Cultivating Holy Desperation

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Holy Desperation


This morning I spoke about holy desperation. I believe that very few of us know what it’s like to be desperate for something. The truth is, we have so many “things” readily available that for many of us true desperation is not experienced.

Is there anybody here who likes country music? If there’s anything that comes close to desperate, that’s it. Now, I hope I don’t make any enemies picking on country music tonight…well let me just say that I’m one of those people who won’t actively seek out country music to listen too but I will confess that if it happens to be playing I don’t exactly wanna run away either. But listen, for the most part, country music is filled with “desperate” lyrics…that typically revolve around sad love stories. Some of these titles I’ve found give it away,

1. If You Can’t Live Without Me, Why Aren’t You Dead?
2. I Went Back to My Fourth Wife for the Third Time and Gave Her a Second Chance to Make a First Class Fool Out of Me
3. You’re the Reason Our Kids are Ugly
4. I’m Ashamed to Be Here, but Not Ashamed Enough to Leave
5. If My Nose Was Running Money, Honey, I’d Blow It All On You
6. You Were Only a Splinter As I Slid Down The Banister Of Life
7. You Ain’t Much Fun Since I Quit Drinkin’
8. I Would Kiss You Through the Screendoor but It’d Strain Our Love
9. I Wouldn’t Take Her to a Dogfight, Even if I thought She Could Win
(contributed by Davon Huss @ illustration database)

In truth I think some of the writers of these titles are desperately looking for something original don’t you think?

Why is understanding desperation so important? Jesus said that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled. That is, those who are desperate for him will know His presence in their lives.

I firmly believe that God moves in a powerful way in the place of Holy Desperation. In the place where He alone matters and is sought after. Is it no wonder that the writer of proverbs wrote,

Proverbs 15:9 (NIV)
9 The LORD detests the way of the wicked but he loves those who pursue righteousness.

Proverbs 21:21 (NIV)
21 He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.

The kind of desperation that Jesus is talking about is like the story of the…

… little boy about five years old once tried to pick a small snail from a rock, but the creature’s hold was stronger than his tiny fingers, and he could not get if off. When he prayed that evening he thought of the snail and said:–

“O God, grant that I may stick to thee as the snail stuck to the rock today, and couldn’t be got off.”-(, Fred Ampara)

This morning I spent some time explaining what happens when we are desperate and in the process revealed why God wants us to hunger and thirst after Him. Really though, the key to holy desperation lies first in know how much you need Him. I am grateful to God because there were [more than?] a few of you who this morning stood and affirmed your desire to have the desperation in your life. You recognized that there’s something missing in your relationship with God and that hunger and thirst was awakened.

Tonight I want to hopefully give some practical tools to cultivating that desperation. I believe that God has given us some great insight through His word into how to nurture Holy Desperation in our lives so that we are in pursuit of Christ and His righteousness daily. The truth is, a lot of people’s spiritual journeys resemble a roller coaster ride. It’s up and down, twisting all around. There are the “highs” where they’ve had a life-changing encounter with God and then there are the lows where you wonder where the life change has gone. You know what I mean? Well, I believe it’s possible, over time, to develop a character of Holy Desperation. Not desperate in the sense of wild-eyed hopelessness – but desperate in the sense of wide-eyed pursuit. Remember Jesus’ promise – those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled.

So will you allow me a few minutes to give some teaching on cultivating this Holy Desperation?

1. Pray

This may be the most often quoted, obvious and encouraged spiritual discipline but it can’t be left unsaid.

There’s lots of reasons why prayer is so important in cultivating Holy Desperation but the two I want to emphasize are:

a. We pray to invite intimacy.
b. We pray to build belonging.

Psalm 42:1-11 is a wonderful example of how prayer both initiates and sustains Holy Desperation. In this psalm, King David describes the agony he’s going through as he wrestles with feeling like God’s forgotten Him and the knowledge that He hasn’t. He paints a wonderful picture of his desperation for God in describing it like a deer panting for water.

There was a man named Nicholas Herman who worked in the food service industry. He was a short-order cook and bottle-washer. Nick became deeply dissatisfied with his life; he worried chronically about himself, even whether or not he was saved.

One day, Nick was looking at a tree, and the same truth struck him that struck the psalmist so long ago: the secret of the life of a tree is that it remains rooted in something other and deeper than itself. He decided to make his life an experiment in what he called a “habitual, silent, secret conversation of the soul with God.”

