Most folks reading this will be too young to remember Mick Jagger inscribing the words, “You can’t always get what you want” on a generation of boomers. It was one of those rare moments where Classic Rock came into conflict with the ethos of the ME generation. In an age where advertisers had been catechizing consumers with “You-can-have-it-all”, the Stones acknowledged an unexpected limitation embedded in a fallen world: Life doesn’t always deliver on our dreams.
But maybe life is better this way. How often do our desires quickly change in a day? How often do our desires come into conflict with our conscience or convictions? Or even the prayers we pray? In a surprisingly insightful scene in Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey’s character, who has received a limited amount of god-like power, immediately answers the prayers of everyone in his city with an indiscriminate “Yes.” The predictable result? Chaos, mayhem, and lots of miserable people.
Happy is the man who does not have all of his prayers immediately answered. If desires were a trigger one could pull at will, we would all be dead.
When Desires Go Sideways
Do you have any areas where your prayers and your passions, or your dreams and desires, just don’t overlap? What are some reasons God leaves ambitions unsatisfied? James provides one answer. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3).
Remember “ambition”–the godly kind–flow freely when our glory-drive aligns with God. But James is flagging another kind of ambition that God is pledged to deny. It is self-contaminated ambition. James indicates it’s a prayer-killer. God withholds because we ask from wrong motives that move self to the center.
Can you relate to that at all? I sure can.
Writing was like that for me. For years I wanted to write. I prayed God would allow me to write a book. Writing was something I felt called to (had a strong ambition), but it did not come in the way I expected nor did it arrive in the timetable I predicted. In fact writing eventually represented a place of death, like some kind of elephant burial ground–the place where my ambitions went to die!
As I think back, I’m sure God knew what he was doing. My motives were pretty Dave-centered. I wanted to spend God’s blessing of writing on myself. It’s no wonder I did not publish my first book until I was 47 years old.
Can you relate to that experience? Do you have any areas where your dreams and reality remain unaligned? Maybe it has to do with what your family would look like at this stage. Maybe it’s job related. Perhaps you’re a church leader and you expected far more fruit.
What do we do when we don’t have what we desire? If we don’t have a category for it, our desires become demands. Next thing you know, discontentment fills the soul.
The Quest for Contentment
My favorite Puritan author, Thomas Watson, once said, “If you have not what you desire, you have more than you deserve”. Here is an antidote to the poison of discontentment that finds root in the ground of unmet desires. When we reflect on what we have already received from God, and as we grow in our understanding of his heart towards us, we eviscerate the power of discontentment that makes us bitter.
If you want an ambition that screens out self and shrinks discontentment, plant Watson’s thought deep within your soul: you already possess far more than you deserve.
So what have we received from God? We have received new life in his name (John 3:16). We have received adoption as his children (John 1:12). We have received the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) and peace with God (Romans 5:1). The list could go on. But in themselves these gifts should be enough to destroy any discontentment we feel over the minor (or major) unmet desires in life. Though we were enemies with God, now we are at peace. Though we are dead, we are now alive. Though we were forlorn and lost, now we are adopted. Though empty, now filled with his Spirit.
And what is God’s heart towards us? He is eager to answer prayers that accord with his will (1 John 5:14). He delights to give us good gifts (Matthew 7:9–11). And he aims in all things for our good (Romans 8:28).
But there’s more. It’s not all in the unseen. There is beauty abounding. The sparkling path of a sunbeam; the invigoration of a breeze; the delight of a child being tickled; kissing your spouse goodnight. When God ordered creation, glory was stamped on everything from molecules to dark matter. Can you see the splendor? Dewy mornings, Skittle candy, beaches and bumble bees, cumulus clouds hanging suspended in midair. Creation reflects a glory larger than you. Can you see it? If the answer is yes, do you really think you deserve it?
Like me, you probably have many unmet desires in life. We can either let those fester and make us bitter. But a better way to understand them is that our sovereign and loving Father doesn’t give us everything we want. But he gives us more than we know.
As you start today, remember: If you have not what you desire, you have more than you deserve.
Tenacious Tuesday Question
Do unmet desires more frequently lead you towards frustration or to praise? Why do they make you frustrated? Does James 4 apply at all? What can I see that I do not deserve?
Heavenly Father, help me to submit all my desires to you. I know that you wisely and mercifully direct all my steps for my good and your glory. May the doors that close on my ambitions lead me to rejoice in your goodness over all that I have.