I first smoked a cigar in college. Somehow I had managed to avoid all tobacco before that. When I joined several other film students in a project to tell a story set during a poker game, we decided our set needed to be filled with smoke. Of course there were other ways to produce that image without actually smoking multiple cigars. But in our youthful wisdom, lighting up and puffing on multiple stogies was obviously the best way. Unfortunately for me, I sought no outside guidance on whether this was a good idea nor regarding how to go about smoking my first few wads of rolled tobacco leaves. By the end of filming, I was not feeling well. I also couldn’t recall why I had been so eager to puff on these things. And in case you’re wondering, the film turned out to be an embarrassment. We put more thought into filling our room with smoke than the actual story we were trying to tell.
I look back and still wonder why I was so excited to light up that first time. The best answer I can come up with is that I wasn’t in touch with my real desires. Though I had refrained from tobacco throughout my high school years, the image of a real man sitting in a high-backed chair casually blowing smoke rings massaged a deep longing. Descriptors like “mature,” “confident,” “respectable,” “cool” pressed into my mind. The film class provided an opportunity to become that image. Or, so I thought. The occasion, in reality, gave me none of what I anticipated. In fact, at the end of the day, I felt like an impotent child who couldn’t handle any adult stuff. I was nothing close to the coveted image of a suave and urbane man. The experience left enough of a negative impression that I never touched tobacco again. My core longings had not been addressed at all.
Desires often are moving targets. That which I am so sure I want at a certain point in my life can later have little to no appeal. What changes? I don’t think the actual desires shift. But, what I imagine will satisfy that deep yearning within can jump all over the place. Smoking a cigar was not what I truly wanted. I had convinced myself, however, that it was going to give me what I longed for at that season of my life.
Fulfillment from Heaven?
I have been meditating on a scripture recently that has taken me back to the question of what my deepest desires truly are. Where will I find that which satisfies these longings of my heart?
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2 ESV).
Jesus followers are being instructed where the focus of our thoughts should be. We are to seek Jesus and the things He has for us.
I admit that there was a time in my life when instructions like this seemed to be nothing more than hyper-spiritual platitudes. I saw no practical application to what I felt I really desired or needed. I wanted to be an athlete that everyone oohed and awed over. I wanted money. I wanted a girlfriend. I wanted an education that set me apart from everyone else. I wanted to do great things that people would remember long after I was gone. And the list could go on. In the end, I wanted “things that are on the earth” because they were what seemed real and fulfilling. I was aware that the “Things that are above” were what I was supposed to seek as a Christian. But they sounded so unattractive, illusory, and unsubstantial.
The Real Desires
It took awhile before I began to realize that maybe these earthly things weren’t able to deliver what they promised. But the hardest hitting realization was that these earthly things weren’t even what I really desired. They were merely the earthly objects to which I had attached my desires. Somewhere in my life I had missed the truth that my core desires were longings for things only heaven could produce and give. I, like most everyone else in this world, tend to focus by default on satisfying core desires with material possessions, human approval, sexual expression, and a host of other pursuits. But we all miss the point.
There are multiple core desires buried in the human heart. Some of the most basic:
I believe these are common to everyone, planted in the human heart by our Creator. We then take hold of various earthly conditions or substances that we convince ourselves will fulfill these longings. Many times we don’t even recognize that it’s a heavenly desire pulsating beneath the earthly object or status we have set our sights on. But we all eventually, sooner or later, share in the disappointment of unmet expectations.
That deep itch never seems to get scratched so it’s fully satisfied.
Satisfaction of the Soul
I have found many additional core desires vibrating under the surface within me. Significance is a big one. Looking back, I can now see my motivation for many undertakings, including my pursuit of education (and perhaps even smoking a cigar), have been to be assured that my presence in this world is noticed and matters.
Comfort and release of stress are also powerful desires for me. My natural pursuit of them, however, easily gets attached to the acquisition of luxury or fulfillment of physical appetites. And in the end, none of these pursuits provide the lasting sense of well-being I long for.
This brings me back to the above passage from Colossians 3. “Seek the things above where Christ is seated.” Both in Himself and from where He is now dwells in heaven, Jesus has the ability and desire to satisfy all the longings that have been planted in us. All we have to do is recognize them at their core for what they are and ask Him how He wants to fulfill them. It almost always takes us on a different path than the one we’ve been on.
I can now see more clearly that my significance has nothing to do with what I accomplish in this world. It is satisfied by pleasing Him. And I experience comfort not so much when my relationships are all going perfect or when my physical appetites are fed and my emotions are at ease. The comfort I long for comes from seeking and experiencing the daily presence of The Comforter, the Spirit of Jesus.
Most of the sins in which we get stuck are a result of trying to fulfill heavenly desires with earthly objects, relationships, and status. At best the satisfaction is momentary and then fades away. Jesus is calling all His followers to come to His well and drink His water that will truly satisfy our thirst forever (John 4:13-14).
Puffing on a cigar as a 19-year-old could not satisfy my longing for maturity. All it did was make me nauseous and a bit cynical. If only I had asked Jesus at that point what He had for the fulfillment of my deeper desires.
Lift your eyes to heaven and seek what you were made for. It’s the only place you’re going to find enduring satisfaction.