He is known today by the new name given to him by his friends: Brother Lawrence. He remained obscure throughout his life. He never got voted pope. He never got close to becoming the CEO of his organization. He stayed in the kitchen. But the people around him found that rivers of living water flowed out of him that made them want to know God the way he did.

“The good brother found God everywhere,” one of them wrote, “as much while he was repairing shoes as while he was praying with the community.” After Lawrence died, his friends put together a book of his letters and conversations. It is called Practicing the Presence of God and is thought, apart from the Bible, to be the most widely read book of the last four centuries. (quoted in Ed Sasnett’s message, “Happy are the Starved”)

His one ambition was to know the presence of Christ and his primary means of cultivating his pursuit was continual conversation with God.

Really folks, that’s all prayer is. It’s conversing with God. Probably the most important way to cultivate a hunger and thirst for him is to pray that God’s spirit will continually remind you of your need for Him.

Another side-effect of praying consistently and regularly is that you start to realize how important it becomes to your life. In fact you will miss when you are not praying.

Matthew 7:7-11 (NIV)
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

2. Practice “Giving Up”

When I say practice giving up I’m not talking about quitting but rather about surrendering things that mean something for a season or for good. This practice can help to teach desperation and can lead to recognizing and learning to be dependent on God.

Try giving up something dear to you for a while to gain a taste for desperation. This is the principle of fasting. Fasting is the process of denying something dear to ourselves in order to hone holy desperation for the source of life, God. One of the major obstacles to holy desperation is the frank fact that many of us really don’t know what it is to be desperate! This practice will help to give you that understanding.

So, try this. For the next week, choose one of your desires and systematically deny it. For instance, if you love meat, be a vegetarian. If you love to get places quickly, drive the speed limit, stopping at yellow lights you would normally have sped through. If you like to work while you eat lunch, do nothing while you eat. If you like watching the news before going to bed every night – try reading your Bible instead. Get the picture? Friends, fasting doesn’t always have to be about giving up food (although that is the primary practice!). Fasting is really about giving up something we normally depend on and learning to depend on Him.

Interestingly enough, this practice of “giving up” also has the side-effect of helping you to hone your understanding of what’s really important in your life. When you give up things that you think you absolutely have to have in your life – after a while you may realize that you can get along just fine without them. That’s why it’s a good practice to regularly “give up” what you consider dear to cultivate Holy Desperation in your life.

“Giving Up” also refers to the practice of “giving away”. Let’s face it – a lot of us have things or “stuff” in our life that either we don’t need or that we have more than what we need. Our society teaches us that the path through life is all about accumulation. You know what I mean? I remember when I first went to college I was able to fit all my “stuff” into the trunk of my parent’s Cavalier – my Mom, Dad and sister were able to come and see me off to school. The next year only my Dad was able to take me to college because my “stuff” took up the trunk and the back seat of the car. The following year I was fortunate because my parents had a bought a mini-van so there was more room to bring my stuff — still…only my Dad and I could fit! Then in my final year of college we had to load up all my stuff in the van and trailer. I’m not even going to go into after I got married…I don’t’ think it’d be safe hehe.

My point is I think every single one of us can identify with the fact that we accumulate a lot of “stuff” going through life. Part of the reason is because we live in such a blessed country where we have the luxury of doing so. I mean garage sales were invented to be glorified stuff exchangers. Oh sure the excuse for a garage sale is to get rid of things you don’t use anymore and hopefully make a bit of money…but the real reason is so that we can make room for more stuff!

Folks, try this. Pick a room in your house this month and go through it and determine what you’re going to get rid of and what you’re going to give away. Get rid of the stuff that is truly garbage – you know the things that if someone gave you, you wouldn’t keep if your life depended on it. Mark for giving away things that are still in good shape and are usable. Here’s where the toughest part comes. So many of us can readily identify things that we could give away that are truly junk – but is what about giving away something that you still find useable. Or better yet, it’s easy for us to take things and drop them off someplace and say “Here, take this and give it to someone who needs it” What about making some effort to find out if there is a neighbor or a co-worker or someone at church, or a family member and actually delivering it to them in person?

Once you’ve done that for one room – move on to the next room in your house and so on. You know what? You could even make this a family activity! Then, make a point that for every new thing you obtain you have to give away something else.

