BarSacr 09-05-74

Sacred Thirst

Meeting God in the Desert of Our Longings


M. Craig Barnes

Zondervan, 2001, 224 pp., ISBN 978-0-310-21955-2



Craig Barnes is the senior pastor of The National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.  "In Sacred Thirst, author and pastor Craig Barnes brings us face-to-face with our desperate longing for God."  "This book is filled with unique insights into human experience and the character of God."  (from the back cover) 


1.  Our Parched Souls

"All the words God spoke in the Old and New Testaments had as their purpose to draw us back to our true home in the midst of a triune fellowship into which we are adopted."  (13-14)  "The desert is one of the fundamental motifs used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe this difficult, speechless pilgrimage toward God." (14)  "The only point of going through the desert is to get to the Promised Land, where we are at home with God.  And the only way to enter the land is to realize that the thirst we feel is actually a longing for the sacred." (14)


"Hearing the word of God is not in style these days, merely yearning for it."(17)


"The sadness I encounter [in people's lives] … is more of a quiet sorrow that has attached itself to the walls of the inner soul, a subdued sorrow that simply will not go away." (18)  "This sense of despair is one of the prevailing themes of contemporary society."  It is "a yearning for the God who is not yet done creating our lives." (20) 


2.  Right Answers Aren't Enough

"…people are saved not by what they know but by who they know."  We introduce people to Jesus and then teach them about Jesus.  This is like falling in love with someone and then reading his resume.  The most important thing for the disciples was not what they understood but who they were following.  (28-9) 


3.  A Stranger in Community

"Nothing is more dangerous to the church than the tendency to define itself at its borders, keeping all the righteous folks inside and the strangers outside.  It is so dangerous because by doing so the church misses out on fully knowing its Savior, who has always had a heart for the strangers, for lost people." (46)  "We are in church only because we need to be here, not because we deserve to be." (48) 


4.  When Prayer Dries Up

"The help we get from God may not be the help we asked for.  God loves us too much for that.  He loves us so much that he is determined to give us what we really need--namely, himself." (51) 


"Our lives are shaped more by the times when, in spite of all our prayers, God says nothing at all."  (51)  "It may be that we are simply being invited into a new, more intimate communion with God where words are simply not as important." (52)  "The prayer techniques and languages we use do not matter nearly as much as the thirst for God that prayer must nurture within us." (53)  The point of God inviting us to bring him our concerns is not so we can drag God toward our dreams but to be changed by his creative hands.  (53) 


"When we believe our prayer life has dried up there is only one thing to do: Pray about it."  There is nothing to do but wait out the long dry spells.  There is no easy way out. (55)  "So we pray our way through the desert journey." (56)  We come to the dark night because God invites us to discover that he alone is enough. (57)


"It is a terrifying night.  You will think you're losing everything that is important to you.  You are.  All that will be left is God." (58)


"Our successes and achievements are far more deadly to our spiritual lives."  It is much harder to faithful at prayer when we are succeeding. (62) 


5.  Compassion Fatigue

"Sometimes it feels like the whole world is counting on you." (65)  "Sooner or later we all grow tired of trying to make a difference." (66)  Nearly all church leaders in history were dramatically changed by at least one major failure early in their career.  "Afterwards, these leaders invariable took themselves much less seriously and God's gracious compassion much more seriously." (66-67) 


It's easy to become exhausted.  Our sense of mission won't relieve our parched souls.  (78)  "The challenge in life is not to do less, but to see the risen Jesus at work in every aspect of life." (69) 


"I can't find satisfaction in my mission any more than I can find it in my personal life.  But this is, in reality, good news because now I'm ready for a Savior.  The real question for every disciple of Jesus Christ, is not, am I effective? -- but, do I believe that Jesus Christ is effective?"  "Our calling is not to fix one single thing, but to bring all the broken things to Jesus Christ who alone has the power to save…." "We are never anything more than his witnesses."  "Jesus Christ is the actor.  He alone is the One who is at work today…." (71-2) 


"The real question facing those of us who take mission seriously is not whether or not we believe that Jesus fed the five thousand so many years ago, but whether or not we believe he can do it again.  Will Jesus use our limited resources--our five loaves and two fish--to feed the hungry, to heal the broken, and to bring hope to a world that never has enough of it?  It would take a miracle--but that is our Savior's worry.  All you are asked to do is to take what you have, place it in Jesus' hands, and give thanks." (77) 


