Best of Daily Reflections: Putting Off Deceitful Desires: An Example From My Own Life

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:22

In yesterday's reflection, we saw that the old self we are to put off as Christians is corrupted by "deceitful desires." I suggested that these are yearnings motivated by falsehood. Deceitful desires trick us, promising fulfillment they cannot deliver. When we begin to follow Jesus, we are taught to put these away as we strip off our "old man," our former way of life. Yet, we don't instantly become free of our old ways and desires. Rather, by grace, we commence a process of putting off that continues throughout our lives.

I thought it might be helpful if I were to share an example from my own life. It has to do with writing. Now, I realize that you may not relate personally to this particular example, especially if you're not an author. But I expect you can think of similar desires and experiences in your life.

I grew up in a family that prized writing. My uncles were both published authors, and this gave them considerable status. I remember hoping, as a boy, that someday I would write books like Uncle Donny and Uncle Tommy. I didn't have anything to say, mind you. I wanted the praise and, I believed, abundant self-esteem that comes from publishing books.

I spent my college and graduate years at Harvard, where writing books was a paramount sign of success. If I became accomplished in my field, I would write articles. But if I became really great, I'd write books. I used to study in the stacks of Widener Library, surrounded by 57 miles of bookshelves holding over 3,000,000 volumes. I hoped that, one day, I might write a book that ended up in a Harvard library.

My big chance came in the early 1990s, when I was asked to write a commentary on the Old Testament books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. I was glad for the opportunity to help readers understand these books. But, honestly, I was motivated significantly by a desire for the renown and pride that I knew would come when my name appeared on the cover of a book. If I could only finish that commentary, then I would feel what I believed would be tremendous satisfaction, perhaps even the ultimate sense of achievement. I would know for sure that my life counted for something.

Finally, after hundreds of hours of labor, the big day came. In 1993, I held in my hand the hardbound edition of my commentary. There it was in bold print, "Mark D. Roberts." I had done it. And I felt relieved . . . glad . . . somewhat proud . . . and, honestly, underwhelmed. My desire to write had been based on deception. I was tricked by my upbringing and culture, not to mention my own sin, to believe that publishing a book would bring ultimate happiness. But this was not true.

I did not write another book for many years because, frankly, I had little desire to do so. Finally, in 2000, I began to have a message that I wanted to communicate broadly. So I wrote my second book, After "I Believe," not because I wanted to be famous or feel good about myself, but because I wanted to share with others the central importance of fellowship with God and his people.

Today, the vast majority of my writing doesn't end up in a book with my name on the cover. (In fact, my last two books have been e-books, which don't really have covers at all.) Most of my writing shows up in these Daily Reflections. I am motivated to write, no longer by the deceitful desire for having my name appear on a book cover, but rather by my passion for the content of God's Word and my desire to share it with you so that you might experience God's grace more deeply. The joy I feel when I hear that God has touched your life through these Reflections greatly exceeds any delight I have known in having my name appear on a book. I'm not saying that my desires are pure, mind you, but, at least I have been able, by God's grace, to put off one deceitful desire that once ruled my life.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever experienced anything in your life that is similar to my deceitful desire to write books? How has God reformed your desires as you have walked with him? How is God reshaping your desires today, helping your motivations to be more in line with the truth that is in Jesus?

PRAYER: Gracious God, I do thank you for the opportunity to write books. But, I also thank you for the freedom you have given me from the deceitful desire to see my name in literary lights. I'm glad that I am no longer driven by a false belief that book writing proves the value of my life.

Lord, I expect that most of my readers won't relate to this specific example, but they have their own "stuff." Help them, I pray, to see their desires clearly. Show them, even as you continue to show me, the desires that are based on falsehood. Help us to be motivated only by that which reflects the truth that is in Jesus. Amen.


P.S. from Mark: I thought you might appreciate the fact that my commentary on Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther does indeed live on the shelves of the theological library at Harvard. But I have never gone to look for it. I really don't want to know how rarely it has been checked out in twenty years, though I suppose this knowledge might further strip away some deceitful desires. My first "popular" book, After "I Believe," is available on Amazon, with many used copies selling for one cent. That's right, one penny per copy.

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Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.

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