Recently in my travels, I have been spending time with a family who has a 17 month old baby. Developmentally, she faces an important transition point as she navigates the pressure to learn words. Often, she points to objects, makes eye contact with her parents or sisters, and wordlessly groans, moaning until her family responds and she finds satisfaction.
Similar to the vocal groans of this baby, our God is also a God who groans. As another segment of this series on sound, language, and apostolic ministry to the nations, today I will focus on the sound of God’s deep desires through the Holy Spirit, and how to put our deep yearning in tune with his to be most useful for his Kingdom.
While it would be tempting to know God as only the one who “rejoices over us with singing”, we invariably must know him as the God who groans over us in travail. In the Romans 8:26, we are introduced to the sound of God’s deep yearning through the Holy Spirit’s moaning.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.Romans 8:26
In hearing God’s vocal groans, we must choose to let him tune us. In choosing the cross, Jesus chose to tune his own yearning to the sound of the Holy Spirit’s yearning over us.
In choosing the cross, Jesus exemplified both human surrender and the divine, vocal yearning of the Trinity in intercession. Unlike groaning after his own desires, Jesus’ models God’s humility through self-abandon and positions himself to be attuned to God.
Jesus’ willingness to be in tune to the sound of God’s yearning corresponds to his role as Redeemer of All Creation (humanity included).
In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve experience specific consequences of sin. If you read carefully, these specific consequences are an invitation into God’s own longing. To Adam (and his descendants), God gives difficult physical labor and makes clawingly visible the fruitlessness of our own efforts. To Eve (and her descendants), God gives a sense of unsatisfied desire, isolation, helplessness, and of deep groaning in the pain of delivery.
To a person unfamiliar with the character of God, the intensity of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sins would be evidence that God was not interested in saving human beings. However, through Jesus we know that God used Adam and Eve’s initial moaning and groaning to draw them towards the sound of their own deep desire for more.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.Psalm 42:7
From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands. 27God intended that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.Acts 17;26-27
It is ultimately this human desire for more that God answers through Jesus. Instead of merely settling for the knowledge of good and evil through our senses (Genesis 2:16-17), through Christ, God empowers us to find true meaning and life (Revelation 2:7). Through their descendants, God did not leave Adam and Eve as orphans, but responds to our deepest longings for “more” and “better” than the world’s evil or our own brokenness through Jesus.
In Christ, instead of striving we have found our unearned salvation and God’s own labor on our behalf. Instead of anticlimax, we find our full satisfaction, our full belonging, our full empowerment, and our happy ending worth waiting for.
The Deepest Desire of the Human Heart is Christ, but what does God long for?
God yearns in self-abandon, unsatisfied until Jesus in us is formed. Even a short overview of the books of the Prophets and the Psalms indicates that God’s yearning for us to be made perfect in Christ is central to his character.
“For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor; I will gasp and pant.”Isaiah 42:14
The same God who uses birthing language to reveal his deep yearning over us promises Deliverance [Christ] by way of delivery.
Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?” says the Lord; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” says your God.Isaiah 66:9
And praise God, the writers of the New Testament writers experientially describe the process of spiritual transformation in Christ using the same birthing imagery:
My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you–Galatians 4:6
Speaking in Birthing Language is Intuitive to the Character of God, for God Created the World for Yearning
God created the world as a response and as an echo his own moaning. While God had no need of Creation, he desired it. Simply for the sake of his own desire and to echo his own fullness, God decided to make all things. Mercifully, this means that God has compassion on our desires, and understands the significance of their fulfillment. Just as God had compassion Adam’s longing and created for him Eve as a holistically equipped partner, God desires to be intimately involved in our lives as the answer to our desires. Yet more than humans’ often self-directed and self-focused desires, God greatest desire is for us to become like Jesus.
God’s ultimate desire is to see Jesus in us and adopt us as his sons and daughters.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.Galatians 4:4-5
God’s desire to see Jesus in and through us is so great that he imparts this same desire to all of Creation.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.Romans 8:19-22
He even gives this desire [to see Jesus in and through us] to the Angels!
12 It was revealed to [the prophets] that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.1 Peter 1:10-12
In a Groaning Kingdom, We Must be Attuned to God’s Longing or we will be of very little use
How can we rightly respond to a God who moans if we are not aware of our own desires?
