...a weekly devotional

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Unfulfilled Longings

We are all waiting for something. There is the couple who has been trying to have children, only to face their second painful miscarriage. There is the unemployed man wanting to provide for his family,  who is searching desperately for work only to hear another "no." There is the stay at home mom wondering if her life will ever be more than laundry and diapers. There is the single girl who has watched all of her friends marry, she keeps waiting to find love but it never seems to come.

We all seem to look back at former days only able to recall the joy and delight, but never the pain and hardship. Or we look ahead thinking "if this one thing in my life was different, everything would be better." 

The Bible gives us everything pertaining to life and godliness and I want to share with you three little verses in Proverbs that have always given hope in my longing. I share them because I need the reminder now more than ever. 

Proverbs 19:21-23 -
"Many are the plans in a man's heart, 
But the way of the LORD is sure. 
The longings of a man are for his love, 
It is better to be poor than a liar. 
The fear of the LORD leads to life, 
and the one that has it rests satisfied, 
untouched by evil."

I must first say that there is debate as to whether the insights in Proverbs are connected and intentionally strung together or if they are various gems of wisdom meant to be examined individually. I believe that it is the former for reasons I will unpack as we look at these verses. Also, I have done my own translation from the Hebrew on these verses, for reasons I will also unpack. So this is the LG Standard Version. We will examine it line by line:

Proverbs 19:21- "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but the way of the LORD is sure."

When I first read this verse, I thought it a bit forthright and severe. As if we are stumbling around with all these foolish desires and ambitions, but God is in charge and His "purpose will prevail" as the NIV puts it. But once I put it into context, both of the text, and the character of God, I realized that we do have lots of wants, desires, longings, and ambitions. God knows all of those things dearly, cares for us deeply, and knows what we need much better than we ever could. He is in control, and He will do what He knows is best for us keeping in mind all the things we desperately desire.  Sometimes that means lavishing blessing in abundance, other times it feels like unanswered prayer and that God is withholding what we desire most. But He is good and He is sovereign. Those are two truths we must never separate!

Proverbs 19:22a- "The longings of a man are for his love"

This is the key phrase of this section and the best commentary I consulted recommended that, "this is best left untranslated." It is because whenever we translate one language into another there are things lost and things added. Various translations read the following: "what a person desires is unfailing love" (NIV), "the desire of a man is his kindness" (KJV), "what is desired in a man is steadfast love" (ESV), "what is desired in a man is loyalty" (RSV), "what is desirable in a man is his kindness" (NASB), "that which makes a man to be desired is his kindness" (WEB), "loyalty makes a person attractive" (NLT). You begin to see how subtly different all of these translations really are. It is because it is hard to determine the object of the verb "desires." That word literally means "the greatest longings." Is the object the man or the love? Also, who is the "his" referring to? It is that man, other people, or God (because He was the last mentioned subject in context)? Simply put, there are four different possibilities:

1) The greatest longing of a human is to love (to actually love others unselfishly and have that love be accepted and requited). 

2) The greatest longing of a human is to be loved (to be loved and accepted for who they are)

3) The greatest longing of a human is to love God (to be free from the bondage of sin to worship and adore our Maker)

4) The greatest longing of a human is to be loved by God (to understand our identity as belonging to Him and trust that love completely without the constant doubts about God and/or ourselves)

So which one is it? All of the above. I think it is kept vague on purpose so that it captures all of those meanings. Does not our greatest longing in life boil down to those four things: to love others, be loved, love God, and be loved by God!

Proverbs 19:22b- "It is better to be poor than a liar."

Got to love that about Proverbs. Just when you think you have it figured out the verse seems to change directions completely. That same commentary surrendered that there is no possible connection between these two phrases. I respectfully disagree. To be poor in biblical times was the lowest of low. A woman whose husband died in the morning would be out begging for food that same night. To be poor was not a plight that would be wished upon anyone. So what this is saying is that it is better to be to lowest of low than to compromise your integrity to get at the things you want. It may seem like this line is independent from the previous phrase about "the longings of a human are for love," but it is urging us towards integrity specifically in the area of our deep desires. The best example I can think to illustrate this idea of compromising integrity is premarital sex - throwing away our integrity and purity to fill the void of love in ways that are sinful and go against God's design. It is okay for us to have deep longings, but we must never try to fill those desires in sinful and selfish ways. 

Proverbs 19:23- "The fear of the LORD leads to life, and the one that has it rests satisfied, untouched by evil."

It is no accident that it speaks of our greatest longing, and then resting satisfied. To fear God means to know His character, be in awe of all that He is, trust Him for who He is, and respond in obedience to who He is. God knows we have lots of desires, but ultimately trusting and obeying Him will bring about the truest and greatest satisfaction. We long to love and be loved and this is completely justified because God designed us this way (He Himself said, "it is not good for man to be alone"), but we are only at rest when we find our rest in Him. This is what will help us navigate with integrity, keep us from evil, and help us continue to trust that God is good and sovereign in light of our longings.

To bring it all together, let me offer a paraphrase of these verses

"In our hearts we have have many desires and longings, 
God knows our desires, but He also knows what we need 
and He will work things out according what is best for us
because He is good and He is in control.
It is at the core of every human to long to love others, 
be loved and accepted for who we are, 
love God completely, and trust in God's love for us.
But we must never compromise our integrity 
to try to fill the void of these longings. 
We would be better off as the lowest of low.
Even though we have lots of longings,
God may or may not fulfill them, 
but one thing He will always give is Himself.
When we trust and obey Him it leads to life and satisfaction.
The more we trust God with our desires, 
the more He will help us navigate with integrity 
and keep us from evil."
- Proverbs 19:21-23

1 Image taken from scrippsunscripted.wordpress.com