6.  It's Not About You

"The real issue in life is always about God."  "…the reason we are not enjoying God, or anything else for that matter, is because we have made ourselves the chief end.  Life is not about our needs…  It's about the longing of the triune God to have fellowship with us." (82)  "What your people are thirsting for is the living water only Jesus Christ can give them.  Your job is never more than to be a guide in the desert."  "It is never about what we do it's always about receiving what God is doing."  (83) 


Only kids really understand the secret of Christmas.  It's about receiving.  At Christmas the only person giving is God.  "Everyone else is simply receiving this silent, holy miracle that breaks into the night." (84) 


"Beginning with God's love for us frees us from worrying so much about our love for God." (89)  The challenge is to live in Christ.  "As we open our lives to being filled with the Spirit…we are transformed into the very image of Christ." (90) "Only God's love is powerful enough to change our lives." (92) 


7.  The Searching God

Pastors find more people suffer from loneliness than most other pains.  Our lives are full of two great distractions.  Outer distractions include all our activities.  Inner distractions include anxieties, bad memories, doubts, and hurts.  We rush to outer distractions to shield us from the more scary inner distractions.  Jesus experienced solitude without loneliness because the Father had not left him alone.  (96) 


Loneliness is the "unwanted aching of the heart."  Solitude can confront the heartache when we discover that we are known and loved by our Father.  (97)  "The heart can only be satisfied by the one who created it.  The yearning is for God."  In him "lonely hearts are re-formed and transformed with deep emotions such as joy, love, even compassion for those around us."  "In solitude we discover the sufficiency of a God who…came looking for us."  (97) 


"We do not become holy by trying to obey Jesus' teachings.  Instead, we are made holy by allowing the Holy Spirit to draw us so close to Jesus that his love begins to flow through our veins, changing our hearts, renewing our minds, and making us holy in every aspect of life." (102) 


"Our expectations are rooted in those things we count on happening."  But our sacred moments often look a lot like disappointment.  "We are living in a society that has far too many expectations and not nearly enough hope."  "We need to have hope that something, or Someone, is coming down the road for us, or else we will never make it to tomorrow."  "But the gate to God's kingdom is so narrow that you can't fit through unless you drop all your expectations…."  (107-108) 


8.  Communing with God

"It seems like every important thing in life comes only after a period of waiting." (110)  "Why do we still have this deep, insatiable thirst of the soul after so many years…?  The waiting isn't wasted time."  "Waiting reminds us that we are not powerful enough to make things happen…."  How we wait tells God a lot about us."  Waiting brings out our true nature.  "In order to be in tune with Jesus' mission in the world, we must be men and women of spiritual character.  …God has chosen also to wait and see, to discover what we are made of." (112) 


Why are Jesus' followers still so thirsty?  "We can only let it find us by stopping the relentless search long enough to turn our thirst into prayer--and then to wait for the Spirit." (115)  "If we remain in the (upper) room, return to it often, and wait upon the Holy Spirit, we will find the power to make a difference in the world." (116)  We may think we are waiting for God to give us what we want, but this is the wrong thing, the small, comfortable dreams.  Instead God may want us to change the world.  "None of the great leaders of the church ever aspired to greatness.  Rather, they aspired to know God…."   (117)


9  The Longing to Confess

"It is the compartmentalization of life that is largely responsible for our failure with integrity.  This is why moral people do immoral things in private.  They think that the private compartment should not be judged by the standards of the public ones."  "Whenever we move from one compartment of life to another, we enter a different world in which we have a different identity.  After a while, our souls get worn out, and the walls that divide the compartments begin to break down." (124)    Only when one's life is integrated does it have integrity. "We cannot be morally virtuous if we are divided, mixed, or compartmentalized." (125)


"It is terrifying to give everything to God.  What will he do with all of the compartments we have fretted over for so long?  Will he ensure that we are a success at work?" (126)


"God is Lord over all of our hearts, which means that every lie we tell is told to God.  Lying to God is lying to the heart surgeon." (126) 


"When you are clutching at something, you can neither give nor receive love, which always requires two open hands."  "The problem isn't knowing what we ought to do; the problem isn't even wanting to do what we ought to do.  The problem is taking the risk in doing it.  It's just too frightening." (130)