How can we put our desires in alignment with God if we have hungered so little that we cannot hear them?
How can we put our desires in alignment with God if we prefer to pursue our own [warped] sound?
Realistically, God is looking for a people to be his instruments to release HIS sound.
Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work2 Timothy 2:21
God’s ultimate agenda is to create a Kingdom where every individual is an instrument for good use.
How can we be in Tune with God’s Longing?
How can we aligned to God’s desires? Ultimately, the question begins and ends with desire. While some ascetics would assert that individuals seeking God should seek to reduce their earthly desires, there is a simpler and more fulfilling path, inspired by a God who created humans to have desires. Instead of erasing desire, the goal is to desire God more than anything else.
Initially, a person needs to desire God and allow their hunger to motivate them to seek him. God promises to encounter those who earnestly seek him.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.Jeremiah 29:13
As individuals earnestly seek God, God promises to reward them with revealing himself.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.Hebrews 11:6
By drawing close to him, God himself changes our desires and remakes as tuned instruments.
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.James 4:8
God wants to be found again and again throughout our lives, continuously and across life seasons. He wants to be our greatest desire.
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.Deuteronomy 6:5
God knows are lives are the most meaningful when he is our most important desire. For that reason, Jesus echoes the Deuteronomy 6:5 sentiment in Greek, teaching people that the greatest commandment is still to love God.
Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’Matthew 22:37
From loving God, God will give us the capacity to love others.
And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’Matthew 22:39
As individuals love God, they will choose to yield to his guidance.
“If you love me, keep my commands.John 14:15
God becomes a beloved authority figure that we do not want to disobey. When you truly love someone, you don’t intentionally want to dishonor them or do something that would hurt them. In the same way, the love we have for God through the Holy Spirit empowers us to love what is good and reject what is evil.
To be set apart for good use means letting God consecrate your life so that your desires are aligned with his desires. As individuals yield to the Holy Spirit, they allow God to redirect their desires to the things he loves.
Practically, how does this all work out?
One of my favorite things about God is that he is intense. He isn’t hiding and he isn’t playing games. He answers us even out of a whirlwind! When he sees individuals suffering, he responds with an intensity that corresponds to the depth of their pain.
God’s intensity can be intimidating and even cause a healthy fear of the Lord, but you never have to doubt that he is a God who feels deeply and has tremendous emotional range.
This means that God sees and responds to the most hidden desires of our hearts. Nothing is hidden with him. He will respond to prayers that haven’t even been put into words, because of his surpassing goodness. God loves to redeem broken situations, and he will answer us even when we can only wordlessly groan.
God responds to our hunger, not our arguments. He doesn’t need to be convinced to care, he is already involved. If anything, we have to yield in transparency long enough to respond to his invitation to seek him and watch what he will do in a situation.
Is any one of you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick. The Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.James 5:13-15
If you have the courage to emotionally engage with God, he will reveal and confirm the desires of your heart. Just as people experientially learn one another in relationships, God will use your emotions to teach you about himself and others, if you let him. In learning God, we are better off with a devotional approach that prioritizes connection rather than just academic learning.
Ultimately, Jesus was confident in his relationship with the Trinity because he had experienced them. A worker does not develop expertise just by knowing facts about their trade, but instead, skill and confidence comes through our lived experience. We have to continually seek God if we want to know him for ourselves. No one else can do it for us, and there is no substitute.
It is a given that not all of our human desires are going to be aligned to God’s desires. When it comes to our physical appetites (hunger, thirst, sexual desire), we must choose God’s way over anything that would draw us away from the love of God.
For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.1 John 2:16
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.Galatians 5:19-21
In addition to a daily lifestyle of seeking God, there are several ways individuals can listen carefully to their own desires.
Instead of numbing or emotional detachment, when we experience desires that pull us away from the love of God, we can pray for God to send his consecrating fire.
Compare the consecrating fire of God with the destructive lustful fire of Hosea 7:3-7, and you’ll quickly understand the difference.
