Let’s make a very important observation about how Christ’s church is designed to function: The church is meant to operate on desire, not duty (2 Corinthians 9:7). “Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Paul was a cheerful giver. What kept him going was the love of Christ: “For Christ’s love compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). We are to be motivated in the Christian life and in the Christian church by desiring Jesus, and not by sheer duty. Desiring God is the only thing that will keep us going over the long haul. Sustainable spiritual health can only be had through love and desire. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).
As Christians, we do not obey in order to be accepted and loved by God because we already have love and acceptance. Rather, we obey because we love. God would rather have us give a dime out of desire than give a thousand dollars out of duty. Jesus is looking for love. He doesn’t need our money because he already owns everything. God wants our love. Why do you do what you do? Is it out of desire, or duty?
You are what you love. It is our desires that define us as Christians and as the church that Jesus is building. What do you want? That is the question which every Christian and church must ask ourselves. It is the first, last, and most fundamental question of Christian discipleship. Jesus asked it. It is the first question he ever asked of someone in the Gospels: “What do you want?” (John 1:38) he asked the first two people who were following him early in his ministry.
Jesus is still asking that question “What do you want?” because what you want determines where you will aim your love. Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity. We are to hunger and thirst for righteousness, we are to desire right relationships with God and others. This is very different than being told that we have a duty to believe and do what is right. Duty will not last forever, but desires will be diligently pursued and fulfilled. Sheer duty will not get me very far as a husband. But desire will cause me to cross land and sea, to scale mountains and walk through valleys, in order to be with my beloved wife. So, the real question is: “What do you want?” Is your love aimed in the right direction, or is your love directed toward things which will never satiate your hunger and thirst? Are you looking for love in all the wrong places?
Philosopher and theologian James K. A. Smith of Calvin College has said, “To be human is to be animated and oriented by some vision of the good life, some picture of what we think counts as ‘flourishing.’ And we want that. We crave it. We desire it. This is why our most fundamental mode of orientation to the world is love. We are oriented by our longings, and directed by our desires.” Do we really love Jesus? What do our actual desires and actions tell us? In which direction are our hearts really aimed? The church is meant to function in desiring God, and not dictated by religious duty.
If what churches want is full auditoriums and sanctuaries so that they can meet large budgets to support growing building needs, then that says something about who/what they really love. If what churches want are faithful followers of God who learn to live and love like Jesus, then that says something about who/what they really love. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take over the world; it’s the reasons why and the methods we employ that are the real issue. Here’s the deal: believing all the right things, having wonderful programs and ministries, and uplifting worship services doesn’t mean much if the basic orientation of it all is trying to fill-up our religious quotas and keep score. If we have a scorecard at all, then we’ve gotten on the wrong ship. The grace boat is still sitting in the harbor waiting for us to get on. But we have to want it.