Friends, doing this will help to cultivate Holy Desperation in your life. Listen to these words from scripture and you’ll see why,

Proverbs 11:24-28 (NIV)
24 One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. 25 A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. 26 People curse the man who hoards grain, but blessing crowns him who is willing to sell. 27 He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil comes to him who searches for it. 28 Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.

Proverbs 18:16 (NIV)
16 A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.

3. Spend time with desperate people.

Holy desperation is contagious. When you associate with people who are desperate for Jesus eventually you will “catch” it. Truthfully, every single one of us is born with this innate need for God. It is a spiritual vacuum that can only be filled with a relationship with Christ. Spending time with people who are fully aware of this vacuum and are desperate in their pursuit for Him helps to awaken our own awareness of our need for Him.

The problem is, when we spend too much time with people who are falsely satisfied with imaginary springs of water – then we become blind to our own need as well. That is the strategy of Satan. He’s doing everything he can to convince us to attempt to fill that most basic of needs with everything but righteousness.

2 Corinthians 4:4 (NIV)
4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

I’m not saying to run away from relationships with people who don’t believe as you do – in fact many of you already have wonderful friendships and connections with people who may not believe in Jesus Christ – who haven’t experienced springs of living water running in their life. That’s great! What I am saying is in order to cultivate Holy Desperation in your life make some effort to include in your closest relationships people who are desperate for Christ. How do you recognize these individuals? I like a quote I came across… it gives a clue,

Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God wills, who receives everything as an instance of God’s goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it.
— William Law

Do you know any such people in your life? Get to know them, learn from their life. By the way, this is one of the reasons we come together as a big group on Sunday’s. It’s an opportunity for this to happen. It’s also one of the reasons why I believe small groups are important. All a church needs is a few desperate people and a few more wanting that desperation and something will happen. All a small group needs is one or two people with Holy Desperation and something will happen.

Another way to cultivate Holy Desperation is to…

4. Recognize and allow difficulty to notch up your desperation for Him.

I like what C.S. Lewis wrote,

Pain insists upon being attended to, God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
— C.S. Lewis

Aptly put and I believe the idea is true but the reality is that many of us, when we experience trouble or problems in life, we just want the pain to go away as quickly as possible. The thing is, it is when troubles come and when we experience pain that the greatest opportunity for fueling Holy Desperation appears.

Have you ever noticed that God is not in a hurry? It took 40 years for Moses to receive his commission to lead the people out of Egypt. It took 17 years of preparation before Joseph was delivered from slavery and imprisonment. It took 20 years before Jacob was released from his uncle Laban’s control. Abraham and Sarah were in their old age when they finally received the son of promise, Isaac. So why isn’t God in a hurry?

God called each of these servants to accomplish a certain task in His Kingdom, yet He was in no hurry to bring their mission into fulfillment. First, He accomplished what He wanted to do in them – then He was able to do what He wanted to do through them. We are often more focused on outcome than the process to get there. When we experience His presence daily, one day we wake up and realize that God has done something special in and through our lives. However, the accomplishment is no longer what excites us. Instead, what excites us is knowing Him. Through the tough times in life, we can become more acquainted with His love, grace, and power in our lives. When this happens, we are no longer focused on the outcome because the outcome is a result of our walk with Him. It is not the goal of our walk, but the by-product.

Look at Joseph, when he came to power in Egypt, he probably couldn’t have cared less. He had come to a place of complete surrender so that he was not anxious about tomorrow or his circumstances. His pursuit was not for power but for presence. More specifically the presence of the true King in His life!

Friends, when tough times come – as they always do. Allow them to be the crucible that refines and fuels your desperation for Christ. Cling to Him in those times. Don’t let defeat, disappointment, and disaster knock you down and keep you down. Instead let these things propel you into greater intimacy with He who is greater than anything that comes your way.

A man named Jerry Vines made this astute observation,

A defeat that leaves you humble is better than a victory that leaves you proud.
(Interviews with Jesus, published by Broadman Press, Nashville, Tennessee; pg. 25)

