Joy of Every Longing Heart
It’s so good to see each of you this morning. We’ll be turning to Psalm 37 eventually, if you want to start there. It’ll take us a long while to get there. And if you need a copy of the notes, go ahead and raise your hand.
I’ve been reading a book, pecking away at a book called “A Philosophy of Boredom.” And it’s not the most exhilarating read, as you can imagine, but it is an important one. It’s written by Lars Svendsen, a Norwegian philosopher. He writes this,
“Tedium is not the disease of being bored because there’s nothing to do, but the more serious disease of feeling that there’s nothing worth doing. This means that the more there is to do, the more tedium one will feel.”
This helps us understand why our kids can have a roomful of toys and yet feel bored, or we can have a garage full of toys and yet be bored. In a chapter where Svendsen is outlining various philosophies of boredom (You didn’t know there were philosophies of boredom, did you?), he talks about Schopenhauer, the German philosopher’s view that you basically have two choices. Listen to the way Svendsen summarizes this.
“Man knows desire, [that is true] and the aim of this desire is placed either in nature, society, or the power of the imagination. [According to Schopenhauer] If the aims are not fulfilled, this leads to suffering; and when they are fulfilled, the result is boredom.”
You have two choices on the shelf. All these desires that all of us experience, remember “man knows desire” — yearning, craving, hunger, thirst — all these desires. You will either succeed in meeting those desires and then eventually be bored, or you will fail in seeing those desires met and suffer and slip into despair. All of our yearning will result, according to Schopenhauer’s philosophy, in either yawning or yelling. Yawning or maybe yelping, depending on the nature of your suffering. That’s encouraging, isn’t it?
The Christmas carol we’re talking about today, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” was written by Charles Wesley in 1744, focuses on desires, longings. Wesley actually only wrote two stanzas, so I’m going to limit our focus to those two. The others were added later. “Come thou long-expected Jesus.” This is a prayer of longing expressed in three ways. One, the purpose of Christ’s coming is highlighted by the word “born.” “Born to set thy people free, born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King.” Now the interesting thing about that is no one is born a child and yet a king. You might be born a prince who becomes a king. Jesus was born a child and yet a king. He was born a humble King, which tells us ultimately what he’s going to do. “Born to reign in us forever.” Four lines of purpose.And then there are five lines of request. “From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee, now thy gracious kingdom reign, rule in all our hearts alone, raise us to thy glorious throne.”And then six lines of assurance. “Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art, dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart, by thine own eternal spirit, by thine all sufficient merit.” Notice the relationship between these three. The requests are asking for the fulfillment of God’s purpose, and the assurances are the promises that guarantee the fulfillment. Wesley, like Svendsen, is highlighting man’s desires, his longings, but in a very different way. He is not predicting that all of our desires will end up either in yawning or yelling — in a kind of boring success or a horrible failure. Everything in this hymn turns on the long-expected Jesus. He is the dear desire of every nation, the joy of every longing heart. Wesley is arguing for a very different result.
Well, what does that mean, that Jesus is the joy of every longing heart? That’s what I want us to take some time to explore this morning. And we could answer that question a couple of different ways. One is we can look at it historically and trace all through the Bible the prophetic longing predicting the coming of Christ and the consolation that we heard earlier that Simeon experienced. Or we could look at it personally. How are we as human beings teeming with these desires, these longings, these cravings, and in what way is Jesus the joy of every longing heart? That’s very personal.
Now the problem with this sermon is I was sick last week, so I had a lot of time on my hands. And I began tracing this theme of longing through the Bible, desire. Looking at all the different Hebrew words and Greek words for desire. It’s very interesting because the Bible looks at this from so many different angles. The idea of hungering, the idea of thirsting, craving, longing, yearning — all these different themes flow through the Bible.
To try to limit that, we’re not going to look at the historical part which would be typical in a Christmas sermon. But I want us to focus in on a sample platter of the personal side. How does the Bible describe us as people of desire, longing, hunger, thirst? And then I think as we explore these, we will begin to see how Jesus is the joy of every longing heart. Let’s try to summarize it with three statements. We’re going to jet through the Bible as a whole, so it’ll have a different feel than our normal message, because we’re going to look at the Bible as a whole in regard to desire. Just a sample platter, don’t begin sweating. But then we’re going to land in Psalm 37 and make that our focus in the end. Three big observations.
Number 1, the Bible addresses our longings from beginning to end. The Bible addresses our longings from beginning to end. For example, Genesis 3:6,
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good [remember the last time you heard that expression “good,” it was God always declaring that something is good. Now suddenly a person is declaring something good, independent from God.] and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, [So you see this eye candy, this delight to the eyes, stimulated a craving, a desire, to make one wise.] she took of its fruit and ate.”
