Sing it with me: “All I Want is You, Jesus. All I want is You.” How many times I remember the band Isaiah Six leading us in worship with this song at B.A.S.I.C. College Ministry conferences. They were powerful mountaintop experiences in the presence of God!
LIARS! LIARS! LIARS! Every one of us! At those moments in those times we mostly meant what we were singing, but deep in our hearts lurked a zillion other desires. If we took the time to write them out, the result would look like a selfish child’s Christmas list. “I want a happy marriage . . . and I want a nice house in the burbs with 2.1 kids and a white picket fence . . . and I want two new cars (one being an SUV for sure) . . . and I want to vacation at the beach every year . . . and I want a new fishing rod . . . and (at the top of the list) I want food . . . and I want . . . ! I’m sure you get the picture and I’m sure you can relate.
A God-designed wilderness experience is intended not only to prove our faith, but also to purify our cravings. Again, we can see evidence of this in the lives of the Israelites as God delivered them from Egypt.
To better understand their struggles we need to realize that Egypt was once one of the most successful civilizations ever known to man. For almost 3,000 years Egyptian nobles and priests lived in peace and luxury. At the time of the Exodus they were at one of the pinnacles of their supremacy. Almost all of the treasured goods of the known world made their way to and through Egypt. And the Israelites, mired in oppressive slavery, watched with envy the freedom, ease and extravagance of their captors. In short, Egypt was what Israel wanted to be.
But God had a new and different plan for His children. Israel couldn’t be Egypt if they were to truly be Israel. And so He lovingly led them into the wilderness in order to purify their desires. Unfortunately, that generation of Israelites didn’t respond so well. (Quail anyone?)
I don’t think that our current U.S. government will endure for 3,000 years, but we have certainly had an incredible taste of prosperity. And, truth be told, we always want more. We crave so, so many things. And in some twisted way, we’ve developed a mentality that expects, even demands, a loving God to fulfill at least most of our wants. For some odd reason, however, our King doesn’t appear willing to conform to our self-absorbed plans. Can you say, “wilderness”?
It helps for us to understand that God doesn’t want to remove all desires from our lives. Some must die, to be sure, but mostly He seeks to purify our longings. An aesthetic lifestyle doesn’t necessarily equate with a life of victory over sin. Attempt to put all of your desires to death and you will be left with a pretty miserable existence.
So how do we respond in a way that honors God and shortens the length of our desolate, wilderness experiences? We surrender and we delight.
A season of fasting is a great way to surrender our desires to God, to deliberately lift them before His throne and to lay them at the foot of the cross. Some of those desires God will keep. Others will be returned to us in sanctified form.
Another key is to learn to delight ourselves in Him. He will then write His desires upon our hearts. And we, we will finally be free to truly enjoy our land flowing with milk and honey!
Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 (NASB)