Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
I remember a slogan that pervaded the culture while growing up in the 1960s and 1970s: if it feels good, do it. Needless to say, when I began my journey in Christian thinking, I was made aware of the danger of letting my feelings ruin my life. While that has provided helpful counsel for me over the years, it has also spawned an unintentional consequence—suppressing before God what I really want. Several years ago, my wife introduced me to Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Sacred Rhythms, and I was confronted with the matter of desire as raised in the question, what do you want? Barton references Jesus asking such a question to a blind beggar named Bartimaeus: “what do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus was seated along the side of the road when he hears Jesus passing by and shouts to the dismay of the crowd, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Being physically blind, it seems right to long for the visual comprehension of the faces and places that bless a human being’s relationship with other people and the creation. However, what if I discover desire that can’t be met? What if what I desire is contrary to biblical ethics? Must I not suppress such longing? Desire seems a perilous road to travel.
Barton addresses such concerns in light of Jesus often asking people questions about their longings. Jesus used such questions as “what do you want” to open the way of discovering the truth of our deepest desire that leads to healing.
Your desire for more of God than you have right now, your longing for love, your need for deeper levels of spiritual transformation than you have experienced so far is the truest thing about you. You might think that your woundedness or your sinfulness is the truest thing about you or that your giftedness or your personality type or your job title or your identity as husband or wife, mother or father, somehow defines you. But in reality, it is your desire for God and your capacity to reach for more of God than you have right now that is the deepest essence of who you are.¹
The truest thing about me is my desire for more of God. Barton proposes that we discover certain spiritual disciplines as a rule of life to keep us open and available to God for the fulfilling of our deepest desire: our desire for God.
Identifying our desire for God can be challenging. Sorting through a myriad of thoughts and feelings can be daunting. However, it is important to know that this is something that we do not have to do by ourselves. A spiritual director can be a valuable companion in helping us discover disciplines that are suited to our temperament as partakers of God’s divine nature.² (Email Odyssey in Christ if you have questions concerning the ministry of spiritual direction.)
A discipline that might help us in unearthing our deepest desire for God is the discipline of fasting. Fasting can be perceived as unpleasant drudgery, therefore impractical for our 21st century Christian faith. However, fasting assists in exposing desires that are manifested by our addictions, our objectification of other people, or our withdrawal from community.
Abstinence from food is the most common thing that comes to mind when fasting is mentioned. While a food fast can be very beneficial, it may not be appropriate for all seekers. Some people, such as those who are diabetic, may be prohibited from fasting. It is a good practice to check with a doctor if considering a food fast.
The following is an alternative way of fasting adopted from Adele Calhoun’s, Spiritual Discipline Handbook:³
- Set aside a day in an upcoming week to fast from all electronic device use. This would include television, radio, internet, cell phone, computer, tablet, etc. The objective is to eliminate as much external stimulation as possible.
- You may wish to begin your fast when you awake in the morning and conclude at bedtime. Dedicate this time you now have to God, such as in prayer, meditation, scripture reading, light exercise, simple meals and additional sleep.
- Be intentional during the day to notice what desires arise in you?
- When the fasting is difficult, be specific in sharing your thoughts and feelings with Jesus. How does Jesus respond? Are you reminded of anything? Do you sense a change in perspective? Do you sense a desire to worship? Do you sense a strengthening of your desire to experience more of God’s presence in your life?
As with other spiritual disciplines, fasting demonstrates our willingness to delight in the Lord and to get in touch with the desires that He has placed in our heart. Knowing and experiencing Him in more intimate and personal ways really is the truest thing about us.
¹Ruth Haley Barton Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. P 24. InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
²2 Peter 1:3–4 (ESV)3His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
³Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Kindle Locations 5556-5558). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
John Novick has served in pastoral ministry for 25 years.