Jet all the way to the end of the Bible. We’re going to be, Lord-willing, in this passage (it’s one of my favorite verses) next spring as we continue our study of Revelation. Revelation 22:17,
“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”
See the longing, the thirsty, the desiring. And notice at the very end of the Bible the point that is emphasized is that this longing and thirsting within us can be satisfied without price, not because there isn’t a price, but because Jesus is the joy of every longing heart. Jesus has paid the price that we could not pay so that we could drink of the only satisfying water of life without price. It’s not dependent on how much you make or how much you’ve achieved or how religious you are how spiritual or how clean your resumé is. It is without price. Come, drink, be satisfied. From start to finish, the Bible talks about desire, and we are offered a satisfaction to our desires that nothing else can satiate.
Number 2, longings can be judgments in and of themselves. A big theme in the Bible is the fact that longings, desires, cravings, can be judgments in and of themselves. A couple examples: when God’s people refused to obey his word, he warned them of judgment. Deuteronomy 28:32,
“Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all day long, but you shall be helpless.”
I cannot imagine a worse judgment. When God is leading his people Israel through the wilderness in Numbers 11, the people complained about manna. What was manna? Manna was miraculously provided popcorn without the butter, without the salt, just food that God provided to keep Israel alive in the wilderness. And the people grew tired of it. They were craving meat. You know there’s only one thing worse than God not giving us what we want. Sometimes it’s when he gives us what we want. And they were weeping and complaining and whining and crying out. Numbers 11:4 says, “Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving.” I cannot live without meat. And so God sent quail. The people gathered the quail and began eating the quail and while the quail was still in their teeth, Numbers 11:34 is devastatingly concise, “they buried the people who had the craving.” They buried the people who had the craving.
Now this event is abrasive to our 21st century sensibilities, because we assume that if we experience a desire God would be wrong to not encourage us to satisfy that desire. Right? Why would he allow us to have a desire if he didn’t want us to satisfy that desire? It’s just natural. And of course, God encourages us to satisfy desires continually. I’m satisfying my desire for air right now as I speak. We satisfy our desire for food and for rest. This is a really big point about desire in the Bible. Desires make good employees, bad employers. They make good servants, bad rulers. The Bible does not minimize the fact that he has given us desires and he longs for us to fulfill those desires. But the Bible does forbid allowing those desires to reign over us.
For example, in Ephesians 4:22 Paul describes certain desires as “deceitful desires.” Or Ephesians 2, our lives apart from the grace of Jesus would be dominated by passions of our flesh, desires of our body and mind. These desires, as Adam and Eve learned the hard way, misinterpret God’s intentions, redefine good and evil, and tend to serve the gifts rather than the giver. And so, the desires can in and of themselves become the very judgment of God. For example, Romans 1:24, “Therefore God gave them up in the [desires] of their hearts … ” God gave them up in the “epithymías.” The “epithymía” is a neutral word for desire, but in the context it can either be an overwhelming desire that becomes evil or it could be a righteous thing. In this case, he’s talking about a controlling desire. God says, you want this so badly, I will give you up to it.
“To impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”
By the way, this is not just true of obviously unbridled, destructive desires like drug addiction or homosexual hookups or bank robberies. He goes on in that same chapter to give examples of the envious pastor, the gossiping neighbor, the disobedient teenagers. God can give us over to these desires that we think we must live in, and they eventually control us. In chapter 2 he even includes … (Romans 2) he actually includes the religious achiever. And then in chapter 3, he summarizes and says “no one seeks God.” No one seeks God. No one’s desires will naturally in and of themselves end up pursuing God.
Which, by the way, that makes a huge point. If you are longing for him today, it is because he is longing for you. If you are seeking him, it’s because he is seeking you. If even today when you came in you had a sense of his absence, and it bothered you, that is a huge evidence that you are being hunted by God, that he loves you, and desires to be with you, longs for you, which is why you long for him. Even when we sense his absence, it is God inviting us to himself. Because no one in and of themselves, apart from God’s seeking, would seek him. Our longings, our desires, tend to get lost. Now he is not saying that people aren’t religious, because everyone ultimately is seeking some kind of ultimate truth. That is at the core what religion is. But since our wants are warped, our search is unreliable. We can end up making a good thing a god thing. We can we can turn a tree or a rock or a football team or a friend or our brain into our god. Solomon, after craving everything from women to wisdom, lamented,
“So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a [here’s the longing word] striving after wind.”
