How God Speaks Through Our Unfulfilled Longings
How do you respond to unfulfilled longings?
Our longings are not ends in and of themselves. Instead, they are indicators of where we have placed our affections and security. Longings manifest our humanity with a profound acuteness as they reveal our inherent need for something outside ourselves. Human longing has a divinely ordained trajectory – God uses our longings to urge our hearts to search for that which will satisfy us with an unspeakable preeminence.
For instance, every human longs for beauty. The expression of beauty is as varying as it is ubiquitous. We see it in the inherent attraction we have to a striking sunrise, the heart-soothing melody of a favorite song, the vibrant colors of nature, the precision and streamlined logic of God’s ordering of the universe, the incalculable joy of the deepest chemistry and heart connection between two humans, or the laboriously sweet sights and sounds of brand new life.
And yet, even when a shadow of beauty is found in this life, there lingers a sense of, “There’s more…right?” The sunrise fades into night, the song ends, the seasons change, a natural disaster enacts ruin over a region of the earth, relationships are broken, and all life eventually comes to an end.
Should these facts teach the believer in Christ not to long? Absolutely not.
What this reality teaches us is that all longings must have a rightly ordered trajectory. All longings must be rooted in, directed toward, and fulfilled in Christ Jesus.
Recently, I longed for clarity concerning my future. I underwent serious anxiety as I pondered what I am going to do after I graduate from seminary—mind you, that is a whole eight months from now! Can I get a witness from all of my planners out there?
This anxiety was self-induced, as I fixated on answers to the constant questions about what I want to do with my degree and the internal pressure to “have my act together.”
Is it inherently wrong to desire to know God’s plan for my life? To have clarity so that I can obey Him joyfully and wholeheartedly? No. But, if that desire for clarity is rooted in sight rather than faith, then it is a kindness for Him to withhold the clarity that I long for. It is true that God does not withhold anything good from those who live uprightly (Ps 84:11); but what if His goodness is withholding?
What if God will deny, even if for a time, fulfilling a believer’s longing, if for no other reason than to reveal that which the believer is withholding from the Lord?
In fact, what the Lord withholds from the believer is always for her good; but what the believer withholds from God will always lead to her destruction.
My anxiety was rooted in my withholding – I was denying God my trust, my heart, affections, dreams, hopes for the future, and control over my life. My unfulfilled longing for clarity led to anxious, chaotic storms in my heart. I was filled with discontentment, and worry. My heart’s intense reaction to what felt like God withholding clarity revealed that my desire was misplaced or misdirected.
How do I know this? Take one look at the Apostle Paul. In Acts 16:16-40, Paul has been imprisoned with Silas, and what are they doing? They are singing! We laud this act of joy, courage, contentment, and faith. But how in the world could he do this?
Didn’t Paul long to be out of jail to preaching the gospel, to be free to share Christ with the world? Yes, undoubtedly.
However, Paul’s truest longing was for Christ and His glory. This is why for Paul, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). This is why he stayed in the prison, even when an earthquake miraculously broke his chains free. Instead of running, he utilized this opportunity to share Christ with the jailor, whose household heard and believed on Christ that night.
Although Paul’s longing for freedom to share the gospel with as many as possible was real and ran deep, it was rooted in, directed toward, and fulfilled in Christ Jesus – for this reason alone could he be content no matter what his circumstances looked like (Phil 4:10-13).
When Christ is the deepest longing, and the filter through which we long for anything else, then “no’s” from the Lord are not as ground-shaking or disappointing. If the believer understands that all longings, in any shape or form, are ultimately shadows of her longing for Christ Himself, then circumstances will not be able to shake her faith.
What if we spent more time considering whether our longings are legitimate rather than whether or not they have been fulfilled? I believe that too often we focus on the blessings we have not received, the prayers that have not been answered, and the hopes yet unfulfilled. What if we spent our energy asking God whether or not our longings are in line with His heart, instead of asking Him why He hasn’t given us what we want?
Many of our longings are not inherently bad; they reflect our heart’s desire for good gifts of God, which may be used mightily for His glory. However, our longings, those both satisfied and left unfulfilled, are opportunities for us to direct our eyes to the One who fulfills all longings and in whom we have been made complete (Col 2:10).
When he spoke with the Woman at the Well, Jesus explained that the water he provided would quench her thirst permanently (Jn 4:14). This did not mean that she would never have to drink water again in her life, but rather that at the deepest level and for the soul’s inmost thirst, what He provides in Himself is the ever-quenching water.
Drink deeply of His well, Beloved, even as you thirst.