Will Moves Through Desire
Paul Claudel, the French poet, said after listening to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony that he knew now that at the heart of the universe there is joy.
* * * * *
"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done . . . ."1
Back in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, everyone knew those words as part of the Lord's Prayer. They were recited daily in public schools, often at graduations and civic gatherings, and on Sundays in churches. Today many people consider the Old English words archaic, so let us adopt the current vocabulary.
"Your will be done." What does it mean? And what does it have to do with joy, the subject of this book?
Look at the word "will." The original word in the Greek text is thelema, and it is sometimes rendered "pleasure," as in Revelation 4:11 KJV. A similar word thelesis (translated "will") appears in Hebrews 2:4. In the Septuagint the same word thelesis means "good pleasure," "delight," and even "sweetness."
By this time it may appear that there are different meanings to the word "will." When we take up the subject of God's will it requires further study.
Stephen Vincent Benét wrote a poetic description of President Abraham Lincoln's wrestling with the subject of God's will during the Civil War, after some clergymen called on him in the Oval Office. Here is the way Benét imagined Lincoln's reaction to their visit:
They come to me and talk about God's will . . .
Day after day . . .
. . . all of them are sure they know God's will.
I am the only man who does not know it.
And yet, if it is probable that God
Should, and so very clearly, state His will
To others, on a point of my own duty,
It might be thought He would reveal it to me
Directly, more especially as I
So earnestly desire to know His will.2
That sounds like honest Abe. How many mistakes have been made by Christians who have imagined that they understood God's will and knew exactly what God wanted them (and others) to do!
In A.D. 1095 Pope Urban II launched a crusade to "rescue the Holy City of Jerusalem" from the Muslims or, as they were then called, "infidels." He told a huge crowd at a synod gathered at Clermont, France, "Deus vult! God wills it!" The crowd roared back its approval, "Deus vult!" but His Holiness couldn't have been more wrong. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans and Turkish citizens lost their lives as a result of an utterly wasted cause. The Muslims survived four such crusades and still retained the Holy City. The lasting result: They have hated Christians ever since.
That wise and worthy Christian, John Wesley, was convinced he could discern God's will by the "casting of lots," as was done occasionally in Scripture. Wesley was wrong. Had he had his way, the American colonies would never have known the blessing of the "Great Awakening" under the preaching of George Whitefield. Thousands of men, women, and children from
Georgia to New England were saved. Wesley informed Whitefield that he had "cast the lot" about him and it said Whitefield should not leave Britain for America. But Whitefield quietly ignored him and sailed from London to Savannah anyway. Praise the Lord!
After a new believer comes to Christ, he or she probably begins thinking, "I wonder what God's will is for my life." It's a complicated question, because insurance people think in terms of "acts of God," and others simply think "what happens" is God's will. But God is more than "fate," and His will is more than que sera sera. A fine New England scholar, Timothy Dwight, once pointed out, "To say God wills a thing because He wills it is to speak without meaning."3 If I carelessly swing my car to the wrong side of the median and collide with another car, that is hardly God's will. Let's not call fatalism what is merely criminal recklessness.
It seems clear that the word "will" means in the Bible more than simply "intent" or "purpose" or notion." Jesus placed strong emphasis on "doing the will of My Father." In Sunday schools the traditional interpretation of God's will has always been moral, as in "duty." That still leaves unclear the meaning of the word "will." How would it apply to God's gifts?
Aristotle once said, "Will moves through desire." The thought has merit. "Will" is a much stronger word than "purpose" or "intention." When a bride tells the minister "I will!" in answer to his question, it carries an emphatic sound that "I intend" cannot match. Perhaps what she is saying, with all the urgency of her love, is "I desire!"
Let's apply Aristotle's statement to the verse in the Lord's Prayer with which we began: "Your will be done." We now read it as "Your desire be done." Instead of engaging in endless theological and philosophical discussions as to the nature and interpretation of God's will, let us simply ask, "What is God's desire?"
