First of all, though I might not
have been able to trust myself to
want, I couldn’t pray without wanting. Certainly I could imitate the
feeble, halfhearted prayers I
seemed to hear huddled up in small
groups, even thundered from pulpits – prayers that stopped short of
real desire to prevent risking any
I could make “your will be done”
the safe tagline to all my prayers,
using those words not as a means
to surrender so much as avoidance
of self-scrutiny and self-disclosure.
I could keep the pretense of praying without ever really investing
myself in the radical propositions
Scripture puts to us – that there is a
good God who inclines His ear to the
pleas of His people, who is poised to
do good in the world and for whom
nothing is impossible.
Sure, I could pray without wanting. But if I wanted to pray like
Abraham and Hannah, boldly
pleading for my Sodom and Samuel, I would need desire – however
unruly, myopic and self-serving.
And I would have to trust in the
God who heard the unvarnished
prayers of the psalmists, leading
them beyond their blind rage and
grief and irreverent accusation to
places of praise. To be sure, God
didn’t owe me answers to my prayers
as I often wanted to dictate them,
but without those prayers what intimacy with God was really possible?
I began to see long-term change
was impossible apart from changed
desire. I had my fair share of failed
resolutions, promising to get in
shape, to send birthday cards more
regularly, to read poetry and practise Sabbath. But these were only
obligations to which I assented on
an intellectual level, things I knew
would be good for me. My commitment was buoyed for a period of
time – but never long enough.
As the years cluttered with still-
born intentions, I found I needed a
conversion much deeper than a
change in belief. I needed new de-
sires. And for that I needed the
grace of the God who worked in
me, “both to will and work for His
good pleasure” (Philippians 2: 13).
This began to change the way I
approached the painful places of
much-needed transformation in
my life. Whereas before I might
have tried muscling the do-gooding
required by God, now my first
efforts (instead of my last) were
aimed at confession, surrender and
pleas for help. God, I don’t even want
what you want. Give me a heart that
delights to do your will!
I began to see this is the model of
holiness we see in Jesus – not desireless obedience, but desire-full. That
in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus
did not abandon desire so much as
lay it down. That the cross was not
His sanctimonious grinning-and-bearing it for God, but His full-
hearted delight: “Behold, I have
come to do your will, O God”
(Hebrews 10: 7).
And finally I began to understand
desire was required not just for
praying and personal transformation but for participation in God’s
For years, I thought of God’s
calling as synonymous with
suffering, that whatever I least
wanted to do was the very thing
God required. Calling was obedience in the abstract, and it required
the denial of any kind of attention
to my unique gifts, opportunities
But this led to volunteering
haphazardly, following need wherever it led. Slowly I began to wonder if the desires I had for seeing
God’s Kingdom coming were meant
to be followed.
What if, as one example, the desire to write a book wasn’t a rogue
impulse to deny, but a signpost to
follow? What if desire, on this side
of conversion, had not just the
possibility of derailing us into selfish pursuits, but could enroll us in
I learned holy desire was a match
to strike – and prayer, transformation and mission were fires to light.
YOUR KINGDOM COME
It was years-long meditation on the
Lord’s Prayer that gave final shape
to the idea that desire, in the life of
the Christian, had potential for
good. The prayer Jesus taught His
disciples to pray serves as a kind of
script for holy longing, for a world
where God is rightfully given His
due, where the curse is reversed
and humanity flourishes, where
reconciliation is possible, even a
world where we are protected from
our own betrayals.
The Lord’s Prayer proposes a way
of being in a world governed by a
good Father – even a way of desiring
well from Him. It is both a caution
and call to desire.
“The whole of the good Christian
is a holy longing,” wrote St. Augustine in a sermon on 1 John 4: 6. In
other words, desire is not just a
rope from which we hang ourselves.
It can be the thread we follow out
of our own darkness – and into
Our Father, who art in heaven.
Teach us to want. /FT
Jen Pollock Michel is the author of Teach Us
FOR YEARS, I THOUGHT OF
to Want (InterVarsity, 2014). She offers a
free six-week Bible study on desire at
www.JenPollockMichel.com. Her second book
Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of
Home will be released by InterVarsity this spring.
She lives in Toronto with her family.
GOD’S CALLING AS SYNONY-
MOUS WITH SUFFERING,
THAT WHATEVER I LEAST
WANTED TO DO WAS THE
VERY THING GOD REQUIRED.