"What do you want" is a common question that's regularly used in our daily lives. When you step up to the counter at a coffee shop the individual behind the register will say, "What do you want to drink?" Before leaving the house for the day, your spouse might inquire, "What do you want for dinner?" As you finish your work week and head into the weekend you may have family or friends who ask, "What do you want to do this weekend?"
The question "what do you want" is common and routine, but at the same time, it can be deeply spiritual.
To desire is to be human. We all have desires and longings. Many of them are God-given and good. Some of them might include the desire to be connected in close, intimate relationships and not go through life alone; the desire for rest when you've been going nonstop for weeks on end; or even, the desire for a good meal.
However, I wonder if many of us live detached and unaware of our desires. Usually, it goes in one of two extremes. One is that we've been taught the ethic of self-denial and translate that to mean all desires are bad. As a result, we wrestle with guilt and shame when it comes to pursuing what we want. In this scenario, individuals often suppress their desires.
The other extreme is that we've been taught that the most natural thing to do is simply respond to whatever desire we have. Therefore, we readily and regularly give in to our desires.
I suspect that in both scenarios we're not fully tuned into and aware of our desires. We either ignore them or mindlessly indulge them.
As I study the life of Christ, one of the things I appreciate about Jesus is how he confronts people with their desires. He doesn't shame them in regard to what they want, nor does he give them an open license to indulge their every whim. But he does lead people to name their desires. Whether or not the desire is good, bad, godly, or sinful, is a different question altogether. Jesus' starting point with people is leading them to own up to what they want. Once that's fully on the table, the work of spiritual growth can begin.
Here's an example from John 1.
"The next day John (the Baptist) was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?" (John 1:35-38)
The first words out of Jesus' mouth in John's gospel is the question, "What do you want?" He doesn't preach a sermon. He doesn't make a proclamation about who he is. He doesn't even go out recruiting people to follow Him. He simply asks the question.
Now, in this story, the answer the disciples give is pretty benign. They respond with, "Where are you staying?"
To which Jesus replies, "Come and you will see."
What's interesting about this story is that these two men are intentionally following Jesus without an invitation from Jesus. (Which in our day would be called stalking and would result in a restraining order.)
This tells us that there is some desire, some curiosity that is compelling these guys to "stalk" Jesus without an invite and Jesus calls them on it right away. He confronts them with what they want and what they are after.
(If you want another example, read Mark 10:46-52. Notice Jesus' initial question to the blind man. Hint: it's the same question as above.)
The reason it's important to be aware of our desires, and the reason Jesus lovingly confronts us with them, is because so much of our life is guided by them. Another word you could use for desire is love. We are beings created to love and whatever object we love the most will naturally become the strongest shaping force in our life.
For some, the idea of Jesus confronting us with our own desires makes us nervous and uncomfortable. Our perception might be that Jesus is a killjoy who wants to take away the things we love. However, I would say the scriptures say the opposite. Rather than take away our desires, Jesus wants to satisfy and fulfill them.
Later in John's gospel, Jesus will say to his disciples, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (15:11). Jesus wants to fill up our joy.
Psalm 37:4 says, "Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart." God's not seeking to squash our desires. He's seeking to fulfill and satisfy them. But as C.S. Lewis has famously said, "It's not that our desires are too strong, but too weak."
Jesus has things for us that are far better than we could ever dream. He wants to freely give them to us, but our imagination is too small. In order to access and experience those things, we first have to be honest with what we currently want. We must submit our desires to Jesus and allow him to reflect back to us whether or not those things will really bring joy or only leave us feeling empty and wanting more.
So, two questions for you as we close.
1. What do you want?
2. How is the pursuit of that working for you?