This consecrating fire is something the Holy Spirit ministers over the lives of individuals who seek him as a solution to our misplaced longing. Unlike the destructive fire of unbridled physical desire, the consecrating fire of the Holy Spirit is constructive, purifying and transforming his people. It still carries the intensity of God, but through Jesus’s finished work, we experientially know that God will receive us.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.Romans 12;1
For our “God is a consuming fire.”Hebrews 12:29
Smoke rose from His nostrils, and consuming fire came from His mouth; glowing coals blazed forth.2 Samuel 22:9
Another avenue of alignment is fasting. Traditionally, fasting is a spiritual discipline that Christians have used across centuries to attune their desires to God. The rationale is that as your body makes you more aware of your physical desires (ie, food), you will become more aware of the effect of your desires on your spirit. This could mean getting clarity on your motives before a big decision, or it could help you recognize desires that are pulling you away from the love of God. From fasting, an individual is more aware of their physical desire, and can listen closely to whether it aligns with the desires of God. Usually during this process, the Lord will expose things that have become more important than him in our lives, and we will be better for it. From this place of greater awareness, you can invite God into the process so that he remains your most important desire. You can learn more about fasting and ways to fast safely here.
Realistically, God will use your desires to direct you if you are paying attention. While I aim to be as in tune with God as possible during my waking hours, some of my most intense experiences of God speaking through my desires originated while I was asleep.
One instance where God aligned my yearning to his own was through a night of dreams on February 21st of this year. I had dream after dream of God’s father heart for teens. I saw kids who had lost parents due to genocide and war in Africa, children in Afghanistan who were frozen on a soccer field and unable to move, and other teenagers learning about the prophetic in a kind of dormitory. I was shaken out of my sleep, involuntarily moaning for harvest.
In another dream I had as a teenager, I remember having a similar intense wake up. While I was quite emotionally numb to the world at the time, the Lord used the dream to make me aware of my emotions. In the dream, I was processing loosing a family member. I remember that in grief dream, I went into the person’s closet to smell their scent lingering on black and white checked sweater. I woke up literally sobbing in a shared hotel room on a church trip. My roommates struggled to understand what to do when I woke up. Ultimately, God continued to use that experience to re-activate my emotions, because I had become numb.
Similarly, God used another dream from February 26th of this year to make me aware of his desire for me to develop a future ministry in Asia. In the dream, I was trying to get dressed in new clothing. My step-sister was trying to entertain my little girl, who was mixed, Japanese and Celtic. I was staggering like a drunk person trying to get to my child. She was crying and began wrestling away from my step-sister, and was inconsolably trying to reach me. I woke up frenzied, looking around my space like I had lost a real child. To be honest, I felt that sending this dream was a rather savage move on God’s part, because as someone who has wanted children for most of my life, there was no way for it to not leave a significant impression. Yet God knows my desires and often uses dreams related to adoption, nurturing kids, babies, pregnancy, and birth to direct me in terms of formal ministry. I am no stranger to God using this aspect of my character to direct me, as during my time in the classroom, God used the Spirit of Adoption to help me create very strong bonds with my students. Outside of the classroom, the inclination towards nurture gives me a higher degree of compassion for adults who are struggling and organic connection with youth. Through this dream however, I sensed God entirely redirecting my emotions. Previously, I hadn’t had any personal inclination towards Japan. But now that I have felt God pulling on that nurturing calling through this dream, I would very likely go to Japan if asked. I still can feel the echoes of needing to respond to that child when I think about Japan as a nation, and that feeling isn’t going anywhere.
Apart from dreams, I have very seldomly (3x) experienced such a deep grief over a life event that I entirely loose my appetite for a period of time.
“For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears…”Psalm 102:9
In moments like these, I am immediately aware of how much I need God’s help to heal, because the bitterness of my soul has reversed my natural appetite and in a sense, my desire to go on. I’m grateful that these moments have been few and far between in my life, but I remember them all as highly disorienting. To lose your desire for food is like losing another one of your important senses; it can be an indicator that your spiritual health is very off.
A Prayer to be in Tune
Give us the capacity to seek you with all of our hearts.
Awaken our desires and pull us after you,
Deliver us from numbness and the rawness of unhealed emotion,
Help us love what you love and hate what is evil.
Send your consecrating fire so that we can be of good use,
Make us aware of any other competing love that would draw us away from you, and help us conquer it.
Jesus, be our greatest satisfaction and our righteous reward,
Give us grace to make you first all the days of our lives,