That is longing language. This striving, even when successful — Solomon is agreeing with Svendsen — that even when successful, it leads to a spiritual boredom. So what? Chasing wind. We can actually make our own desires god. Look at Proverbs 18:1 (first half), “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire.” Now this is a self-referential craving. I cut myself off from God. I cut myself off from my brothers and sisters, and I get into this circular craving where I seek what I desire, and I desire what I seek. It’s a vicious cycle of insular craving. I am chasing my own aspirational tail, and I become passionate about my own passions. And in the end that is a judgment, not a blessing. Our longings can be judgment in and of themselves.
But number 3, the good news, through Jesus, God is the source and satisfaction of our longings. You might ask, how can God be the source if these longings are so unreliable? Well, longings are like rumors. If you go back far enough, you might find the truth. We long for so much because we were made for so much. God has put (Ecclesiastes 3:11) eternity in our hearts. And God is inviting us, through our longings, back to himself.
As a former atheist turned Christian professor so famously said,
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
That’s the home that Alan was talking about last week. God is sensitive to our longings. Psalm 38:9,
“O lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.”
There ultimately is only one safe place for us to locate our longings, and that is in the presence of God. Let’s explore this in Psalm 37:4. Psalm 37:4,
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
What does this mean? We could summarize it, trust God as the source of your delight. But what does that mean? Trust God as the source of your delight. Want the Lord, and he will give you what you want. Usually for me to start understanding something like this, I have to understand the opposite. If you look at the context, he will help us. When I am trusting God as the only one who will truly satisfy, I am not focused on something else. What else? Verse 1,
“Fret not yourself because of evildoers.”
He gives us two examples of what we’re focused on. We’re not focused on trends. That is, worried about what other people are doing. Fret not means do not get heated. Don’t get anxious about the fact that some people are doing the wrong thing and are flourishing. That will work you up into a frenzy. It feels wrong. Do not take the bait. Do not. Don’t be distracted by these trends or trinkets, second half of verse 1, “be not envious of wrongdoers.” Don’t be envious of their status and their stuff. Why? Verse 2,
“they will soon fade like the grass and whither like the green herb.”
It doesn’t last. It’s not real. Don’t let your heart get all worked up about the fact that, “God, you’re calling me to trust you, and yet they don’t trust you, and they have everything I want or think I want.” And God is saying no, don’t buy that lie. Those are those deceitful desires that he is warning us of. This was the great temptation that Adam and Eve faced. If I trust God, if I obey God, I’m going to miss out on something. He’s not going to ultimately give me what I need. It’s a spiritual FOMO — fear of missing out. No, verse 2 is warning us this is not the case. It is passing. It is withering.
Take for example, a young father who has a desire to provide for his family. He’s working, seeking to provide for his family. But he begins to notice that some of his friends who don’t seem to work as many hours as me, drive new cars. And they go on these amazing trips. I go to Pickens for vacation. What is wrong with me? He begins working harder, doing what he knows he needs to do. But the anxiety begins to get to him. He’s not sleeping well. He’s short with his co-worker. He begins to cut corners at work. He begins to buy things with plastic in order to give the impression of success rather than waiting, saving. He begins to hide their real financial condition from his wife. He’s playing the credit card game — starting new accounts and not being transparent about where they are. And then that begins to turn into anger. God what are you doing? The harder I work the further we’re behind.
Now look at what just happened. It started with a good desire, right? I want to provide for my family. I want to work hard. I want to give them the good things that a father, a husband wants to give his family. But then those desires get all tangled up through trends and trinkets, distractions, anxieties, comparing himself/herself with others. And before he knows it, that pure desire has been all convoluted into something very toxic that leads into things that he’s not really honest and transparent. Not willing to be accountable, trying to do it on his own. Great anxiety and anger at God.
Look at verse 3 for the opposite, “Trust in the Lord.” Now I know that’s cliche, right. But “trust in the Lord” here is not just floating out there on some Christian bookstore necklace. This is embedded within the context of “trust in the Lord” rather than the desire to be just like everyone around you, rather than the anxiety and envy that come when you begin to compare yourself. Trust in the Lord as the source of delight and joy. “Do good.” What is the next right thing God is calling me to do? “Dwell in the land.” Now the Israelites would have read that and immediately thought of the promised land. Be where God has called you and enjoy what he has provided for you, not worried about trends, not envious of trinkets. “Befriend faithfulness.” That’s a really tough one to translate. You’ll notice if you look at the bottom of your Bible, you’ll see some alternative translations. I like the “feed on faithfulness.” Feed on faithfulness. What am I seeking to satisfy my desires with — buying, borrowing, comparing, proving, being driven? Or feeding on the faithfulness of God. I’m daily pulling up to the gas station of God’s grace and filling up on his faithfulness. God is the source of your delight so that in suffering you are not in despair. In success you are not bored because verse 4, “delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you.” I love those words, “he will give you the desires of your heart.”
