Clint (not his real name) showed desperation on several occasions in the time I knew him. He was a thirty something single father who had learned that his daughter was walking the streets of a southern city. He found a way to get her to our area. He fixed her room just like she wanted it hoping to keep her away from her old ways. Things did not work well. She refused any discipline. I got a call indicating that the sheriff wanted me to come to the house. When I got there, she was in the house where at least one deputy was trying to calm her. Clint was outside yelling at the top of his voice and the sheriff stood between him and the door. Eventually they got her in the sheriff’s car and drove off, leaving Clint steaming over the whole situation. At least no one got hurt.
On another occasion, Clint called me from out of state asking for money. He was obviously under great pressure from someone to pay. The desperation in his voice was patently obvious. Somehow we got him calmed down and helped to resolve his situation. I remember thinking that people who are desperate are capable of almost anything.
Another time it was nearly mid-night when my phone rang. Clint needed me to come to his place right then. He indicated it was an almost life or death matter. When I arrived at his place he told me he had no transportation, but right then had to go to a city three quarters of an hour away. I took him to a rather sketchy looking area and a house that he identified. He went in for only a few minutes and then returned, seemingly greatly relieved. Desperation had made him insistent that it all had to happen right then.
Money, drugs, threats, relationships gone bad, all enter in to some of these desperate situations and I suspect that all were involved in Clint’s life. Clint is not the only one like that, though. Henry David Thoreau wrote that “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation…” It may be so, but for many that desperation is not so quiet. Desperately religious fanatics kill people thinking that they do God service. Desperate physically driven people indulge the flesh in that which is unspeakable. Desperate lovelorn will destroy home and family to pursue a fling with another such kindred spirit. People desperate for position will claw their way over others to achieve their goals. Desperate politicians lie, cheat, and steal their way into power.
There is something about being put in a desperate situation that causes otherwise normal people to do unimaginable things. The desperately hungry have been known to engage in cannibalism. The desperately lonely have sold themselves into prostitution. Desperate mothers-to-be go to abortuaries and destroy their unborn often pressured by desperate fathers-to-be. A desperate skater once got some thugs to attack a rival by beating her legs and knees until she was unable to compete.
What causes such desperation? The Bible gives the answer: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9).
Despite the efforts of contemporary man to blame bad behavior on society, unequal distribution of wealth, poverty, imperialism, oppression, under-privilege, mental illness, moon phases, poor education, and other excuses, the truth is that there is a desperate wickedness in the very nature of man. He has a wicked heart.
Hippocrates said, “For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure…are most suitable.” Desperate wickedness needs an extreme cure. It will take more than attending an occasional church service or saying a few rote prayers. It takes the grace of God and nothing less, else the disease of the heart remains and wickedness eventually reasserts itself. Knowing the grave nature of the problem of man, God intervened by sending His own Son as the supreme sacrifice for sin. It is not the casual seeker who finds this grace, for God said, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).
If we halfheartedly address the problems of the heart, we will fail. The problem of strong physical desire cannot be overcome if half the heart holds on to those cherished images or that enticing but wrong relationship. The half of the heart that is uninvolved in dealing with the problem will eventually compromise with evil, because that half of the heart is an indication of the truly desperate nature we are dealing with. Why do people fail to overcome sexual temptations? It is that the heart protects that area where the desperate wickedness resides. God is not fooled by a half-hearted prayer. The rich young ruler half-heartedly wanted to go to heaven, but found himself dominated by the half of his heart that was desperate for possessions. Jesus loved the man, but allowed him to leave because he was only half-hearted.
Anyone who wholeheartedly seeks God will find Him. Jesus made it clear that if we seek, we will find. But it takes a desperate seeker to find the solution for a desperate problem. Yet the Lord welcomes that seeker despite great weaknesses and failures. “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Ps. 34:18).
Sadly, much of the modern church has lost this message of wholeheartedly seeking God. Instead, we have seeker-friendly services where the presentation is carefully crafted to avoid anything uncomfortable, consoling instead of confronting desperate hearts, leaving the wickedness intact and resulting in churches with pastors and board members who have never even considered repenting of sin. Instead, they flaunt their sin and brag on their “inclusiveness.” No wonder there is little difference in the lifestyles of many in the church as compared with the completely irreligious.
I remember seeing the difference in a revival during my youth. A young man had made a profession of faith early in the meeting, yet not much had changed for him. However, I saw the change when later, broken and weeping he went forward, this time with his whole heart coming to the Savior. His desperate search for God resulted in a different direction for his life. He’s now a senior citizen, but one who still follows Jesus after a lifetime of service in ministry, proving the truth of the Lord’s words, “Seek, and ye shall find.”
His understanding of what it truly meant to follow Jesus was likely at least partly informed by the words painted in an arch across the front of the tabernacle at the denominational camp his family attended: “Follow peace with all men and holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.” I was also affected by that sign. I too knew that halfhearted measures were not enough for the desperate wickedness that lurked in my own heart. I needed to trust wholeheartedly in Jesus. I still do.