I have known passion and power, wealth and fame, but none of them satisfy. But what is it that I desire? Simply this: that God be near and pay heed to my prayers. I yearn to know that he has heard my cry.

Author’s Introduction: Imagine if Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, and the other great poets of ancient Greece, Rome, and the Middle Ages had been given the gift, not only to peer into the twenty-first century, but to correspond with us who live in that most confusing and rudderless of centuries. Had it been in their power to do both of those things, what might they say to us? How would they advise us to live our lives? What wisdom from their experience and from their timeless poems might they choose to pass down to us?

David: On Desire

There are times when every muscle in my legs, every vein in my arms, every drop of moisture on my tongue yearns with desire for the Lord. As a deer pants for streams of water, as a man oppressed by wicked men groans for justice, so I long, day and night, to be in the presence of my God.

I am the King of Israel, the master of all that I survey, yet my greatest desire is to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. There is nothing I see with my eyes that I cannot have, but my desire is for the invisible God.

When I was lost in the desert, my body thirsted for water, but my thirst for the living God was far stronger. I can live many weeks without food, but I cannot live a day without the presence of the Lord, without his words that are sweeter than honey.

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I am quite aware that you who live in a modern, scientific age may look down on me for being so emotional and sentimental about my relationship with the Lord. But consider this. The God whom I desire so passionately is not some distant landlord who is only concerned about getting his rents.

He is the God who knit me together in my mother’s womb, who knows every hair on my head, who walks beside me in times of joy and times of trouble.

I cannot cease from desiring him, for he himself put that desire within my breast. He is the source and origin of my desires, even as he is the goal and the end of all my deepest yearnings.

There is a hole, a void within my heart that aches for the Lord. When I feel that emptiness inside me, there is only one remedy: to lift up praises to the One who formed me out of the dust. It doesn’t matter if I am happy or sad, confident or afraid, triumphant or defeated: whatever my situation and whatever my mood, I am compelled to play my harp and sing my songs of praise.

And what is it that I desire? Simply this: that God be near and pay heed to my prayers. Even if his answer is “no,” I yearn to know that he has heard my cry. I want to be assured that he, like a good shepherd, will guide me to a pasture of peace and rest.

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Oh, my friends of the future, do not be led astray by false desires. I have known passion and power, wealth and fame, but none of them satisfy. Indeed, when I tried to make any of them the object of my desire, they quickly turned into idols.

Once, in pursuit of a false desire, I sinned terribly and brought down the wrath of God on my head and that of my family. I was like a man who took a wrong turn in a thick wood and lost his way. God had to send a prophet, my friend Nathan, to jerk me back on to the right road by revealing my sins, my disordered and criminal desires.

When I confessed and begged his forgiveness, God forgave me. And then he did something even more wonderful. He gave me a new heart. He washed clean my desires, purified them as gold is purified in the fire. Before then, I was like a river choked with mud and silt. God’s Spirit cleansed the river so that it flowed freely again.

God has the power and the desire to do such things, to restore those who have fallen away from his love. But it is so much better never to have fallen, never to have strayed: to have kept oneself on the straight road.

But is that possible? Can one remain without falling?

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If there is one thing I have learned in my long life it is that I was conceived in wickedness and that my thoughts and desires are corrupt. No one who lives upon the earth can stand before the holy God.

And yet, I have also learned that there are some desires within me that are pure and pleasing to God: the desire to dwell in his house, the desire to sing his praise before the nations, the desire to do his will and to feed upon his word, the desire to complete the mission he gave me so that he, not I, will be glorified.

How can one tell the difference between the good desire and the corrupt one? If what you desire is confined solely to this earth, then that desire will, in the end, lead you astray. But if your true desire, your ultimate desire is for the One who made you, if you make all your earthly desires a means to the higher end of loving God, then will you stay on track, then will you walk without stumbling and run without growing weary.

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Know this, you who live in an age so different from my own: God does not change as man changes. He is ever compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness. He does not repay us as our sins deserve. If he did, who could endure his presence?

But he has separated our sins from us: as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our corrupt desires from the pure ones he put within us at the beginning. He is not the one who kills our desires, but the one who satisfies them. He renews our strength and our youth like that of the eagle.

What are we after all, but a breath of wind; like the grass, we sprout up only to be mowed down. Our lives flit away like a shadow; we work and we strive to pile up wealth, but who knows what will become of it when we die.

Entrust your desires, my friends, to the one who does not change. He alone knows what you truly need and what you truly desire.

—David

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Editor’s Note: The featured image is “King David in Prayer” (c. 1635) by Pieter de Grebber (c. 1600-1653), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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