By Tony Stoltzfus
Everybody has to have at least one really stupid prayer in their life. Mine was, “God, take the next five years of my life and just sanctify me!” That’s the kind of ballsy request you make when you are either mature and seasoned enough to really trust Father’s heart, or are in your early twenties (like I was) and don’t really grasp the magnitude of what you are asking. That was my first real dangerous prayer, and it launched me on an unexpected, paradigm-busting, wrenching, fulfilling journey of learning Jesus’ way of change.
The picture in my mind of sanctification at that time was “onward and upward to glory.” I would become more and more Christ-like and disciplined, until in five years I’d be preaching to crowds of thousands around the world. Sanctification would make me powerful and successful, but most of all it would make me “right with God”—I’d feel good and right in ways I only fleetingly experienced despite all that I was striving to do.
It appeared, however, that Jesus had some really strange, unbiblical ideas about sanctification, because the way he answered my prayer was to make everything I was doing in ministry come to an end. For instance, I lost my position on stage in a worship band to someone more talented, and ended up relegated to running sound. Then the band cut an album, the sound engineer at the studio got saved, and he joined the band—and of course was far more skilled at running sound than I was. So I got demoted again to go-fer, a tag-along with no real role in the band at all.
But the thing that really unhinged me was when God touched my devotional life and put it all out of joint. Up to that point I had been “Mister Discipline,” with my monthly and yearly goals, my Bible study plan, my hour of power every day, praying three hours a week with a friend and fasting weekly. I believed that if you weren’t doing all that stuff you were a spiritual wimp. My disciplines were the thing that proved that I was right with God, the Band-Aid I pasted over my longing for goodness.
But now, I just couldn’t do it anymore. It got to where even five minutes with God left me feeling so guilty and antsy and condemned that I would flee my prayer room in dismay.
Finally, after a year of utter, desert-dry failure to feel any connection to God, I quit. “I can’t live the Christian life,” I told God despairingly. I figured I’d become one of those people Paul talks about who crawl into heaven with the clothes burned off their backs and smelling of smoke, with everything they accomplished in life burnt to a crisp in the fire. “If you can do anything with my life, God, you’re welcome to it,” I told the stone-cold heavens. “But I’m done.”
And then out of the long silence something crazy happened: God began telling me over and over that he loved me. That I already was good to him. For the first six weeks I actually rebuked the voice of God, and refused to listen to it. That couldn’t be him! He would not, could not be saying he loved me when I had failed so completely at being good. But it finally started to sink into my heart that God loved me because he loved me, not because I was a good boy. He filled my heart’s desire for goodness without my help, and it changed something in me that all my attempts to conquer the flesh couldn’t.
The Power of Desire
To me, this story is about the power of desire. My addiction to discipline was an attempt to fill my deep longing for goodness and approval the only way I knew how: by always doing the right things. But if you get your acceptance from what you do—well, you can never, ever do enough. When I finally lost hope that being the good boy could fill the hole of unmet desire in my heart, I crashed. What finally transformed my heart wasn’t following the rules, doing it right or success in ministry. It was Jesus speaking to my heart in a way that filled that deep desire for goodness.
We all live within this same story of desire. Most of what we do is driven by deep yearnings for things like goodness, love, recognition, freedom, significance, belonging, and more. Desires are the energy and motivation that power our actions.
The Invitation is to desire filled; to an intimate encounter. Every change you want to make in life starts with an encounter where you experience Jesus filling your deep desire. It is simply impossible to live the Christian life without regularly experiencing desire fulfilled. When you are empty and in bondage to need, you are unable do what you want; but when you are full, then you are truly free to live for him. You were created to desire, and those desires were meant to be filled within relationship with God.
This article is excerpted from The Invitation: Transforming the Heart through Desire Fulfilled by Tony Stoltzfus. To download and read a free chapter from the book, click here.