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Desire Occupies the largest part of our emotional life: it joins forces with our will to rebel against God’s will. Our innumerable desires create such confused feelings in us that we cannot quietly follow the spirit. They arouse our feelings and make for many turbulent experiences. Before one is set free from the power of sin his desire unites with sin in making him love sin and in depriving the new man of his freedom. After he is liberated from sin’s outward manifestations the same desire drives him to seek for himself many things outside God. And while a person is still in the emotional state he is controlled mainly by his desire. Not until the cross has performed its deeper work and one’s desire has been judged in the light of the cross can he wholly live in the spirit and for God.
When a Christian remains carnal he is ruled vigorously by his desire. All natural or soulish desires and ambitions are linked with self life. They are for self, by self, or after self. While carnal, one’s will is not yielded fully to the Lord, and so he holds many ideas of his own. His desire then works together with his ideas to make him delight in what he wills to have and to expect to have his own ideas realized. All self-delight, self-glory, self-exaltation, self-love, self-pity and self-importance issue from man’s desire and render self the center of everything. Can we conjure up anything man himself desires which is not linked to something of self? If we examine ourselves in the light of the Lord we shall see that all our aspirations, no matter how noble, cannot escape the bounds of self. All are for it! If they are not self-pleasing, then they are self-glorifying. How can a Christian live in the spirit if he is engulfed in such a condition?
A Believer’s Natural Desires
Pride springs from desire. Man aspires to obtain a place for himself that he may feel honored before men. All secret boastings about one’s position, family, health, temperament, ability, good looks, and power flow from man’s natural desire. To dwell on how differently one lives, dresses and eats and to feel self-content in these differences is also the work of emotion. Even to esteem the gift one receives from God as superior to that of others is inspired by natural desire as well.
How extensively an emotional believer comes to display himself! He loves both to see and to be seen. He cannot abide the restraints of God. He will try every means to push himself to the front. He is unable to be hidden according to the will of God and to deny himself when he is hidden. He wishes others to notice him. When he is not duly respected his desire of self-love suffers a deep wound. But if he is admired by people his heart is overjoyed. He loves to hear praising voices and considers them just and true. He also attempts to elevate himself in his work, whether in preaching or in writing, for his secret self motive goads him on. In a word, this one has not yet died to his desire of vainglory. He is still seeking what he desires and what can inflate him.
Such natural inclination makes a believer ambitious. Ambition arises through the unleashing of our natural inclination and desire. All ambitions to spread one’s fame, become a man above others, and attract the world’s admiration proceed from the emotional life. Often in spiritual work the aspirations for success, fruit, power and usefulness are but pretenses for glorifying oneself. The quest for growth, depth, and nobler experience is frequently a search for self-pleasure and the admiration of others. If we trace the course of our life and work back to their source, we may be surprised to discover that our desires are the springs behind many of our undertakings. How we live and work for ourselves!
However good, praiseworthy and effective one’s walk and labor may appear to be, if they are motivated by his ambition they are nevertheless judged by God to be wood, hay and stubble. Such conduct and exertion possess no spiritual worth. God deems a believer’s craving for spiritual fame just as corrupt as his desiring sin. If one walks according to his natural propensity he will esteem himself well in everything he does; but God is most displeased with this “self.”
This natural desire is equally active in other aspects of one’s walk. His soulish life hankers after worldly conversation and intercourse. It urges him to see what he should not see and read what he should not read. He may not do these things habitually, yet because of a strong urge within him he sometimes does what he knows he should not. Soulish desire can also be detected in a person’s attitude. His soulishness can be spotted even in his mannerism; for instance, in the way he walks. Unquestionably it is discerned most easily in his words and deeds. Now these are admittedly little things, but all who faithfully walk after the spirit realize how impossible it is for them to so walk should they be propelled in these matters by their soulish desire. A Christian needs to remember that in spiritual affairs nothing is too small to hinder his progress.
The more a person is spiritual the more real he becomes, for he has been united with God and is at rest. But when one is goaded by his natural life he becomes very pretentious. He carries a reckless spirit and likes to do daring things in order to satisfy himself and impress others. How he pretends to be mature and wise when actually he is immature in many of his undertakings. He may regret his pretension afterwards but for the moment he feels great, Anyone who pursues such desires cannot avoid going off on a tangent.
Pleasure-loving also is a prominent manifestation of an emotional believer. Our emotion cannot abide living wholly for God; it will most certainly rebel against such a commitment. When a person accepts the demand of the cross in consigning his soulish emotion to death that he may live utterly for the Lord, he will discover experientially how his emotion pleads and maneuvers for a little ground of activity. For this very reason numerous Christians are powerless to walk totally after the Lord. How many Christians, for example, are able to engage in prayer warfare for a whole day without reserving some period for recreation, for refreshing their emotion? It is difficult for us to live in the spirit for an entire day. We always set aside for ourselves some time to converse with people in order to relieve our emotion. Only when we are shut in by God—seeing neither man nor sky, living in the spirit and serving Him before the throne—do we begin to appreciate how much emotion demands of us, how imperfectly we have died to it, and how much we yet live by it.