We tend to flip that. God, if you give me what I want I will delight in you. Come on, I’m waiting. I really want to delight in you, but right now I don’t have a reason to delight in you because you haven’t done this. We are so blind. The reason Jesus is the joy of every man’s desire, every longing, is because he is demonstrable proof that he will give you. Because he has given you, he will give you. Your Father is generous. He will give you. I would encourage you to do this even right now. Apart from anything you want or are longing for him to do, can you just enjoy God for who he is this moment? Will you allow yourself to do that? It is one of the most healing, freeing. It typically can start with the statement, “Father, I love the way you… I love how you are…” And if nothing comes to your mind, that’s helpful too right? Because you can acknowledge then, “I don’t know God. I may know a lot about him. I may know all the right answers, but I don’t know him.” If I can’t begin my time of prayer with him, “God, I just love it, the way you gave me longings for things that you knew would never satisfy because you knew they would eventually lead me right back to you before I even knew who you were.”
A couple of questions to ponder: what longing am I experiencing? Do you know how to listen to your longings? Now that’s different from automatically obeying them. You don’t want that. Because like we said, some of them are truthful desires, some are deceitful desires. We need to be able to take them to God and in his presence discern what to do with those desires. But some of us don’t even know how to listen to our longings. What am I wanting right now? We’re not robots. We’re not machines, and we’re not donuts either. There’s something in the middle. There is a really active heart that is always wanting. You’re not a victim. You’re not. You have an active heart. It is wanting all the time. It wants something, for good or bad. To be able to listen to those longings, those wantings, those cravings, that hunger, that thirst. Now I’m not talking about micro analyzing, but just saying, “God, why do I feel angry? What am I after? Why am I experiencing anxiety right now? Why do I feel a tension, and I don’t even know why? What am I really after? Why do I get frustrated?” Sometimes the answer is quite obvious. Sometimes it’s not. Are we willing to be mindful, attentive to our own wants first? Don’t stop there. But what longing am I experiencing?
Secondly, how am I tempted to satisfy this longing on my own, independent from God? Remember Abraham longed for what more than anything. A son. Was that a good longing? Yeah, God promised. God promised. But while he waited, wanting this son, he grew tired of waiting, frustrated with God’s plan. And so, he decided to jumpstart God’s plan, and he slept with Hagar his servant to try to produce a son his own way. All of us are continually tempted to sleep with Hagar, to satisfy our longings, which may be a good longing, independent from God, on our own, trying to satisfy the longing in a way that God had not intended. That was the temptation of Christ in Matthew 4, right? “If you will turn this stone,” Satan said to Jesus, “into bread. If you will throw yourself off, he’ll catch you. Look at the kingdoms of this world. You can have instant provision, instant protection, instant prestige and possessions right now.” And Jesus said no to everyone, because he would not satisfy his longings independent from his Father. Once we are aware of our desires, our longings, we bring them into the presence of God. We say, “God, what do you want me to do with this? Am I willing to trust in the Lord, dwell in the land, befriend faithfulness, delight in you?”
And then finally, what does trusting God as the satisfier of this longing look like? Again, one of the best exercises that we did a few minutes ago was, am I willing to delight in God before he satisfies this desire? Because what I find is, the delighting in God transforms the desire. It gives grace to wait on him rather than try to manipulate, coerce, produce independently. I challenge you this week when you begin your time with the Lord in the morning to just begin, “Father, can I tell you a few things I love about you? I love the way you are this… I don’t understand it at all, but it blows my mind. You’re so different from me. I love it when you do this… I thank you for doing this…” You’re delighting in the Lord. You’re turning your desires and longings back to the source, trusting him, through the grace of Christ, to be the fountain, the filter, and ultimately the fulfiller of these desires.
Father, thank you that you have not simply given us desires that you’ve called us to figure out how to satisfy. You’ve not simply judged us when we satisfy them wrongly. But you sent Jesus, who is the joy of every longing heart, because in Jesus we experience a kind of satisfaction that no amount of material possessions, no perfect day, no health or achievement or notoriety nothing can compare. You are the one that we long for. And we want you for who you are, not just what you can give us, because your steadfast love is better than life. Our lips will praise you. Lord, I pray for some here who can’t say that yet, that God you would reveal yourself to them. You would open all of our eyes to the emptiness of pursuing trends and trinkets, thinking that the next thing is going to do it. That we would learn, more than just in our heads, to delight in you — a kind of satisfaction that can hold us through deep, deep, dark valleys, that keeps us sane on high mountain tops. There is no life less boring than a life lived in your presence. Thank you. Thank you for drawing us here today, stirring our affections, growing our hunger for you. We praise you in Jesus’ name, amen.