"It always amazes me, but I've seen all too often that people prefer the misery they know to the mystery the do not."(134)    The way we experience union with Christ in worship is simply through confession.  This may be our most difficult role in worship.  "Still, when we confess our failure … we are then ready for the Spirit to engraft us into the righteousness of Jesus Christ." (136)


10.  The Courage to Believe

"Life is such a fragile thing, it is best to go ahead and lose it while pursuing things that will make an eternal difference.  It's all painfully clear.  What we need are not all of the missing pieces to life's puzzle, but enough courage to live by the clear insights we have."  "We have …been placed in the midst of a dark world that is desperate for any light it can find.  There really isn't much question about what we should do in these places.  The real question is, will we do it?" (138)


"No one ever finds the living water by climbing up."  "What we need is Spirit-uality.  Our thirst is for something so sacred that it cannot originate with us or be controlled by us."  "Our calling is to believe that if we stay by the dried-out riverbed, the waters will rush down once again."  "The antidote to our thirsty souls is not a list of propositional truths found in the Bible, but the Truth--Jesus Christ--and his living water, the Holy Spirit."   (139-40) 


"The purpose of a worshipful encounter with the Holy Spirit is not just to be reassured that God is with us but also to be commissioned with a sacred calling.  After you learn that the Savior is on board with you, you can no longer see yourself as just a fisherman, teacher, banker, homemaker, administrator, or whatever it is you spend your days doing.  One of these may be your job, but your vocation is to catch people so they do not fall." (143)


"Surrender.  It isn't terribly complicated, but it is so very hard because it requires that we believe the Holy Spirit will do what we cannot do." (146)


"All of the spiritual disciplines of worship, Bible study, service, and praying without ceasing throughout the day are ways of positioning ourselves near the river of living water.  However, they are not the water, and we will remain thirsty if we become more preoccupied with our prayers than with the One to whom we are praying." (149) 


"As in any relationship, we choose to keep trusting only because of another mystery: We love the person we are trusting." (150)


11.  Finding a Holy People

"This story, which is now forming your life, began before you showed up, and all of the really important parts of the story have either already occurred or will occur long after you are gone.  Creation, the Fall…."  "According to the book of Revelation, the end of the story has also been written, and it ends wonderfully."  This really is our family story.  (158)  "Even a dysfunctional family can mold our lives in wonderful ways--as long as it is regularly interrupted by the Savior." (158-59) 


"You can't be the light of the world without attracting a few bugs." (162) 


12.  Finding a Holy Place

"The problem with being rich is that we have too many things in our hands and so much on our backs that we become bent over from the burden of it all.  Because the door into the holy place is so narrow, we must let go of everything, absolutely everything, in order to slip through." (169)  "But once we see the Savior, we will then see that all the things we have dropped are now in his hands, which, of course, is the best place for them to be." (170) 


"If we really believe that the end of the story is filled with hope, we are set free from anxiety about today.  We should even be so overwhelmed with gratitude for our hope that we can seek the welfare of those who have hurt us.  So the point of hope is not to hang on until we get back to the holy place; the point is to be free to seek holiness in the place where we are." (175) 


13.  Finding a Holy Purpose

"Society has done a good job teaching us how to run." (180)


"The purpose of our insatiable thirst is not only to have it satisfied by worshiping in spirit and truth, but to restore our lives as a blessing for the families of the earth." (183) 


"Hope comes not from making our lives more comfortable but from discovering great visions." (187) 


"We do not change a society by starting with the leaders."  "We only get the leaders we create, and churches that know how to worship in spirit and truth are one of the best places in which to create leaders." (188) 


14.  Finding a Holy Joy

"Distraction is the great danger for the American church…."  "We work so hard as we pursue excellence in our jobs and in our families, but we settle for a lukewarm, indifferent relationship with God."  "Such spiritual apathy leaves the worst lukewarm taste in the mouth of a passionate God." (200)


"Those who have given everything to God are free to live with increasing passion because they are no longer worried about losing things."  "People who believe there is a heaven act differently than others.  They make choices more easily because they recognize that these choices are seldom ultimate.  They are less cautious in their approach to life, more likely to laugh at themselves, and a lot more likely to give themselves to others.  They don't waste much time trying to be their own savior."  (202)


"Our job is not to worry about when, or if, we will receive the desires of our hearts.  That is up to God.  Our job is to pray and to hope.  And along the way, as we pray, we are drawn closer and closer to God.  In time we will discover that being drawn close to God is even more important to us than our dream, because alongside God is where holy joy is found." (206) 



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