The first thing we notice is that whatever God's desire is on earth, it is (according to Jesus) the same as it is in heaven. And heaven, according to the Bible, is a place of everlasting joy.
Need I say more?
We need to be reminded that our Heavenly Father is a God of love and that He is neither inflexible nor arbitrary. Millions of Christians will testify that God certainly responds to prayer. Let's look again at that verse in Revelation 4:11. In the NIV it reads, "You created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being." Here the words "your pleasure" in the KJV have been changed in the NIV to "your will." Which is right? They are both right! What we will (that is, what we want) is what gives us pleasure. Everybody knows that. Some call it joy. Others call it happiness, pleasure, or fun. It has always been an aim of the human race.
If joy is what God desires for us, what does that tell us about God? It tells us He is a God of love. He is not interested in making us suffer. He does not want us to spend our lives trying to survive under conditions of near-slavery, or to waste our talents in squeezing money out of other people without producing anything useful. It is obvious that God created us so that He might enjoy us, and that raises a crucial question: Are our lives pleasing Him?
God gave us songs, and smiles, and laughter. He gave us the gift of love, so that we would help each other. He gave us sunshine and rain and beautiful growing things. I believe He tipped our planet's orbit at an angle of 23+ degrees from the equator so we could enjoy summer and winter, springtime and harvest.
Now what is it that we really want in life? We can mention jobs and houses and cars and boats and spouses and children and fixed incomes. We can discuss health and security and entitlements, and a hundred other things. We can think about fame and notoriety and adventure and achievements and wardrobes and jewelry and travel, and yet all of these remain outside the heart of what we really want.
What we all want is love and the joy it brings with it.
But here is where true Christians differ from others: It is more than simply human joy we are seeking; we want the secret of God's love and God's joy. And even this needs to be looked at carefully, because ultimately, as C.S. Lewis once said, it is not so much the joy of the Lord we are seeking as the Lord of Joy Himself.4
Speaking for myself, I want God! I want to see the bunting of Heaven, to experience the full ecstasy of the deliverance from my sins at the cross of Jesus Christ, to feel the elation of victory over the devil and all his motley crew. It's not enough to hear what wonderful things God has done for someone else. Certainly I enjoy hearing about it, but I also want those things for myself. I want to be filled with the Spirit, to sing and dance for joy, to join up with the saints in the halls of heaven as they pass by the throne, and to sing a song of triumph with them. I want to express my love for our wonderful Lord right here on earth, and I really don't know how to very well. But now I see at last that this is God's will for me. Like the apostle Paul, I have not arrived there yet, but at least it is exciting to study the road map.
How about you?
When you sit quietly in church worshiping God (or thinking about the football game that has already started), do you have an idea how much God loves you? Are you aware of the strength there is in the radiant joy of the Lord? It is like nothing else on the face of the earth.
Oh, yes, sin is also powerful. The devil came to earth bringing his diabolical baggage of misery, brutality, and despair. But that was not in the original script of creation. Don't ask me the details right at this juncture, but just thank God that He so loved the world that He set out to cancel sin and rescue us. Jesus came to us on a mission of mercy with the promise of life that is really living. He went to the cross for the joy that was set before Him, according to Hebrews 12:2, and He is now enjoying the delights of heaven.
What then is the will of God? That we should desire God! Don't desire happiness, for its staying power is weak. Don't even desire joy itself, but instead desire Him who is joy. Desire Him, long for Him, yearn for Him. When you have found Him, delight in Him and He will give you the desires of your heart.
That is the will of God for us on earth, as it is in heaven.
Don't miss it.
1. Matthew 6:10 KJV
2. Stephen Vincent Benét, "John Brown's Body," in Selected Works, vol. 1 (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1942), p. 187.
3. From a sermon preached by Dwight in Yale Chapel about 1799. Taken from The World's Great Sermons, vol. 3, Grenville Kleiser, comp. (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1908).
4. C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York: Harcourt, Brace Publishers, 1956), p. 220.
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