Desire for haste is another symptom of the emotional Christian. One who moves by his natural feeling does not know how to wait on God nor is he acquainted with the leading of the Holy Spirit. Emotion is usually hasty. A Christian emotionally excited acts hastily. It is extremely hard for him to wait on the Lord, to know the will of God, and to walk step by step in that will. Indeed, the Lord’s people are incapable of following the spirit unless their emotion is truly yielded to the cross. Let us remember that out of a hundred impulsive actions scarcely one is in the will of God.
Judging by the time we need to pray, to prepare, to wait, and to be filled again with the power of the Holy Spirit, can we really be faultless if we move impulsively? Because He knows the impetuosity of our flesh God frequently uses our fellow-workers, brethren, family, circumstances, and other material factors to wear us out. He wants our hastiness to die so that He can work for us. God never performs anything hurriedly; consequently He will not entrust His power to the impatient. He who wishes to act impulsively must depend upon his own strength. Haste clearly is the work of the flesh. Since God does not desire anyone to walk after the flesh, the Christian must commit his precipitate emotions to death. Each time emotion demands hurry we should tell ourselves: “Emotion is now urging towards hastiness; oh Lord, may Thy cross operate here.” He who walks by the spirit must not be hasty.
God takes no pleasure in what we ourselves do, but He is delighted with our waiting on Him, waiting for His orders. Our actions must be ordered by God. Only what is commissioned in the spirit is His undertaking. How impossible this is for the Christian who follows his own inclination. Even when he wants to do God’s will he is extremely impatient. He does not comprehend that God has not only a will but also a time. Frequently He reveals His mind but bids us linger for His time to come. The flesh cannot tolerate such waiting. As God’s child advances spiritually he shall discover that the Lord’s time is as important as the Lord’s will. Do not rashly beget an Ishmael lest he become the greatest enemy to Isaac. Those who cannot submit themselves to God’s time are unable to obey God’s will.
Due to his self-desiring, an emotional believer cannot wait on God. Whatever he undertakes he does in himself, for he cannot trust God nor allow God to work for him. He does not know how to commit a matter completely into God’s hand and refrain from employing his own strength. Trust is beyond him because this requires self-denial. Until his desire is restrained, his self will be very active. How he is eager to help God! For God seems to work too slowly, so help Him along he must! Such is the operation of the soul, motivated by natural desire. Often God renders the believer’s work ineffectual and thereby seeks to induce him to deny himself.
Self-justification is a common symptom among emotional Christians. The Lord’s people often encounter misunderstandings. Sometimes He enjoins them to explain their situations; but unless one is so instructed by the Lord, his explanations are but the agitations of his soul life. More often than not the Lord wishes His people to commit all matters into His hand and not defend themselves. How we like to speak on our own behalf ! How awful for us to be misunderstood! It diminishes one’s glory and deflates one’s self-esteem. The self in man cannot remain silent when an unjustified fault is leveled at him. He cannot accept what is given him by God nor can he stay for God to justify him. He believes God’s justification will come too late; he demands the Lord to justify him at once so that everybody may behold his rightenousness in no uncertain terms. All this is but the ferment of soulish desire. Were the believer willing to humble himself beneath the mighty hand of God at the instance of misunderstanding, he would discover that God wishes to use this occasion to equip him to deny his self more deeply; that is, to deny once again his soulish desire. This constitutes the Christian’s practical cross. Each time he accepts a cross he experiences once more its crucifixion. Should he follow his natural concern and rush to defend himself, he shall find the power of self more formidable to subdue on the next occasion.
Before’s one natural desire is dealt with he inevitably will pour out his heart to someone in the hour of suffering, discomfort, or despondency. His emotion has been aroused within and he longs to confide his trouble to someone so as to release the miserable pressure upon his breast and thus relieve his burden. Man’s soulish inclination is to inform people about his distress as though their very knowledge of it will lessen it. By such action the individual is attempting to derive sympathy and comfort from other people. He yearns intently for this condolence and commiseration for these afford him a certain pleasurable feeling. He does not know how to be satisfied with God knowing his problems: he cannot commit his burdens to the Lord alone, quietly letting Him lead him to deeper death through these circumstances. He seeks man’s comfort rather than God Himself. His self life is greedy for what man can give him but despises the ordering of God. Believers should perceive that their soul life will never be lost through man’s sympathy and comfort—these but nourish that life. The spirit life commences with God and finds in Him its all sufficiency. The power to welcome and endure solitude is the spirit’s power. When we locate human ways by which to soften our burdens we are adhering to the soul. God desires us to maintain silence, letting those crosses He has arranged for us work out His purpose. Each time we open not our mouth in suffering, we witness the cross working. To be dumb is the cross! He who loosens not his tongue truly tastes its bitterness! Nevertheless his spiritual life is nourished by the cross!
