Spiritual transformation takes the form of companionship with Jesus. Spiritual people are not just those who engage in spiritual practices but those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God.
We see this in action after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples on various occasions until He ascended to heaven forty days later. His main task during this period of time was to acclimate His disciples to a hearing Him in a new way. This new way would be to hear Him without seeing Him. They would learn to hear Him through the Holy Spirit, “until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God,” (Act 1:2-3).
He manifested Himself in a visible way just enough for them to be confident it was Him speaking to their hearts. This was His way of preparing them to continue His conversation with them after He no longer appeared to them visibly.
For Jesus, this is what it means to be companions on the way. Two disciples on the Emmaus Road in Luke 24 got to experience this transition in their relationship with Jesus as they were having a conversation with Jesus on a walk to the town of Emmaus. Jesus caught up with them in a visible form, but they did not recognize Him.
The disciples express some exasperation with Jesus for His apparent lack of knowledge as they recounted the basic facts of what happened in Jerusalem. And then they come to that poignant phrase, “but we had hoped.” These words are simple and, at the same time, profoundly pregnant with all the longing and desire that had drawn their little community together.
Over time that desire had blossomed into real hope and then deepened into faith that what they had allowed themselves to hope for was really going to happen. They had rearranged their lives and taken great risks to live their desire for a new kind of kingdom. They longed for a kingdom that would be established through the coming of the Messiah. Weary and disillusioned from living under Roman rule, they longed to be free to live under God’s rule. They were thoroughly convinced that Jesus was indeed the Messiah who would lead this new regime that they staked their lives on it.
The disciples had been thinking Jesus was going to take over through some kind of military coup, not through an approach to power that involved death, burial, and resurrection. Their group had coalesced around their shared desire for this new kingdom and their belief that Jesus could bring about the fulfillment of their deepest desire. They were thinking that they had gotten in on the ground floor; they envisioned themselves in places of prominence in this new kingdom.
Like them, we can be disappointed by assumptions that don’t come to pass, or by circumstances that look very different than we expected. When have you let yourself hope for something like the disciples did, only to have your hopes dashed? What have you done with that experience? Has it robbed you of the ability to hope now, or do you still allow yourself to hope?
Having our hopes dashed leaves us in a very tender place. We get in touch with something we really want, and we let it matter to us a great deal. As the possibility of achieving that desire becomes more and more real, it becomes more than a dream; we can actually picture it, and we find ourselves leaning in and living as though that thing might actually happen. This is how desire works and it is very powerful.
Jesus understood this dynamic and knew that if people got in touch with their spiritual desires it would change their lives, so He encouraged them to pay attention to desire and then actually speak of it out loud to Him. He responded to them by taking them through the Scriptures and showing them that what had happened to their Jesus was exactly what was to befall the Messiah that Israel hoped for. Then, as they sat at supper with him, suddenly “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:31). Their recognition was more than visual and that was the point. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
They were thinking about how His words had always had an effect on their hearts, and their inward life. They must have been asking themselves why they had not recognized him for the way His words were impacting them. “He speaks with us in our heart, which burns from the characteristic impact of his word. His presence with us is, of course, much greater than his words to us. But it is turned into companionship only by the actual communications we have between us and him, communications that are frequently confirmed by external events as life moves along.” (Dallas Willard, Hearing God).
The spiritual journey deepens as we discover the longing and desires God has placed within us and that God Himself longs to meet (Psalm 37:4). We may think that something as personal as desire originates with us, but the truth is, everything of significance begins with God, even our desire.
With good attention, desire can deepen into intentionality, which then can be lived out in the decisions we make every day. Psalm 37:4 affirms that there are good desires of the heart that God has placed within us. If we are fully in touch with the desire that stirs quietly under the surface of our emotional attachments and superficial wanting, we can plot a better course for our lives rather than being tossed about by every wind of change or adversity.
Our desire for deeper union with God, for love, for belonging, for transformation is the truest thing about us. Our desire for God and our capacity to reach for more of God than we have right now, that is the core aspect of who we are.
Many of us are afraid to even acknowledge deep desire, given how out of control it all feels. It is much more risky to refuse to acknowledge what is real within us. Repressed desire only gets stronger and more dangerous the longer we refuse to acknowledge it.
It is so much safer for us and everyone around us if we open our desire in Jesus’ presence. Jesus can help us sift through our desires and let go of the destructive longings so we can embrace what is good and true.
Today as you live on the Emmaus road with your heart burning within you as He pours His Word into your heart, are you sifting through your desires to know what is good and true and letting go of the destructive desires?