Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Meet the Mystics: Augustine Calls Us to Desire

“Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
-Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) is a figure who looms larger than life in the history of the church. Many know him as a great theologian who emphasized God’s grace, taught on the Trinity, and refuted Pelagianism. He helped to lay the foundation for the whole Western church, both Protestant and Catholic.

But Augustine was also a mystic—one who had a truly personal relationship with God. Although Augustine lived a worldly life for many years, the Lord supernaturally crashed into his life at one point leading him to a verse in Scripture that led to his conversion. From then on, Augustine cultivated an intimate walk with the Lord. Augustine and his mother, Monica, also had a phenomenal encounter before she passed away in which they were both experienced a taste of heavenly glory.

In his writings Augustine has much to say on spiritual growth. One of his key themes is that “desire.” Desire (longing, craving) is the starting point—it is what draws us to the Lord gets us out the front door to go on a journey with God.

Created in God’s image we are born to desire. That capacity to desire is good. Desire is meant to be directed toward loving others—both God and other people. However, because of the fall our desire became twisted inward (concupiscence, lust) and we focus on ourselves and our pleasures.

In his autobiography, Confessions, Augustine describes the many earthly pleasures he pursued before coming to Christ. Our hearts run after many false pleasures and empty pursuits that will never satisfy us.

Augustine sees desire as the driving force of our lives. Salvation is not a matter of killing all desire in our lives, as it is sometimes preached. Rather, repentance means redirecting our desire.

Only in a genuine relationship with God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—will our restlessness be stilled. Spiritual growth, therefore, is all about stirring up our desire for the Lord, directing our steps toward him and continually cultivating our personal relationship with him.

Life-Long Pursuit
When many contemporary Christians read Augustine’s statement, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee,” their thought is “been there, done that.”

This is the wrong response. Far too many people today can describe when they “prayed the sinner’s prayer” but they have grown little since then. Although they claim to be saved, they have little interest in the Lord. Rather, their desire is directed toward material possessions, physical pleasure, success, and even recognition in ministry. It has been years since they genuinely pursued the Lord.

What we desire—what we pursue—tells the truth about us. If we pursue carnal comforts, then our lives are carnal. The spiritual path we are on is headed in the opposite direction from the Lord. As Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21).

Desire is all about where our treasure is. It is the foundation of our spiritual growth. Desire is good so long as we turn from all the self-directed gratifications that seem so innocent.

Instead of ignoring the restlessness in our hearts or being led astray into self-absorption, let us direct our desires toward others and, above all, toward God.

2011 © Glenn E. Myers

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