Week of February 18, 2014

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

This past week I have been reading Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal. Flannery O’Connor lived a very short but a very profound life as a writer of literature that always grew out of her intensely held faith in God. Flannery grew up in rural Georgia as a Roman Catholic, and referred to America’s South as a “Christ-haunted landscape.” Perhaps she was speaking of her own life as well as the life of her home country. One day she wrote in her journal, “Dear Lord please make me want You. It would be the greatest bliss. Not just to want You when I think about You but to want You all the time, to think about You all the time, to have the want driving in me, to have it like a cancer in me. It would kill me like a cancer and that would be the Fulfillment.”

Such honesty before God is arresting, and it points to the issue of desire, an issue with which we all must contend. “As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for Thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” So said the Psalmist in Psalm 42, expressing his own intense longing for God. We, by and large, do not have the same intense longing for God that possessed the Psalmist. We are filled with desire, but most days we desire so many things other than God, all of them less than God. But our struggle with our own desires does not make them any less important or crucial to who we are becoming. Simone Weil once said, “If we do go down into ourselves we find that we possess exactly what we desire.” We become what we most passionately desire, and for many of us, this is a huge problem, because we so often desire the wrong things. We want what we cannot have, or even worse, find ourselves longing for what we should not have. Instead of aiding us to grow, as healthy and right desires surely do, we are undone by the very things that possess our souls.

This is the power of Flannery O’Connor’s prayer to God. “Dear Lord make me to want You.” She doubtless believed the Psalmist, who promised, “Take delight in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Flannery O’Connor knew that if she could give her desires over to God, she could find the “Fulfillment” for which she longed. Thomas a Kempis knew this as well: “Let temporal things serve thy use, but the eternal be the object of thy desire.”

We do well to take time to reflect upon our own deepest desires and to be honest before God about them. I regularly must confess to God that I want the wrong things and that I am guilty of wanting too little of God. George MacDonald was one of the great inspirations to C.S. Lewis in his quest to find truth and to be “surprised by joy.” MacDonald once said, “We find it hard to get what we want because we do not want the best; God finds it hard to give because God would give the best and we will not take it.” Of course, what God most wants to give us is Christ. What God most wants to bequeath to us is Himself. This is the great gift that comes to us in worship and in prayer and praise. Only in worshiping the Living God do we escape from the small, suffocating world of self and find freedom and joy in the large, mysterious, wonderful world of God. I think Flannery O’Connor was onto something powerful and true. To pray for our desires to be taken over and shaped by God is exactly what we all need, and it is a prayer surely God wants to answer. Saint Augustine wrote in his Confessions that remarkable and luminescent sentence: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in Thee.” He also said, “Love God, and do what you please.” Augustine knew that love for God is the only path that leads to lasting pleasure in this life. Jerome said, “For those who love, nothing is hard: and no task is difficult if your desire is great.” If we begin with the love of God, if we delight in the Lord God, we will indeed be given the desires of our heart. Do you want the right things? “Dear Lord make me to want You.”

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

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