Have you ever played the shell game where you have to guess which shell contains the nut? Sometimes it seems like the pursuit of our desires can be like a cosmic “shell game” where we gauge our circumstances, watch the movements of opportunities, and take a wild stab at it – only to find an empty shell. Or is it?
I want to end our little discussion on the topic of Desire with a personal story:
When I was graduating from High School, I was a new believer in Christ. I thought about what I wanted to do with my life and three desires came to me: 1) Doctor, 2) High School Music Teacher, and 3) Pastor. The third choice was a pretty far-fetched since I was very new in the faith, but – hey – I was just dreaming. So I narrowed my choices in colleges to three: USC (where I could study to be a doctor), UC Santa Barbara (where I could study music – my amazing piano teacher just moved there), and Westmont College (where I could become a pastor).
My strongest desire was to become a doctor, so I took a stab at the “first shell” and went to USC. I did well as a pre-med, acing the first couple of Chem tests. But then I went to a Christian conference sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. There I understood for the first time that Jesus was not just my Savior, but my Lord. And I realized that I never asked the Lord Jesus what career I should pursue. So I asked Him. Immediately there was a yearning in my heart toward music. As Christ opened that desire, I also realized that my reasons for being a doctor were purely self-serving (being admired, making boat loads of money, and upholding the family reputation). But it was still a major move, had financial ramifications (USC is not a cheap place to change your major) and it was hard on my pride as many of my friends and family expected me to become a doctor. Equally hard was that my first “shell” attempt drew a blank.
Nevertheless, I followed the Lordship of Christ and changed my major. Fortunately, USC had a great music school (even better than UCSB) and it was a great fit for me. Even more important, I met the love of my life, Letty, at USC (at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meeting). After we graduated, we both got teaching jobs and got married a short time later.
I enjoyed teaching High School music for several years. One day, Letty and I visited a church that would become our church home – Community Baptist Church. Among other things, I loved the worship music there. But something peculiar happened. As I watched the worship pastor (Byron Spradlin, who later became my mentor) there was a yearning in my heart that I had not felt since that conference in college. Only this yearning was, “I want Byron’s job!” I was appalled that I would have such a thought. I felt I was coveting. And I loved my job as a music teacher, we had built a top shelf program at the High School, and the Lord was using me to lead students to Christ. Besides, Byron was the worship pastor and he wasn’t going anywhere.
Well as it turns out, Byron went somewhere – to plant a church. And to make a long story short, God gave me the opportunity to become the music director at CBC. However, it meant taking a pretty big cut in salary. It also meant leaving a music program that I had built from the ground floor. It also meant that my second attempt of turning the shell drew a “blank.” But all those things did not seem to matter because I knew God was leading me.
I’ve been in full-time ministry for 25 years and, in the process, there have been many more desires/shells in my heart. In every one of them, I’ve had to go through a discernment process of examination and surrender. Sometimes the doors just closed up (those were the easy ones to discern). But sometimes the doors were open and they were very enticing, but the Spirit told me not to go through them. And sometimes the doors opened and I sensed God’s invitation – but I had no idea what was waiting on the other side of the door. Needless to say, it has been an adventure. And, as a result, I’ve had a wealth of experiences over those years: pastoring, church planting, counseling, mentoring, worship leading at house churches and national conferences, and teaching at a seminary (as well as Junior High and elementary school).
One might say, “This guy is still searching for the nut, because he only comes up with empty shells.” And I think that would be true if getting the nut was the goal of this game. And that’s what I thought in the beginning. But I learned that “desires” are just shells. Even if we get the “nut,” it doesn’t amount for anything if our pursuit is anything less than a pursuit of God. But when the “desire” is centered on pursuing God, the “shells” we turn over become stepping stones toward transformation and unlocking the Truest Desire of our hearts.
I still can’t name my Truest Desire. I probably won’t until I see Him face to face. What I do know is that, at this stage of life, my desires have shifted from “what I do” to “who I am becoming.” I’m more concerned about becoming a loving person than being a pastor or a professor or an author. Now my desire is based more on becoming faithful, than being fruitful or famous. The process of turning over shells has taught me to trust God first and that I’m better off not being in control or getting what I want (see blog from 8/22). Whole Life Worship has shown me that life is not a cosmic shell game, but a process of “becoming Christ-like” as I walk with Him in the adventure of life.