Heart-sick or Hope-filled?


       Over the past several days, I have been reflecting upon two proverbs. The first reads this way: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life."[1] The second is a few verses down in Proverbs 13 and the wise writer puts it this way: "A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul but to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools."[2]

            What I have been attempting to do is to put these two verses together in my mind and build them into my philosophy of life. Let me explain why. All of us have hopes, ambitions, and desires. The question, of course, is this: what stands in the way of many of them being realized?

            No doubt, there are numerous answers to that question. There are a wide range of factors that shape the direction and makeup of our lives. Yet, one answer is probably more common than many of us are willing to admit. We, ourselves, can stand in the way of the realization of some of our strongest desires and greatest hopes. Even though a desire fulfilled is a great source of encouragement and strength, we can be reluctant to make the necessary changes required to realize that ambition. In fact, as the second proverb states, when we are thinking like fools, it is an outright abomination to turn away from evil.

            We live in a day of immediate gratification. The thought of sacrificing a momentary pleasure for the attainment of a grander hope seems radically counter-culture. Although, I must admit that I do see many young men and women who are doing exactly this and it is stirring hope and expectancy in my heart.

            One of my favourite quotes of all time comes from C.S. Lewis. If you read anything I write or have heard me teach, it will eventually be stated and re-stated. Lewis argues that having desires is not wrong. The problem is that we forsake true and lasting joy by being unwilling to turn from immediate cravings to the deepest desires of our hearts. In fact, many of us have been so seduced by the marketing of the day that we actually believe that all we want is what the beer commercials tell us. We don't realize that these things simply fill us up like junk food so that we don't discover that our appetites are designed for something far greater. It is usually only tragedy in our lives that teaches us that this does not and can not truly satisfy our core longings. Lewis says that we must learn that God has placed within us high and lofty desires that can only be realized when we abandon the momentary substitutes for the real thing. Listen to Lewis:

      "It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." [3]

            Do you hear that? We are far too easily pleased. That is why many of us are heart-sick rather than hope-filled. Foolishly, we think it is an abomination to turn from evil.  Evil is simply living with God-substitutes. Our little worlds lack certain and constant hope because we won't dare relinquish our right to what we want when we want it.

            This is Easter week. If anything demonstrates this kind of foolishness, it is the decision to kill the Christ. Jesus had the audacity to tell people that He was that for which they hungered. He said things like "For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world... I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."[4] Did the people believe Him? They wanted his miracles. They liked how he gave the clergy of the day an earful. However, they didn't like how he said, "If you want to be my disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me."  It is hard in a world selling self-indulgence to wrap our minds around self-denial.

            Yet, this is the message of hope that God offers to us. He declares in Isaiah 49:13 that "Those who hope in me will not be disappointed." The famous and once quite indulgent St. Augustine gave his explanation of our human existence this way in the fourth century: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord and our heart is restless, until it rests in You."

            I am memorizing the two aforementioned proverbs in order to teach and to remind my own heart that only a fool thinks it is an abomination to turn away from evil. Why should I continue to cling to that which leaves me heartsick when there is One who is to my heart as a tree of life?

[1] Proverbs 13:12

[2] Prov. 13:19

[3] C.S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory"

[4] John 6:33,35


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