“What do you want?” —Jesus, John 1:38
According to the Christian Scriptures and traditions, when a person chooses God over self; when they accept the free grace of God in Christ, there is something fascinating that happens within them. God begins to recreate them. They begin to transform. The word the biblical authors sometimes use is the word metamorphizo, metamorphosis. Its not just an external change either. This transformation isn’t at all merely changing out a bad filter with a new one. It is decisive, it is internal, it is a transformation of the entire person. It is a metamorphosis of the heart. Theologians call it “sanctification,” that is, the process of being made holy.
Its a radical renewal of the inclinations of the heart. What once was decaying, numbing, dulling, and eroding within us, is now being renewed by the power of God. “Outwardly we are wasting away,” writes Paul to the Corinthians, “but inwardly we are being renewed day after day.”
And as it goes with ‘heart-changes,’ the most practical way this is seen is in a change of desire. Desire is a tough word because its messy. We wrongfully assume that its our desires that have led us into the self-destructive thought patterns and behaviors we’re trapped in. But desire is the one of the things that makes us most fundamentally human.
The writer of Proverbs once said that “hope deferred makes a heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Desire is the stuff of life. Its what makes each day worth living. Its what propels us forward, its what fills us with hope, excitement, and energy. It is when people quit on their desires that they begin to become apathetic (without emotion), calloused, and bored, and defeated.
So its obvious that if we are truly committed to the work of heart, we must begin with our desires. Something has gone wrong with our desires. That’s why we feel the way we do in certain situations. That’s why we react in ways that sometimes seem completely out of character.
There’s a great short story in the Gospel of John about a cripple who lay at the pool of Bethesda. John tells us that he had “been an invalid for 38 years.” Apparently there was a superstition that every time the waters would get stirred, the first one in the water would get healed, because “a great number of disabled people” would wait there. John records that “when Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him “do you want to get well?” I have always thought that this was an unimaginably cruel question to ask a man who had been crippled for 38 years. Of course he wanted to get well! Why would Jesus ask such a question? I wonder if its because Jesus knew that life can be hard on the heart, and that a cycle of negative experiences without any positive reinforcement leaves us to quit on our desires… to give up hope. Its almost like Jesus was once again inviting this man to awaken his desires once again … to embrace hope one more time. “Do you want to get well?”
And it is the same invitation he offers you, in this work of heart that you’re painting. To reawaken your hope. To realize that your desires are a God-given and holy gift meant not to lead you into things in this life that you think will fulfill those desires, but to serve as a compass that points us to the giver of all good things, the fulfiller of all desires, the one who created our hearts. He wants to transform your desires, to long for the things he longs for, to search for the things he searches for, to love the things he loves, and to be set free from the slavery of desiring things that cannot fulfill.
Right now as I write this I am wrestling with two major intense desires in my life of which there is no immediate or even guaranteed fulfillment of. There are three responses that constantly war inside of me … to get bitter over those things and to search for immediate fulfilment in lesser things, to try and control and fulfill them on my own terms, or to embrace my desires as gifts from God … compasses that point me to the True North.