Monday, February 18, 2019

Seeking Wisdom: Scratching the Itch

Jorge Espinal was playing poker around 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning in his house when he got up from the table and walked into the bedroom. While there, he got an itch on his back, just beyond reach. He looked around for something to scratch with. The first thing he saw was a pistol on the dresser. So, he picked up the pistol and started scratching his back with the tip of the barrel. The gun was loaded and off safety. He accidently pulled the trigger and shot himself in the back. "Man Uses Gun for Backscratcher, Shoots Himself," Dallas Morning News, May 13, 2008.

Ever had an itch you couldn’t scratch? If you’ve worn a cast, you know what that’s like. You’re going crazy until you can slip a pencil or letter opener or ruler down inside and touch that irritating spot. Or get that itch in the very center of your back you can’t reach.

Animals get in amazing positions trying to scratch where it itches:

We can try to put it out of mind, ignore it, wish it away, but nothing takes the place of a good scratching when we’re itching.

Desire is like an itch begging to be scratched. It’s a message inside telling us to want more.

Prov 30:15 The leech has two daughters, "Give," "Give." There are three things that will not be satisfied, four that will not say, "Enough": Sheol, and the barren womb, Earth that is never satisfied with water, and fire that never says, "Enough." 

We’ve heard of: a burning desire, churning with desire, consumed by desire, unstoppable desire and irresistible desire.

Desire is an urge within us to give hope for a future, for an answer, for a resolution, for restoration, for fulfillment. It makes us want to get well when we’re sick. It makes us want sunshine on a rainy day or rain in drought. Makes us want back what’s been taken away.

A farmer found an abandoned Eagle egg. He took it into his chicken coop and placed it under one of his hens where it soon hatched. At first, the eagle scratched like a chicken and ate like a chicken. But the bigger he got, the more aware he became that he was not a chicken. A desire was growing within him each time he would stare up into the sky. One day, another eagle flew over and shrieked. The desire overwhelmed him. The farmer watched as the young eagle spread open his wings, flapped hard and flew away. The desire to fly carried him beyond the life of the chicken into the world he was made to enjoy.

Desire is a gift from God. It compels us not to settle for less than His best. It drives us to lay aside the restrains and encumbrances because there is a race to be run. It motivates us to press on regardless of the forces opposing us.

When Paul was in prison, he wrote: Phil 3:12-14 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

Even within difficult and restraining circumstances, desire still cries out to press on.

Those who have lost that desire find a darkness of soul that burdens them with despair because, in losing desire, they also lose hope.

Prov 13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life. 

Desire also defeats us. Just as there is the desire to seek God, there is the opposite desire to satisfy our fleshly wants. To reject the ways of God and follow a worldly path to destruction. Solomon wrote proverb after proverb warning us to avoid the practices that lead down the wrong road.

Matt 7:13-14 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. 

Both passages are desirable. A desire to travel through the narrow gate and a desire to go the broad way. Desire isn’t the problem. It’s the result of choosing the wrong way.

Prov 13:19 Desire realized is sweet to the soulWhich desire? Either. There is a sweetness or pleasure to fulfilling a desire. But not every desire blesses or fulfills.

Prov 9:17  Stolen water is sweet; and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. 

To steal is to take something that doesn’t belong to us. As Children of God, whenever we give in to the desires of the flesh, we are taking something that isn’t designed for us, it doesn’t belong to us. Though sweet, it sours not long after.

Prov 9:18 But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. 

David said: Ps 20:4 May He [the Lord] grant you your heart's desire…Sounds like he hoped we would get whatever we wanted, but David knew desire must be filtered through God’s best. He’s not saying may you get whatever you wish for but may your heart’s desire be what it pleases God to give you.

Ps 145:19 He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; – Reverence, respecting His authority over our lives, expecting Him to do what’s best.

Matt 7:9-11 What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! 

What’s God’s criteria to granting our heart’s desire? What’s good. That’s what I should want. Why should I give in to a desire that isn’t good?

Nowhere in the Bible does God say He’ll give us whatever we ask for. God’s giving is always in the context of what He knows is best. Yes, we can ask, but He makes the decision.

Prov 18:18 The cast lot puts an end to strife and decides between the mighty ones. 

A common practice in Bible days to help make decisions was casting the lot. We might think of drawing straws, rolling dice or flipping a coin. Heads you win, tails you lose. But they didn’t think of it as simple chance. They believed God directed the straw being selected or the dice being rolled.

Prov 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. 

It was another way of saying God was in charge and what God directed us to would be best.

Ps 38:9 Lord, all my desire is before You;

Ps 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart. 

Criteria of God’s giving? Delighting in Him as our greatest treasure not the gift. So if He chooses not to give the gift, He is not diminished in our hearts.

Prov 3:13-15 How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her. 

But Solomon makes sure we see the other side of desire:

Prov 6:23-28 For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; and reproofs for discipline are the way of life to keep you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress. Do not desire her beauty in your heart, nor let her capture you with her eyelids. Can a man take fire in his bosom and his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? 

Solomon compares worldly desire to an adulteress who entices us to come in to her. She can fulfill a desire, but with counterfeit satisfaction.

A South American tribe was discovered who struggled with malnourishment. They ate a regular diet of a plant that had no nutritional value to their bodies. It satisfied their hunger cravings but accomplished nothing to nourish their lives.

Solomon helps us see the counterfeit so we can resist the temptation. That’s how God uses His Word. To help us recognize the counterfeit by making us familiar with the real thing.

1Cor 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. 

How? Through His Word telling us what to avoid. Or maybe giving us insight: RUN!

Prov 13:13 Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded. 

What wins the day? Deciding in advance to want what God wants for us.

Prov 3:1-2 My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. 

Don’t look at immediate satisfaction. Look long-term.

If I submit to fleshly desire, I may have instant pleasure but long-term distress. If I submit to the Spirit, I am promised long-term life and peace.

John Piper: Pitfalls of fleshly desire
  • Falling in love with the present world. [in the world but not of the world]
  • Loss of horror at offending the majesty of God’s holiness through sin.
  • No sense of accountability or authority. [I decide what’s best for me]
  • Succumbing to itching ears as love of truth evaporates. [wanting to hear what I agree with]
  • A vanishing attention to Scripture. [failure to read, study and meditate on the Word]
  • A sense of being above the necessity of suffering and self-denial. [God only wants my happiness]
  • Giving in to self-pity under the pressures and loneliness. [I deserve better than this]

Gal 5:16-17 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 

If I do whatever pleases me, I very well may give in to desires that take me away from God’s best. Instead, I learn to want what God wants for me. Nothing more. Nothing less. Where do I decide that? The heart.

When you put a tea bag into hot water, the water activates the tea in the bag, releasing its flavor into the cup. The water doesn't create the flavor, it merely reveals it, or draws it out. The flavor is in the tea bag. If you don't like the flavor of the tea, then you change the ingredients within the bag.

Seeking to satisfy our desires by wanting God’s best opens us to a fulfillment nothing else provides. So, when we discover an itch, let God scratch it. When He scratches the itch, He always hits the exact spot.

  1. The ability to desire is a gift God has placed in each of us to want all He has for us.
  2. Because Satan can hijack that gift and make us want things we shouldn’t have, we need discernment to know which is best.
  3. Within God’s Word we will find help knowing the difference between the counterfeit and the real thing.
  4. By experience we learn whenever God says no to a desire, we shouldn’t ignore Him and go for it anyway.
  5. Life is littered by the destroyed lives of people who made that mistake.

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