God aims to have His people dwell exclusively in the spirit, willing to offer their soul life completely to death. To attain this objective He will have to touch severely their natural desire. God wants to destroy their natural inclinations. How often He does not allow His child either to do or to possess things which in themselves are not bad (they may in fact be quite legitimate and good), simply because, as the result of emotional impulses, he wants them for himself. If a Christian walks according to his personal aspirations he cannot avoid being rebellious towards God. Our Lord’s aim is to destroy absolutely the believer’s craving for anything besides Himself. The Lord is not concerned with the nature of a thing; He only asks what directs him to this thing—his own desire or the will of God? The best work or walk, if it arises out of one’s desire and not from intuitive revelation, has positively no spiritual value before God. Many works which God had intended to lead His child into He must temporarily suspend because that one is motivated by his own wish. God will begin to lead His child again to these works once he has completely yielded to Him. God longs for His will (made known in our intuition) to be the guiding principle of our life and labor. He does not want us to heed our own propensity even when it seems to agree with His purpose. What we ought to heed is God’s will; what we must deny is our own desire. Here is the wisdom of God. Why does He forbid us to follow our inclination even when it coincides with His will? Because it is still our own desire. For if we are allowed to obey our good aspirations, does there not remain a place for our “self”?
Despite the fact our desires occasionally agree with His will, God is not delighted with them because they are nonetheless of ourselves. He charges us to break completely with our longings for anything other than Himself. This “anything” may include some very excellent desires but He will give no ground to any of them that are independent. We must rely on Him in all matters. What does not emerge from dependence on Him He rejects. Step by step He leads us to deny our soul life.
If anyone wishes to maintain a true spiritual course he must cooperate with God in putting to death his own desire. All interests, inclinations and preferences must be denied. We should gladly accept man’s contradicting, despising, discounting, misunderstanding, and harsh criticising and permit these matters which are so antagonistic to natural desire to deal with our soul life. We should learn how to receive suffering, pain, or a lowly place as apportioned us by God. However much our self life feels pained or our natural feeling is hurt, we must bear them patiently. If we bear the cross in practical matters we shall shortly see our self life crucified on the cross we bear. For to carry the cross is to be crucified thereon. Every time we silently accept what goes against our natural disposition we receive another nail which pins our soul life more firmly to the cross. All vainglory has to die. Our longing to be seen, respected, worshiped, exalted and proclaimed needs to be crucified. Any heart for self-display must equally be crucified. Every pretension to spirituality in order to be praised must be cut down; so must all self-importance and self-exaltation. Our desire, whatever its expression, must be denied. Anything which is initiated by ourselves is defiled in the sight of God.
The practical cross which God dispenses runs counter to our desires. The cross aims at crucifying them. Nothing in our total make-up suffers more wounding under the lash of the cross than does our emotion. It cuts deeply into everything pertaining to ourselves. How then can our emotion be happy when our desire is dying? The redemption of God requires a thorough setting aside of the old creation. God’s will and our soul’s delight are incompatible. For anyone to pursue the Lord he must oppose his own desire.
Since this is God’s purpose He therefore arranges to have His children experience many fiery trials so that all these offscourings of desire may be consumed in the fire of suffering. A Christian may aspire to high position, but the Lord brings him low: he may cherish many hopes, yet the Lord allows him no success in anything: he may entertain many delights, but the Lord gradually takes away each of them till none remains: he yearns for glory, yet the Lord inflicts upon him humiliation. Nothing in the ordering of the Lord seems to coincide with the Christian’s thought; everything strikes him down as would a beating rod. Though he struggles with all his might he soon deduces that he is heading straight for death. He does not discern at first that it is the Lord Who leads him to this demise. Everything seems to speak of helplessness, seems to remove any hope of life, seems to demand that he should die. During this period when he cannot escape death, he begins to realize he owes this end to God, and so he yields and accepts it with composure. This death, however, bespeaks the cessation of his soul life that he may live utterly in God. To achieve this death in the Christian’s life God has worked long and hard. How foolish then for him to resist such an expiration for so long. For is it not true that after he has passed through this death all turns out well and God’s aim in him is also fulfilled? Thereafter he can advance rapidly in spiritual growth.
Once he loses his heart for “self” the believer can be wholly God’s. He is ready to be molded into any form God wishes. His desire no longer strives against God; nay, he relishes nothing but God. His life has now become quite simple: he has no expectations, no requests, no ambitions other than to be willingly obedient to the Lord’s will. A life of obedience to His intent is the simplest kind on earth, because he who so lives seeks nothing but to quietly follow God.
