For many of us, the idea of desire often has a negative connotation, immediately bringing to mind that pull we feel to do things we shouldn't. But Jen Pollock Michel's new book Teach Us to Want (InterVarsity Press) frames desire in a positive light—as a vital component to spiritual growth and transformation. We spoke with Jen about how viewing our "wants" through the lens of faith can ultimately draw us closer to God.
How can we differentiate between the luring draw of temptation and what you refer to in your book as "holy desire"?
One passage that's really important in understanding the difference is the Tower of Babel (see Genesis 11:1–9). It's a picture of unholy, selfish desire: The people rejected God's good, and they made their own plans for good. So one key to recognizing unhealthy, unholy desire is when I start to construct my own version of good—when I decide that my life will be good and it will have to be this certain way.
And then the people said, "Come, let's make a name for ourselves," which is another key idea. Unholy desire is essentially self-promoting, self-protecting, and self-preserving. This story is really important because it gives me a picture of what's going on when I want to make a name for myself or when my desires drive toward making my life comfortable, easy, convenient, and pleasurable—when it really becomes all about me. The Lord's Prayer, in contrast, leads us into this other vision of good where the good that God has for the world is about his name being hallowed, his kingdom coming, and his will being done.
You zero in on the idea that many of us "imagine desire and faith in a boxing ring, facing off like opponents. We don't suppose they can both be cheered at the same time." Yet often we do experience conflict between our desires and obedience. So how can we navigate that tension?
I've been thinking about Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross, and how paradoxical it is that he endured the cross for the joy that was set before him (see Hebrews 12:2). In some mysterious way, Jesus delighted to do the will of God.
While the Cross was death, suffering, and the greatest difficulty, it was yet the delight of Jesus' heart. This points us toward something that's true about our own spiritual transformation: our desires are being redeemed and reformed.