The Saturday Post on connecting Discipline with Desire

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For the past two weeks, the Church around the World has studied my favorite text in all of the Bible: John 15:1-17. I’ve had the good fortune to be preaching for these two Sundays. It reminds me of a short thought I included in my little 21 day book, CALLED: Following a Future filled with the Possible. I share it with you below.

Day 6. CALLED: From Dutiful Discipline to Abiding Desire

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Abide in me, as I also abide in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must abide in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not abide in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:1-8

Dedication to devotion is not the goal. Discipline in spiritual practices is not the goal. Abiding does not consist in ratcheting up your “quiet time” a few notches. So what, you ask, is the goal? The goal is the life hid with Christ in God. If the secret to abiding is not dedication or devotion or discipline, then what is it?

Desire.

“One thing I ask of the Lord,” says the Psalmist, “this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” Psalm 27:4

Danish theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, famously said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

Our desires determine both our direction and destination. Yet so much devotional energy gets spent fighting against desire. Certainly, the desires seated deeply within our broken human nature lead us in the wrong direction.  Freedom from these broken desires comes not from striving to overcome them via our devotional habits. Doing so leads to a place where our habits stand in the way of our holiness. We become devoted to our devotion.  One may look the part on the outside, while inside the war rages.

We need a reorientation of desire that comes from a total renovation of the heart. This is why Jesus doesn’t spend his time developing strategies of sin management. The repentance he calls for and empowers cuts to the core of our desires and reorients them in such a way that they can be trusted instead of resisted. This is the liberty of the sons and daughters of God. This is what pruning and abiding are all about.

To move forward in response to the call of God might mean trading in the consistency of your devotion for the constancy of his abiding. It might seem a subtle distinction. In the end, it will make all the difference.

JOURNAL: How much time do you spend on a daily basis fighting your desires? How do your desires compete with one another and create internal conflict? How do you understand and interpret what this idea might mean to your “devotional” life? Allow yourself to wrestle with the challenge it may present.

Check out the book in our store. It’s available in print, digital or bulk. You can also find it on Amazon.com. It’s been a great resource for Campus Ministries. Several churches have used it as a congregational study.

J.D. Walt gives leadership to Seedbed. He publishes his poetry at jdwalt.org and tweets @jdwalt.

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Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed’s Sower-in-Chief.

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