Finally, another help in cultivating Holy Desperation is…

5. Fresh, Pervasive Worship.

There are many perspectives on what worship is. Listen to these two examples,

A young Christian went to his local church usually, but one weekend attended a small town church.
He came home and his wife asked him how it was.
“Well,” said the young man, “It was good. They did something different however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs.”
“Hymns,” said his wife, “what are those?”
“Oh, they’re okay. They’re sort of like regular songs, only different,” said the young man.
“Well, what’s the difference? Asked his wife.
The young man said, “Well it’s like this: If I were to say to you, ‘Martha, the cows are in the corn,’ well that would be a regular song. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you: ‘Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry. Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth. Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by, To the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth. For the way of the animals who can explain? There in their heads is no shadow of sense, Harkenest they in God’s sun or his rain Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced. Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight, Have broke free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed. Then goaded by minions of darkness and night They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn have chewed. So look to that bright shining day by and by, Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn. Where no vicious animal makes my soul cry, and I no longer see those foul cows in the corn. AMEN!
“Then, if I were to do only verses one, two, and four and do a key change on the last verse, well that would be a hymn.”..

That’s one perspective but here’s another…

An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended the big city church.
He came home and his wife asked him how it was.
“Well,” said the farmer, “it was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns.”
“Praise choruses?” said his wife, “What are those?”
“Oh they’re okay. They’re sort of like hymns, only different,” said the farmer.
“Well, what’s the difference?” asked the wife.
The farmer said, “Well it’s like this – If I were to say to you: ‘Martha, the cows are in the corn,’ well that would be a hymn. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you: ‘Martha, Martha, Martha, Oh, Martha, Martha, MARTHA MARTHA, the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows, the white cows, the black and white cows, the COWS, COWS, COWS are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, the CORN, CORN, CORN’!!! ‘Oh, Oh, Ooooooooh, yes, it’s true, the whole herd is in the awesome corn, yes, it’s true, the whole herd is in the awesome corn, — weeell, it’s true, the whole herd is in the awesome corn!!! Alleluia! – That would be a praise chorus.”…

Now obviously theses are some pretty extreme perspectives. But I share them to make a point. Worship isn’t about whether we sing a hymn or a praise chorus. Singing praises to Him who made us is a manifestation of worship but worship is something that is not limited to certain times or places or even specific methods.

John 4:24 (NIV)
24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

God is looking for people who will worship Him in “spirit and truth” Who does that refer to? I like how Dallas Willard describes it. He says,

It refers to people who have free-hearted and wholehearted admiration of, respect for, and commitment to God as the highest being of all. They never try to conceal anything from him and always rely completely on him. (from Revolution of Character by Dallas Willard with Don Simpson)

In other words worship isn’t so much an act we do as it is a state of being and a relational response. It is possible to be worshipful in everything we do.

Now I say a way to cultivate Holy Desperation is through fresh pervasive worship because for far too many people worship is limited to routine and place. When our worship is fresh – that is when we are creative in how we show our affection, admiration and respect for God – and when our worship is pervasive – that is we see it as a state of being and relational response rather than just what we do, when worship is enabled and welcomed in every area of our life – then it fuels a Holy Desperation for Him.

In some ways worship is like marriage. I’ve been married to my wife Kerryanne, well it will be 13 years this coming August. There’s something I’ve noticed in this time we’ve been married. The more routine and predictable we allow our marriage to become, the more we begin to take our relationship for granted. But if every day we share together some new expression, gift, act of love, or experience, our relationship will keep growing.

Similarly, when worship becomes predictable, it can become ordinary and lose its impact. When worship is fresh and pervasive in our lives it can enliven our relationship with Christ and increase our desire for Him.


Well, there you have it – five ways in which you can cultivate Holy Desperation in your life.

1. Pray
2. Practice “Giving Up”
3. Spend time with Desperate People
4. Recognize and allow difficulty to “notch up” your desperation for Him
5. Fresh and pervasive worship.

I’m convinced that there is a battle going on in the world today for the hearts and minds of every person. If there’s one thing Satan, the enemy of God, dreads more – it’s the pulse of someone who’s got Holy Desperation. He is doing everything in His power to keep people from realizing their need for God and keep them in trapped in their satisfaction with temporary things. Half the battle is realizing that we need God, the other half is cultivating our continued dependence on Him. And friends, that is a hard battle when you think of all the things we are blessed with in our lives today.

But friends take heart with the word of God – for it says,

2 Chronicles 16:9 (NIV)
9 For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

If you recognize your need for God tonight, if you were one of the ones this morning that stood and said, “I want that Holy Desperation in my life”, if you’ve realized that gnawing sense of dissatisfaction with the temporary things in your life – then I invite you to allow the seed of desperation for Him to flourish and consume your being. God is looking for people like you, He’s looking for the committed, the willing, the desperate.

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