I don’t know James K. A. Smith personally, but I do know his work (Desiring the Kingdom). With his writing demonstrating that human beings are fundamentally desiring beings, he is making a huge contribution to the discipleship needs of our times. My book on temptation, Our Favorite Sins, makes a similar argument: that the key to resisting temptation lies in reordering one’s desires.
Think about it: you cannot be tempted by something unless there is a preexisting desire for it. For instance, I cannot be tempted by any kind of shellfish, no matter how seductively it is held before my senses. German chocolate cake on the other hand? You have to keep me from eating the batter before it is even cooked or the gooey coconut frosting while it is still in the bowl—no seduction is even needed. I supply everything needed in my lustful desire for it.
Of course James or I did not make this paradigm up. Jesus is the genius behind the idea of desiring God and his kingdom as the source of well-ordered desires:
You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both.
If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body.
What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.
(Matthew 6, The Message)
The discipleship challenge: we work to reorder our desires so that adoration for God feeds contempt for sinful things, working against the strong inclination for the reverse to be true: that sinful desires push God from our lives.
I know this raises the question: “How do I reorder my desires?” That will have to be next week’s blog…