The Weakness of Our Desires

In recently reading a portion of The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis, I was stricken by one statement in particular: “We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire; if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.”

Upon reading that, it seems obvious. But somehow, I had never thought of it that way before. I can imagine a small child coming home from school and saying to his mother, “We played hide-and-seek today during recess.”

The mother might ask, “Did you have fun?” The child replies affirmatively, because he really did have fun. But how would those few minutes of hide-and-seek compare with the fun of a day at Disneyland?

There are many pleasures in this life. Some are legitimate, some are not. Lewis tells us that we are often seduced by the illegitimate pleasures simply for the reason that we have forgotten about the infinitely greater pleasures that God promises us. The joy of heaven is one of those, along with the glory and happiness that it will bring, but we also have spiritual pleasures right now. Those pleasures -€“ rooted largely in fellowship with God and with fellow believers -€“ serve as a preview of what God promises us in greater measure. When we indulge in the sinful pleasures that separate us from God, we are, in effect, forgoing Disneyland for a few minutes of hide-and-seek in the schoolyard. Our desires, as Lewis points out, are simply too weak.

For most of us, vacations are times of rest and pleasure. I love to get a room on the ocean and listen to the waves at night, or sit on a balcony and watch them crash. Inevitably, I begin to think of their power, of the sheer energy created by the gravitational attraction of the moon on the water. I wade into those waves and am knocked off my feet by a tiny fraction of their energy. I think of the power of a tsunami that took thousands of lives -€“ nature out of control because of the earth’s curse. And I reflect on the power of the One who created those oceans, which brings a sense of awe. That awe and the relaxation and fun of vacation time tend to combine in me to produce a yearning for His presence, for the day when I will rest with Him for eternity. Not by any means a longing for death in this world, but a joyous anticipation of life in Him, in His presence.

Of course, many are inspired by such displays of nature; I haven’t said anything unusual or that you haven’t heard before. Even David wrote of being inspired by nature (Psalm 119). We can also receive such inspiration from spiritual occasions. One of my favorite times of the year comes every October, when I attend the annual “Witnesses Now for Jesus” convention in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. It’s held at a beautiful retreat in the mountains, and the scenic view is inspiring in itself. But the fellowship and worship there is simply incredible. When I go to this place every year, I am on a “mountain top” in more ways than one. I begin to wish that church were like this all the time; that I could live in this place and be with these people, worship this way, sing these songs, hear these teachings and testimonies for all of my life. And again, C.S. Lewis chides me: my desires are too weak. As wonderful an experience as this conference is, it is hide-and-seek in the schoolyard. God has so much more in store for me.

And, if reading Lewis has reinforced anything in my mind, it’s that there’s nothing wrong with wanting what God has offered. In the legalistic cult to which I used to belong, we were made to feel that we should be serving God for some altruistic reason – because it was the right thing to do -€“ and not because we wanted eternal life and His rewards. God’s purpose, we were told, was not human salvation but the vindication of his own name. We humans were just cogs in the machinery, who would be rewarded if we performed well. The reward, however, would be life on a paradise earth where we would never actually see God. He would remain invisibly in heaven for all eternity.

What a bleak outlook! God offers us rewards because He wants us to desire them! And the greatest reward is His presence in glory. His rewards are beyond imagining, and He wants us to look ahead and be motivated by them. The very purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth as a human was to save us from our sins, so we could experience God’s rewards, rewards so great that we cannot even envision what they will be. Disneyland times infinity! What earthly game of hide-and-seek could ever compare?

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).