Thursday, February 19, 2009

Taming a Ravenous Heart

When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children or I’ll die!” (Genesis 30:1).

When I was in the sixth or seventh grade I wanted a mini-bike. Not just any mini-bike. I wanted a Honda mini-trail 50. A friend of mine had a Honda mini-trail 50. I had ridden his and was convinced that my life would not be complete until I had one just like it.

Christmas approached. I spoke to my parents using the scriptural words of Rachel in Genesis 30:1. “Give me a Honda mini-trail 50 or I’ll die!” I wasn’t quite that demanding, but I made sure my parents saw the glossy color brochures from Honda that had pictures of the gleaming Honda mini-trail 50 and images of people who looked supremely happy as they sat astride the blessed bike.

Christmas came. My parents did indeed get me a mini-bike. It was not a Honda mini-trail 50. I later learned that it was a refurbished mini-bike that had belonged to my cousin Ben. It was a decent mini-bike, and I enjoyed it. But by next Christmas my interest in mini-bikes had diminished significantly. The mini-bike sat neglected in a shed in the back yard. And I know now that the same thing would have probably happened even if I’d gotten the Honda mini-trail 50.

The things we believe we simply must have will never make us right. We transfer the “must” to something else. Something within us is always craving something outside of us, hoping to finally be fulfilled. The Bible calls this idolatry.


Idolatry is an insidious thing, and it never goes away. A sixth grader’s conviction that life depends upon a mini-bike becomes a high-schooler’s conviction that life depends upon a car, a certain kind of car. For my kids and their peers it’s a cell phone or ‘ipod touch.’ Later it becomes a career or a spouse or, like Rachel, a family.

These are not bad things, and nothing in scripture prohibits praying for things we want, especially things like relationships and children. But the belief that we’ll die without those things, that fullness of life cannot be had apart from those things, this is desire gone awry.

Rachel’s demand, “Give me . . . or I’ll die” makes it nearly impossible to live with a sense of gratitude. Ravenous demands and humble thanks rarely inhabit the same soul. And apart from gratitude it is impossible to find God in the everyday. The everyday is often something we didn’t ask for, and sometimes something we’d be glad to do without. But to receive what’s in front of us with thanksgiving opens windows to the presence of God that are tightly closed when we live a “give-me-or-I’ll-die” kind of life.

Is there something that you ache to have today? Know that your desire may be perfectly legitimate. Feel free to pray for whatever it might be right now. But after you’ve been honest with God about what you want, speak your gratitude for what you have in front of you – and know that God, God and nothing else, is enough.

At times, O God, my desires are unruly. I believe I must have something or someone to be complete. Forgive me, and make me thankful for the everyday that this day will bring. Turn my ravenous heart into a thankful heart by the power of your Spirit. Amen.

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