Aretha Franklin, the late, great powerhouse singer with gospel roots, started singing in her daddy’s church and kept right on singing to nationwide fame. Her father once said, “If you want to know the truth, Aretha has never left the church. If you have the ability to feel, and you have the ability to hear, you know that Aretha is still a gospel singer.” Franklin’s experience might be like a lot of our lives–though without those mighty, soul-deep grace notes: our passions can lead through to a passion for Christ.
When Jesus met Bartimaeus, blind and begging on the side of the road, he didn’t heal the man straightaway. Jesus asked Bartimaeus a question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51). It’s the same question the Lord put to James and John a few verses earlier (10:36). It’s the same question the Lord puts to us. What do you want me to do for you? What do you want?
We can tie ourselves in knots trying to figure out the will of God. But I think that sometimes the question of the will of God is too open-ended. I think we really have to begin with the question: what do you want? And if we’ve learned to order our desires toward Christ, to his ends, toward his ways, then we will start to want the same things that he wants. Or close enough.
So much of growing in the way of Jesus is about schooling our desires in his ways. It’s about learning to want what he wants, and then pursuing it with our whole hearts (see Colossians 3:23). Perhaps this is why Jesus taught that the greatest commandments are about love for God and neighbor. We’re learning to order our loves–our desires–toward him.At least two things happen when we do this. For one thing, we enfold our desires into the only desire truly worthy of the whole of human life: desire for God. It’s Psalm 63: “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” It’s “let everyone who is thirsty come” (Revelation 22:17). It’s learning to see our desires–along with the hopes and career choices and places where we plant our feet and lay our heads–as potential unfoldings of a desire for Christ. “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). Rinse the heart’s longings with heaven’s fire. Salt them with abstergent holiness. Trace our passions down deep enough and you’ll find alongside them the scuff marks of the cross. Aretha Franklin singing her heart out gives glory to God. “God made me fast,” said Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire. “And when I run I feel his pleasure.”
For another thing, ordering our desires toward Christ allows us to become who God is calling us to be and receive what God has given us as gift. So often, rather than becoming ourselves we end up envying others. Envy is the misplaced, disordered desire that longs to have what someone else has, to be what someone else is. Not only that, but envy is usually accompanied by the deadly sideways wish that the other person not have the object of our envy. All sorts of brutish little fruits come from envy, not least joy in another’s misfortune and displeasure at their prosperity.
The great tragedy of envy is that as we long for what others have and are, we fail to see the ways that God has deeply blessed us in our own lives, in our own moments, in the places where we stand. We have been loved beyond measure by the God whose love is boundless.
So what do you want? How can your passions lead through to a passion for Christ?