After a person has forsaken his natural longings he obtains a genuinely restful life. Formerly he had many desires. To satisfy them he planned, plotted and contrived, exhausting every ounce of his wisdom and power. His heart was in constant turmoil. While contriving, he agitated to attain what he desired. When defeated, he agonized because of failure to achieve. How the restful life eludes him! Furthermore, the person who has not yet abandoned what is his and surrendered to what is God’s cannot help but be affected by his surroundings. People’s capricious attitudes, changing environments, loneliness, and many other elements in the external world work to induce melancholia. This is quite a common trait among emotional saints. But natural desire can also arouse wrath in such a one. When externals go against his wish or do not turn out exactly as he prefers, when matters appear to be unjust and unreasonable to him, he becomes disturbed, anxious, and angry. These different emotional expressions are provoked by external causes. How easily one’s emotion can be stirred, perturbed, and wounded. One’s natural desire thus seeks out man’s love, respect, sympathy and intimacy; but if he fails to realize his desire he murmurs against heaven and cries out against men. Is there anyone exempt from such sorrow and grief? Living in this bitter world as we all do, can anyone realistically expect to have his desire fully realized? If this is impossible, then how can an emotional believer ever secure rest in life? He cannot. But that child of God who purely follows the spirit and seeks not his own pleasure is satisfied with what God gives to him: and his restlessness immediately ceases.
The Lord Jesus speaks to His disciples saying: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11.29). The soul here alludes especially to the emotional part of our being. The Lord knows that His Own people must pass through many trials, that the heavenly Father is going to arrange for them to be lonely and misunderstood. As no one understands Him except the Father, so no one will understand His disciples (v.27). Jesus knows that the heavenly Father must permit many unpleasant occurrences to befall the believers in order that they may be weaned from the world. He also appreciates what the feelings in their souls will be like as they are put through the fire. For this reason He tells them in advance to learn from Him so that they may find rest for their emotion. Jesus is gentle: He is able to receive any treatment from men: He joyfully accepts the opposition of sinners. Jesus is likewise lowly: He heartily humbles Himself: He has no ambition of His Own. The ambitious are hurt, angry, and restless when they cannot obtain their wishes. But Christ at all times lives gently and humbly on earth; there is consequently no occasion for His emotion to boil and erupt. He teaches we should learn from Him, that we should be gentle and lowly as He is. He says for us to bear His yoke as a restraint upon ourselves. He bears a yoke too, even the yoke of God. He is satisfied with His Father’s will alone; as long as the Father knows and understands Him, why should He be concerned about the opposition of others? He is willing to accept the restrictions given him by God. He explains that we must bear His yoke, accept His restraint, do His will, and seek no freedom for the flesh. If this is done, then nothing can disturb or provoke our emotion. This is the cross. If anyone is willing to receive the cross of Christ and submit completely to the Lord, he shall find rest for his emotion.
This is none other than a satisfied life. The Christian cherishes nothing but God; henceforth he is satisfied with His will. God himself has filled his desire. He regards everything God has arranged or given, asked or charged him with, as good. If he can but follow the will of God his heart is satisfied. He seeks his own pleasure no longer, and not because of force but because God’s will has satisfied him. Since he is now filled, he has no more requests to make. A life such as this can be summed up in one word: satisfied. The characteristic of spiritual life is satisfaction—not in the sense of self-centeredness, self-sufficiency, or self-filling but in that of the person having found all his needs fully met in God. To him God’s will is the very best; he is satisfied. What else need he ask for? Only emotional Christians find fault with God’s arrangement and aspire to have more by conceiving numberless expectations in their hearts. But one who has allowed the Holy Spirit to operate deeply in him by the cross no longer yearns for anything according to himself. His desire is fulfilled already in God.
At this point the believer’s desire is totally renewed (this does not mean that thereafter there can be no failure); it is united with God’s desire. Not only is he, negatively, resisting the Lord no longer; but positively, he is delighting in His delight. He is not suppressing his desires; he is simply delighted with what God requires of him. If God desires him to suffer, he asks Him to make him suffer. He finds sweetness in such suffering. If God desires him to be afflicted, he willingly seeks such affliction. He loves affliction more than healing. If God desires to bring him low, he gladly cooperates with Him in bringing himself down. He delights now only in what God delights in. He covets nothing outside Him. He expects no uplifting if God does not so desire. He does not resist God but rather welcomes whatever He bestows, whether sweet or bitter.
The cross produces fruits. Each crucifixion brings to us the fruit of God’s life. All who are willing to accept the practical cross which God gives shall find themselves living a pure spiritual life. Daily there is for us the practical cross God desires us to bear. Every cross has its peculiar mission to accomplish a particular work in our life. May no cross ever be wasted upon us!