Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Cross: Liberating Desire*

By Andrew Comiskey

“The best defense against false desires is to engender true ones.”

Desire can be good and bad: it can cause us to aspire to noble expressions of our humanity, or can reduce us to lust—compulsive cycles that dehumanize all involved.

The New Testament uses the word “epithumias” to describe desire: it connotes an intense longing, or passion. Desire itself is morally neutral. Whether it becomes life-giving or defying depends upon what we do with our passions.

James 1:14, 15 is a familiar passage that described desire gone bad: “Each one is tempted when he is dragged away by his own evil desire. Then, after desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.”

Let’s look a bit at this progression. Each possesses desire, familiar longings that are latent, unexpressed. Something happens, we get jolted by the enemy—some hard circumstance, conflict or sustained deprivation. Something appealing comes into view that entices us, lures us away from what we know to be true.

No matter why: we deny the truth and begin to race toward the lovely counterfeit. We conceive desire, meaning we attach to the illicit object. If we continue to attach to the object (sin “full grown”), we create a deadly fortress that will in time become our tomb.

Scott, a friend of mine with a drug and anger problem, had obtained a measure of sobriety. He was attending a church whose pastor had promised Scott that he could share during a Sunday service about a 12-step program he wanted to begin. The pastor forgot.

When Scott realized that the pastor had omitted him, his anger kicked in as did his desire for comfort and revenge in the form of drugs. He raced out of the service early, locked in with a pagan friend who was happy to share his drugs with Scott, as well as Scott’s disdain for the pastor and church. That 12-step group died along with Scott’s sobriety.

What elevates our desires onto higher ground, transforms them into occasions of life, and not death? The power of choice: our freedom to choose Jesus Christ right in the middle of the test—the hard circumstance or conflict, the familiar ground on which good desires sour into sin.

The good news: we can learn by God’s grace and wisdom and power to unite with the Lover of our souls amid the temptation; we can consistently plant the cross of Christ amid our conflicts and hang on. In that process, we discover the gift of self-control and an inspired objectivity that frees us to hold out for true expressions of desire.

For example, if Scott had waited out the service in light of the pastor’s error, and had voiced his complaint to the man himself, he would have quickly discovered that the pastor’s oversight was unintentional. Upon receiving an apology and “reupping” for next week, Scott might have locked in once more to his new life of truth-telling and sobriety, rather than the deadly mix awaiting him outside of that community.

The Apostle Paul describes the supreme difference desires that lead to death and life. In Gal. 5:16-26, Paul defines destructive desires as desires of the flesh. They fall roughly into 3 categories: chemical (drunkenness and other drugs), sensual (sexual immorality in all of its variations), and most predominantly, sins of pride and division (witchcraft, hatred, discord, selfish ambition, etc.)

All involve some broken human effort to control or manage the pain of one’s life: one is offset and submits to sex, or speed, or slander. The wicked heart will tend to take offense in the injustices surrounding it. The offended heart will then be inclined to secure false means of comforting and/or fortifying itself.

Jesus gives us a choice: will we continue to seek to save ourselves, or will we let go of our own devices and cleave to Christ and His cross? This is the gospel call to pick up our crosses daily (Lk 9:23), as often as the offsetting realities occur. According to Paul, we crucify these desires of the sinful nature through refusing (dying) to their enticements. We then emerge with desires laden with the fruit of Resurrection, the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22)

I believe that this call to pick up our crosses daily, amid desires in conflict, has never been more crucial. The days are evil, and getting worse. The enemy is mounting huge strategic campaigns to captivate us with both the offenses of a cruel world, and the pleasures of sin.

Think about it. We face global uncertainties as never before—multiple news services confront us daily with myriad threats and actualities of destruction. Locally, many of us are subject to the breakdown of key relationships: families (one’s own, church and friends) break up, blend, or just change, leaving us unsure of whom we can trust. The temptation to bitterness (others’ moving on and disappointing us) is greater than ever before, as are the multiple and diverse opportunities to lose oneself in various narcotics: drugs and sensuality, in particular. The effect of both is isolation and demonization.

Here the Word of the Lord: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you like a trap. It will come upon all those who live on the face of the earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Lk 21:34-36).

What can we do practically to plant the cross onto the ground of our desires in conflict? Let me share with you several crucial disciplines that have helped me in my journey.

