Messy Desires: When What We Want Is Less Than Jesus — St. Peter's Fireside | Vancouver, B.C. 

by Alastair Sterne
December 17, 2013
5 min read

I am the type of person who cares more about my hair than my health. Phew. Admitting that is a weight off my shoulders! Over the past month, I have been experiencing back pain, which is unusual for me. I hoped it would go away over time. It hasn’t. I finally conceded. I booked an appointment to see a chiropractor at 8:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. All was well, until Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. My elusive barber had a last minute opening for 9:00 a.m. on the same day. I barely hesitated. I took the slot. I figured, worse case scenario: reschedule my chiropractic appointment.

“I would rather have a good haircut at the cost of prolonged back pain.” I put that in quotations because it is exactly what I thought when I said “yes” to my barber. Fortunately for me, it all worked out in the end. It just so happened that my chiropractor was able to squeeze me in 15 minutes earlier. I made both appointments. But I told my chiropractor that I was “in a rush” because I had a “meeting” (ambiguous on purpose) at 9:00 a.m. that I really (stressed on purpose) needed to make.

This is a little picture into how we pursue Jesus.

It reveals something about our desires. They’re messy.

Social psychologists and neuroscientists are discovering that desires drive us more than logic and reason. It’s not well-informed choices but how we feel that drives us.

We know we should do things that are healthy for us. Eat our vegetables. Get enough sleep. Similarly, we know we should carve out time to pursue God. We should read our Bibles. We should pray. But, after just one more episode of Homeland or Newsroom or Scandal. Whatever your television vice is always seems to take precedent. Or, the party on Saturday night runs late. Your alarm goes off Sunday morning. You don’t hesitate to turn it off for extra sleep at the expense of going to church. Or you skip church for a different activity altogether. That’s how our desires work: we go with what makes us feel good in the moment.

Maybe our relationships with Jesus suffer because we desire other things more
than him.

Maybe our relationships with Jesus suffer because we desire other things more than him. We want the haircut first, over our health. Entertainment, over time with Jesus. The party, or you name it, over gathering with other Christians. We know that pursuing Jesus is important, even very important. But, well, we also want to pursue things that gratify our desires in a quicker, one-click-away sort of expediency. We desire entertainment or indulgence or a smorgasbord of our favourite activities more.

We can’t trust our desires, because our hearts are in recovery from calling “what is good evil and what is evil good” (Isaiah 5:20). What we are really looking for is what seems to be the most fleeting in our lives: satisfaction, contentment and rest. But it never lasts in the vanities we pursue. They act like sugar. Sugar makes you want more sugar. It’s a delicious, scientific fact. But we keep pursuing desires that we deem good despite the fact they send us into an endless loop of unfilled desires.

Our pesky desires stir and lead and direct us to everything but the simple, gentle words we desperately need: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). What actually wearies and burdens us is our desires. We are tired of how we relentlessly turn, time and time again, to lesser things. These famous words of Jesus occur after he denounces cities that witnessed his grace and yet did not repent (Matthew 11:20). It is life as citizens in the city of unrepentance that tires us out.

If our desires are conflicted, how do we respond to the call of Jesus? “Come to me.” How do we do that? Especially when we know, deep down, we will do everything else first before coming to Jesus? Once again, what precedes this famous call of Jesus helps us. Jesus says, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). The freedom to turn from our desires and to come to Jesus starts with the truth that Jesus has chosen to reveal the Father to us. Without Jesus we would never be in recovery from calling what is evil good and what is good evil. His Spirit is at work within in us renewing and restoring our desire to pursue what is actually good.

Here’s the hard part: Jesus says, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). God knows we need haircuts, that we want to watch TV, that we want to sleep in, that we want to pursue a whole lot of things in addition to pursuing him. But the way that we can have our cake and eat it too is if we pursue God at all costs. This means that we come to Jesus while our desires flair up and have temper tantrums and tell us that anything else will be more satisfying than Jesus.

Jesus reveals the beauty of the Father to us so that we can come to him. Why? Jesus desires us. And like anything beautiful, we can’t look away from God once we’ve had a peek. Jesus is the one who gives us rest, but it comes with the call to seek him. And when we do, we can still have our hair cut too.

about the author
Alastair is the lead pastor at St. Peter’s Fireside. Once upon a time he was a touring musician of a forgettable indie band, and a Creative Director at a few design agencies. He is the husband of Julia, the father of Ansley and Maggie, and quite skilled with "the photoshop." If you're feeling up for it, you can follow him on Instagram.

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