and seek their flourishing that God’s image may flourish upon the earth?
(Unless of course, we want to see less of God, forget him, lose any sense of him.)
It’s frustrating to write about this. To my reading, my own words don’t do justice to the dignity that is intended for us as male and female.
But maybe that’s part of the point. God didn’t just say something about who he is. He manifested it in our bodies.
It makes sense why we find ourselves drawn to stories, movies, and songs about a nobody who becomes someone spectacular.
The incarnation of Christ was, in a very real way, like the point in the story when Clarisse tells Mia she is the Princess, when Obi Wan tells Luke he will become a Jedi like his father, when Jonathon Kent showed Clark the space capsule he arrived in, when Morpheus tells Neo he’s “the One,” when Hagrid tells Harry he’s a wizard, when Aslan tells the Pevensies they’re to be kings and queens in Narnia.
What are some of your favorite stories of a nobody who eventually is shown to be someone spectacular? I’d love to hear.
When I slow down enough to look closely, I marvel at God’s choices in the design of the universe. I mean, it’s not like he pulled all this out of an Ikea box and followed step-by-step drawings to put everything together.
He created from scratch, with infinite possibilities before him.
How did he come up with breath? Why did he choose blue for the sky? Did he ever consider a different sound for an ocean wave?
And why did he link sex and new life?
Think about that for a minute. By God’s intentional design, perhaps the most euphoric sensation a man or woman can feel on the planet is connected to conception, the start of every new life.
- He could have made it so babies would grow from trees like fruit. If you wanted a baby, you’d plant a baby tree, wait a few years, and then one summer you’d find out just how many babies you had.
- He could have designed it so babies would mysteriously wash in from the ocean and couples would make pilgrimage to the shore to become parents.
- Or, of course, he could have opted for storks to collect babies from clouds and hand (um, beak) deliver them to waiting parents below.
He had endless possibilities, and he created men’s and women’s bodies to fit together physically, for that union to feel incredibly good, and for it to be the miraculous ground from which a new human being would begin.
In a pornified culture, it’s easy to miss this. Easy to shy away from any hint of implicating God with nakedness, kissing, penetration, and climax. This is stuff Christians don’t think about, right?
But this is God’s design, his idea. If anyone should be talking about such things, it’s those who believe in a loving, intentional, involved Creator God.
The truth is, he’s not embarrassed by how good sex feels. And he’s not embarrassed about where babies come from. He thought it up, designed every detail, created every part on purpose with something special in mind.
If we push God away from all this, we miss that God designed it this way to tell us something. We’re created in his image, after all. We can look at our design, and if we’ll accept it, discover something about him.
In this case, I think we’re supposed to glimpse how joyous, how ecstatic he feels about creating us. Sex between husband and wife is meant to be an experiencing of this glimpse into his heart for people.
I can’t help but wonder what our disconnection from this has done to our own sense of worth, dignity, and inherent beauty.
I can’t help but wonder what might be different if every child grew up with a felt sense that they came about from a mom and a dad who love the heck out of each other, and from an infinite God who was euphoric thinking about the day his or her life would begin.
Glad you’re here,
Sunday morning amidst our pre-church grabbing for breakfast, combing hair, clearing the table, and searching for lost shoes, a girl walked down the stairs and into our dining room.
It wasn’t that she called attention to herself. She didn’t. She didn’t even say anything. She just walked unassumingly into the room, stood tall and slender, wearing a simple dress, arms falling gently at her sides, long brown hair falling just as gently over her shoulders.
And for a moment, just a moment, I swear I lost my breath.
How does a dad slow the world down so he can take in that his little girl is becoming a young woman? How does he fathom the wonder she is?
All I could do was stop and look and utter, “You. Look. Beautiful.”
I couldn’t find anything else to say. I wanted to. Man, I wanted something more to say. How can a father fill his words with more than just sound, so they’ll not just reach her ears but nourish her heart, too?
It’s moments like these I’m keenly aware of two things: First, time escapes us, like air from a balloon. You wake up one morning and realize something’s gone and won’t ever come back. For all that’s welcome and wonderful about today, time gone by isn’t ours to retrieve. The train only goes forward.
Second, I know so little about real living. And real loving. I can talk a good game, but my love falls so short.
What’s a man to do when his heart isn’t big enough to offer his little-girl-now-growing-into-a-young-woman all he wishes for her? All he believes she needs?
No matter what I try, a gap remains between what I want for her and what I can give her. This isn’t a cop out. I’m not talking about checking out or making excuses for not giving this girl all I’ve got. I’m talking about the gap between the time I want with her and the time I have that’s so quickly passing, the gap between the love I want for her and the faltering love I find I have to give to her.
The gap is painful.
Even when I do my best, re-up my commitment to not missing a moment (just like so many voices urged me when she was a baby in my arms at the grocery store).
But in moments like these, I can’t ignore, can’t numb the reality the gap is still here. And it hurts.
But here’s the thing: I’m not sure I want the gap to go away. I think maybe it’s supposed to be there. And I’m supposed to feel it.
I think it’s supposed to point me beyond myself to search afresh for One who has all of time, One who gives all His love for her.
I want to turn my pain into prayer. Less striving for perfect me and more trusting in perfect Him.
I think I’m supposed to feel the pain of the gap. And I think she is, too.
Because here’s the other thing: I don’t want her satisfied with what I’ve got. Or anyone else for that matter. I want her to walk right up to the gap, face it square, stand tall and look searchingly through it for a Love that’s bigger than the world has to offer.
Oh, I love my girl. But my love is just a glimmering reflection on a puddle. I want her to ache for a vast ocean and an endless sun.
Minding the gap,