Every prayer is an act of desire.
I suppose one reason I’ve become so convinced that we need desire for our lives of faith is because desire is entrance into prayer. In fact, I’ve begun to see holy desire and prayer as nearly synonymous in the life of a Christian. What holy desire wouldn’t make its eventual way into the throne room of grace? And wouldn’t something cease to be holy about desire apart from this courageous risk on God’s goodness and wisdom and power? Isn’t enduring trust made solid and substantial as we confide prayerfully to God this one holy desire: teach me to want? We want and pray, and this practice forms us. We grow less to expect everything as we’ve asked for it. We simply begin believing that God’s no’s and not yet’s are a means towards our greater good.
I’ve written a book on desire, and in many ways, it’s a book about prayer. By this it will be assumed that I’m a good pray-er, and let me confess: I am not. I, too, am as easily herded as a cat. I don’t always know what I want, and even when I do, there is nothing automatic about making those desires into something resembling prayers.
But I’m learning to let Jesus ask me, as he so often did in the gospels, “What do you want?” And I let that become my invitation to begin praying. Sometimes those prayers lead to confession and to a renunciation of certain desires. Sometimes those prayers begin to grant new courage: my desires becomes my petitions becomes my plans (see Psalm 20).
I’ve wanted to write and publish a book. God heard those desires, granted those prayers, and gave wisdom for those plans. It astonishes me. (And makes me feel great joy.) The book that I’ve wanted, for which I’ve prayed, and that I’ve written is beginning to trickle out. I wonder if it is even in your hands?
So what do I want now? Or better yet, how must I pray?
I spent the morning thinking of how to pray for you, reader. And these are the desires – prayers – I will begin confiding to God on our behalf as you read, Teach Us to Want.
1. Father, fix our hope fully in the gospel of your Son, Jesus Christ. Your good news inspires our desires. “If God is for us, who can be against us. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him gracious give us all things?” Rom. 8:31, 32 You know how difficult we find it to grasp the extravagant dimensions of your love. But if this book does one good, let it be that we begin believing more soundly that you have desired us.
2. Father, reveal our profound capacities for betrayal. It is our fallenness that cautions our desires. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Isaiah 6:5 Father, you understand our tragic blindnesses: we would love our death and hate our good. Deliver us from ourselves.
3. Father, let us see the vanity of our idolatries and help us to treasure Christ. “I count everything as loss for the sake of Christ because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Phil. 3:8 If we are rich, let it mean nothing. If we are educated, let it not be our hope. Help us know the desolation of every worldly good and the enduring treasure that is life in and with and through Jesus Christ.
4. Father, let us learn that obedient surrender to your will is our ultimate good. Teach us to want.
“Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it!
Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me live in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared.
Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good.
Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness, give me life!”
5. Father, by your surprising mercy, grant us courage and commitment for our holy desires. Move us, your people, into joyful and bold participation for the kingdom. Inspire in us greater self-sacrificing love for your broken world that we become a purified people for your possession, “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).
Ultimately, Father, whatever good you do, may it be for the hallowing of your name (Matt. 6:9). “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, of the sake of your steadfast love and faithfulness.”