Well, it turns out that I want lots of things…and yet perhaps I only really want one thing…or person.
We all have some scale of what is desirous and that which is less so. Sometimes what we desire is what we ought to desire. Sometimes we desire what we shouldn’t. There are times when we know why we desire what we should, but often we can’t explain why we don’t actually desire what we should.
Discipleship and Desire
The formation of our soul is the central and primary task of discipleship. Spiritual formation into Christlikeness is the work of discipleship. To neglect spiritual formation is to hamstring our efforts at being faithful to our vocation as the church in the world today. Ignoring the dynamic and often mysterious desires of our soul can relegate our efforts to integrate faith, work and economics into just the next ministerial fad and set of buzz words. May it never be.
As I have been learning more about the complexity of my soul and the essential work of spiritual formation, I have begun to realize that much of what I want is to be all that God really had in mind for me when he first thought of me. I want to be and to do what I was created to be and do. I actually think this is what you want as well. I feel this sometimes…OK, often…like when I’m not the most loving person I should be. I want to be the husband and father that I should be…that I am called to be…and that I deeply long to be. When I listen closely, this is a deep desire.
Our Deepest Desire
But there is an even deeper desire than becoming all that we have been called to be. What really animates us is the desire to be known and loved by the Caller. This is what we were created for. This is why sin is so tragic in the way it prevents us from knowing God. This is why Jesus’ work on the cross was so pivotal, opening the way for us, offering restoration, and meaning, and purpose. Knowing that we are the beloved of God, totally loved, completely forgiven, is actually what our hearts yearn for most.
The challenge for us today is that these animating desires and longings can be easily satisfied by a counterfeit. Meaning and significance? I’ll find it in fame and glory in my profession. Or perhaps I’ll find it in how beautiful, smart and well-behaved my children are. I may tell myself I’ll find it in a growing and influential ministry.
Each counterfeit comes with its own set of desires.
Each alternative brings its own enslaving behaviors.
Desire Shapes Actions
Discipleship and spiritual formation is the work of learning to live life in touch with the deepest longings and not be “distracted by their surface manifestations.” This is important because our desires shape our actions and behavior. In her book Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton continues by noting that:
“What shapes our actions is basically what shapes our desire. Desire makes us act, and when we act what we will do will either lead to a greater integration or disintegration within our personalities, minds and bodies—and to the strengthening or deterioration of our relationship to God, others and the world. The habits and disciplines we use to shape our desire form the basis for a spirituality.”
If desires shape our actions for better or worse, how do we shape our desires? Our challenge in discipleship is not that we want, but that we want the wrong things. How, in the words of Dallas Willard, do we fix our “wanters.”
Actions That Shape Desire
Historically, the saints that have gone before us have employed spiritual disciplines or spiritual rhythms to do this heavy lifting. Spiritual rhythms pursued with the right desire and with some structured consistency form what might be called “a rule of life.”
Barton again writes, “A rule of life is a way of ordering our life around the values, practices and relationships that keep us open and available to God for the work of spiritual transformation that only God can bring about.”
What do you want? Isn’t it to grow deeper in your relationship with the Caller? Don’t you want to satisfy the gnawing question of what you are called to be and do on Earth? Tired of chasing counterfeit desires that become gods that enslave you and who can never satisfy?
Join me when I teach a webinar series for our national partners, Made to Flourish. The seminars will begin to explore the place of spiritual formation, rhythms and a rule of life. This is an introduction intending to make a case for the centrality, indeed cruciality, of spiritual formation in teaching people how to follow Jesus, connecting our Sunday faith to Monday work. Limited spots available.
This article originally appeared here.