Running on Empty: Frustrated Desires

Fil Anderson November 22, 2015

This is the 5th week in our Sunday series, “Running on Empty,” by Fil Anderson. If you missed the first four, catch up here:

  1. The Condition of Your Soul
  2. Hearing the Voice of God
  3. The Fear of Insignificance
  4. What’s True About God & You

Part 5: Frustrated Desires

Week after week, people come to me with unfulfilled desires and a question: “Why does following Jesus have no effect on my life? What am I doing wrong?”

An enthusiastic, yet overextended Young Life volunteer asks, “How can I escape always being busy and feeling spiritually numb?” A student asks, “How can I trust that God is with me when I feel so lonely and afraid?” A physically exhausted and spiritually demoralized Area Director anxiously sits in my office and asks, “What do I have to do to know that God loves me as I am?”

The volunteer leader, the student, and the Area Director have something in common. In the midst of harried, hurried, and hurting lives they desperately long to experience the love of God. Desire for God’s presence to be more recognizable gnaws at their aching, hungry souls.

I understand their desperate and anxious longing. After nearly fifty years of trying to follow Jesus, I am nowhere near becoming the person I once thought I’d be by now. When I was younger I believed my failure and inconsistency was due to my youth. I believed that when I was older I would have learned what I needed to know and mastered the art of Christian living.

However, I’m no longer embarrassed or afraid to admit that I’m an unfinished, incomplete, and imperfect, under construction, work in progress. Neither is God surprised or disappointed with my lack of progress. God’s work in my life will never be finished until I meet Jesus face to face. Desiring to follow Jesus isn’t about being finished and perfect; it’s about doing my best and trusting God to finish what he began.

I believe my desire to please God (regardless how much or how little), does please him. Despite my stumbling, bumbling, clumsy, and erratic efforts to follow Jesus, any measure of desire is irrefutable proof that God is at work in my life. I would never yearn to follow Jesus if the Holy Spirit was not first pursuing me.

The most encouraging thing I can say about my life these days is that I really, really desire to live in close relationship to Jesus and I know for certain that Jesus responds to desire. He never attempted to restrict or ignore any expression of desire to be in relationship with him. Jesus answered people who interrupted him, yelled at him, touched him, screamed obscenities at him, barged in on him, crashed through ceilings to get a friend to him. Jesus cares deeply about our desire. Just walk with Jesus and watch how he welcomes people who want something more:

  • “A man with leprosy…begged [Jesus]…’If you are willing, you can make me clean’” (Mark 1:40).
  • “They pleaded with [Jesus] to leave their region” (Matthew 8:34).
  • “Save us! We’re going to drown!” (Matthew 8:25).
  • “Grant that one of these two sons of mind may sit at your right and the other at your left” (Matthew 20:21).
  • “Sir, give me this water” (John 4:15).
  • “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).
  • “The man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with [Jesus]” (Mark 9:22).
  • “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
  • “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

A Testament of Devotion is one of the most impactful books I’ve read. Its author, Thomas Kelly asserts that we can live with “remarkable power and peace and serenity, of integration and confidence” is truly possible on the condition that we must really, really want to. Living the life God designed us to live and that Jesus died and rose again to make possible, hinges on the level of our desire.

So, the pivotal question we all must answer is “How strong, really, is my desire?

Fil Anderson is a spiritual director, conference speaker, writer and retreat leader. He served on the Young Life staff for 25 years. Fil and his wife Lucie live in Greensboro, NC and are parents of 3 adult children. He is the author of Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachieversand Breaking the Rules: Trading Performance for Intimacy with God.

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