Prayer does violence to the enemy’s schemes and serves as a barricade to the lusts of the flesh. Feed on Christ daily through solitude, the gentle waiting in quiet in His Presence, meditating upon a few choice words from Scripture. A key prayer for us might be: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Mt. 6:13)

In these verses, we are giving God room to prepare us for the day ahead, that we might be self-aware and Spirit-led as we navigate the inevitable hazards that await us. In this simple prayer, we are also asking God to go before us and remove demonic blocks to our sobriety. He delivers us, and we also prepare in prayer to exercise our authority to rebuke the evil one as we go throughout the day. Satan delights in our self-preserving, self-medicating devices; we disempower him by refusing both, in Jesus’ Name.

Americans hate self-denial. We learn early on that more is better. That’s not true! Purifying desire must involve going without the beloved, sinful attachment. This hurts, which is why we want to forgo this crucial step. Whether it’s giving up the lover (virtual or actual), the booze and the sugar, or the instant release of slander and boasting, our flesh will protest! Prepare for it. There’s no dying without pain.

We must learn how to connect with safe and trustworthy people in our conflicts. As we have seen, epithumias is about longing for connection. We must make peace with our need for others. The word is used in LK 22:15 for Jesus’ intense desire for communion with His disciples, and for Paul’s desire for the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:17)

Our freedom from lusts of the flesh must involve exercising our freedom for life-giving fellowship. We may enter such communion with a mixture of desire, fleshly tendencies that through God’s Spirit aspire to something higher. Even in this mixture, we can celebrate our learning to rightfully rely upon others in Jesus’ Name. We must.

The lusts of the flesh are transformed into the fruit of the Spirit by the cross as we discover that cross in community. We must make peace with our longings: we refuse what is base in them, but must embrace the needs for love that are an inspired part of our humanity.

Facing Pain and Forgiving:
Life involves pain and disappointment. The longer we walk honestly in the light of our need for others, we longer we experience the blessing and the brokenness of such communing. Rather than avoid that tension, we must embrace it. Here again, we cleave to the cross amid such pain. Rather than concede to bitterness and its counterparts, we turn to the Just One. We grieve, we mourn, we pour out our anger, and we let go of our beloved offenders through forgiving them. Again and again and again. We do so for Christ’s sake. And we do so for the sake of our own hearts, that we might continue to desire what is good and right and true. In that daily cross walk, our desires are released from captivity, liberated for love.

Such liberation is a gift. Though we must “work the program” with our minds and wills and spiritual disciplines, our transformation is born of God’s greater desire for us to know life and to know it in full (Jn 10:10). Evil desires tyrannize and dehumanize us; Christ through the cross makes a way for us to live authentically, alive to love amid the real hungers and hurts this side of heaven.

All of us have a different story to tell regarding the liberation of desire. I am privileged to include in this newsletter small testimonies of the key Living Waters’ leaders from around the world. These saints compose the Living Waters Global Council. Their reflections are born out of a steadfast commitment to living out the essence of Living Waters in their daily cross-walks. In turn, such authenticity becomes their authority to impart Living Waters to the nations each represents.

I also hope that these reflections on liberating desire through the cross are timely to you. You will receive this newsletter right around Easter. Let the cross of Jesus challenge and cheer you as you reflect once more upon the relevance of His death and life for your desires and their transformation.

Note: To read the individual testimonies describe in the article, please go to this website link.

Desert Stream Ministries

*Posted with permission from Desert Stream Ministries Spring, 2006 Newsletter. It is requested that no part of this newletter/report be reproduced or reprimed without permission from Desert Stream Ministries.


Christinewjc said...

A truly awesome article that can, and will, bless and benefit everyone!

Thank you, Andrew, for writing such a life-transforming Christian message that is desperately needed in our culture today.

Thank you Ron, for giving me the opportunity to post this message here at my blog.

In Christ,

Saltnlight said...

1PE 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Romans 7:5 For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. ROM 7:6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Homosexuals who behave in the manner of sodomy and same sex relationships are not born again and are not free of the law. They remain a slave to thier own bodies and thus a slave to Satan.

Rom. 7:7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet."
8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead.

The law is as a mirror, as we look into it there is the dirt or sin. We cannot use the mirror to clean us but it is only there to reflect to us the sin that is present. God points to a greater Promise in His only Begotten Son Who we must accept before we can change into what God wants. Through knowing Christ and the Holy Spirit we become children of God.