What Do You Want?
At times God speaks to my heart with a question. When God questions us, His purpose is always deeper than we comprehend at first. His inquires have something to teach us. It has often taken me years to grasp His meaning. When those “Aha!” moments come, they can be extraordinary and life-changing. Numerous times the Lord has asked me, “What do you want?” I have always taken this as an invitation to recite my wish list. Not too long ago, the question came again. “What do you want?” Yet, this time it came with a stunning revelation, and my answer became something very different. This new perspective set my heart free. You might wonder what my response was, and I will tell you, but be patient! I will get there; however, a little background will make the journey sweeter.
In the twentieth century, the United States economy evolved faster than any earlier civilization in history, transitioning from a long-time agricultural society to an industrial society and then a service-based society. And with each change came an enormous creation of wealth—an amount so large it is difficult to grasp. To give perspective, the people of the United States created more wealth in the twentieth century than the combined wealth of every civilization that existed before. That means adding up all the things that all of humanity made in 10,000 years. And we beat that number in 100 years!
This unprecedented prosperity changed our country’s soul.
An agriculturally based society is a needs-based society. People hope for enough to meet their basic needs, and as long as they have a roof over their heads and food on the table, they consider themselves well-off.
As the United States prospered in the last century, its culture went from a needs-based culture to a wants-based culture. Now, having enough is less important than having more, and in the case of food, quantity, variety, and speed trump quality and sustenance. Likewise, a roof over our heads is about bigger and better, with everything from air conditioning to a fast Internet connection. In Jesus’s day, common folks had one or two sets of clothing—can you imagine? We have closets full, not to mention cars, boats, computers, cell phones, and big-screen TVs.
Madison Avenue helped usher in these changes, using advertising to manufacture “need”—an appeal to the lust of the eyes—with “fresh and new!” and all the bells and whistles. For example, I drive an economy car, and it is a good car, rarely needing repairs and operating very reliably. I should be happy to own a car that has served me so well…but then I turn on my TV and watch a commercial presenting a new luxury car. It looks so amazing that I can almost smell the new car aroma. It can talk to me and help me when I am lost and even park itself. And look at all those cup holders! The fellow who owns that car looks happier than me, and everyone seems to think he is really somebody. I attract no attention when I drive my car, and it certainly does not make me smile every time I get in it.
Suddenly, the vehicle I own doesn’t seem like a blessing. I look again at the car on TV, and I feel incomplete without it. Five minutes ago, I did not know it existed. Now, even if it means getting a huge loan, I must have it.
Daily, we come face to face the world’s philosophy. Movies, TV, and advertising feed us a narrative that says, “This is the way life is.” At its core is a simple mindset—getting what we want is the way to be happy. We are on a journey, and the grand destination is the desires of our heart. Our passion can be anything from a successful career to the perfect relationship. We call such things our dreams, and dreams should never die, or so we are told.
If obtaining what we want is the way to completeness, not having what we want is the recipe for unhappiness. How much of our lives do we spend yearning for what we don’t have? Comparisons fuel our desires. We feel empty, left out, and a bit jealous when we see people who possess what we desire. We yearn to be among those who have it all. Of course, everyone’s definition of having everything is different. If can even be that big ministry we envision.
This common mindset affects how we view God. Some people teach that God is in on the world’s narrative. He wants us to be happy, and if we do our part, He will give us the desires of our heart. Those same teachers will tell us how to meet God’s requirements, so we can be the head and not the tail. If we get with God’s program, He will get with ours!
What if the world’s way is wrong? What if getting what we want is not the road to completion? Maybe it is a lie. Such thoughts are stunning, and most don’t dare think them. Yet, God’s ways are higher than ours. His mind is set on the infinite, ours the finite. Consequently, His ways rarely make sense to us. Yet, to receive them is freedom.
When Abraham was 75 years old, God promised him a son and that his decedents would become a great nation. Twenty-five years later Isaac was born. God gave Abraham what he always wanted, but then the Lord asked the unthinkable. He told his servant to give his beloved son as a gift offering.
This is a story about faith. Abraham believed God would provide, but it is also a story about worship. The gift offering or burnt offering was worship. To the Hebrew people, devotion was not just singing hymns or choruses. It was the act of giving one’s self to the Lord. They couldn’t actually give material gifts to the unseen God, so they gave burnt offerings. They burned their gifts at the altar, so they could never get them back. The sacrifice represented the worshipper, himself. It meant his life was lost to God. Paul spoke figuratively of this type of sacrifice in Romans 12:1:
This aspect of worship is all but lost in our day, and the idea of the altar of God is fading. We are far more likely to go to church for what we gain. We go to receive a blessing. Yet, if that is our only desire, we miss out on the greatest blessing of all. God comes to church to give Himself to us, and when we go to give ourselves to Him, we experience union with Christ.
We have many weddings at Thorncrown Chapel, and I try to help our couples understand what they are doing on their wedding day. When they stand at the altar, they are not just making a promise to stay together no matter what; they are giving the greatest gift a human being can give to another—the gift of self. The bride and groom give themselves to each other in a way unequaled in any other human relationship. With the mutual gift of self, something mysterious and wonderful happens: the two become one. Such is our relationship with God. Love turns two into one.
The Old Testament altar was a type or shadow of the cross. The cross is the place we lose our life, where we forfeit our wants to God. To lose our dreams appears foolish to the world. What are we without our dreams and desires? Giving up what we love seems like dying. Yet, we go to the cross in faith that resurrection is on the other side. Though we may lose our life, we gain Christ as our life. The cross is door to the infinite, the place we gain God, and when we obtain Him, we are complete, needing nothing.
The altar can be a dreadful place, but we do not go alone. Christ, who has taken the journey for us, goes with us. He is the guarantee we will reach journey’s end.
Finally, let’s get back to the big question. “What do you want?” We can look at this question in light of the finite or in light of the infinite. Considering the finite alone, we can imagine a thousand things we might desire. Yet, if we think in terms of the infinite, we can think of nothing, for we are complete in Him. The flesh yearns for more. The Spirit rests in what is. My answer that day was, “Nothing, Lord! I want not because I have You.” In that moment, my soul was complete.
What is the destiny of those whose wants belong to God? We might conclude they will profit nothing. Yet, that was not the fate of Abraham. God gave him more than ever before, and The Lord promised a future that was even more glorious. Christ gave us a similar promise:
If we put the infinite above the finite, God will take care of us. In 40 years of walking with the Lord, I have always found this to be true. It takes faith to walk the way of loss, but what may appear like death to the world is a road that leads to life.
Let us, therefore, examine the narrative of our life. Do we follow the world’s storyline, following our wants, keeping them alive at all costs? Or do we share in Christ’s narrative, a story of death and resurrection? If we follow God’s way, we won’t be afraid of the altar any more than Abraham was.
In the past when I read this passage, I thought it meant that God will give us everything we want. Now, I see it very differently. The Lord has delivered us from the tyranny of wanting to the rest of having God.