Longing

Preaching and Worship Resources about Longing

Longing is intense desire for fulfillment, typically by union with what is longed for. Whether they yearn for beauty, or for love, or for home, or for a happy past, or to climb inside a landscape, people often find that their longings are unfulfillable.

In Scripture

"As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God" (Ps. 42:1-2).

"O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (Ps. 63:1).

"My soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances at all times" (Ps. 119:20).

"My soul languishes for your salvation; I hope in your word" (Ps. 119:81).

"If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!" Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy" (Ps. 137:5-7).

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Matt. 5:6).

I ask not only on behalf of [the disciples], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:20-21).

"When we cry, `Abba! Father!' it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:15-16, 22-23).

"Come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20).

Points to Ponder

Longings are ubiquitous. People yearn for a time gone by, perhaps when their family was still together. Or they long for a certain season, or place, or sound. In East of Eden John Steinbeck's narrator says of the Gabilan Mountains that he wanted "to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother." Many people know what it's like to listen to a particular piece of music that, at a certain spot, makes them ache. Mozart and Schubert knew how to touch us in this way, but so do country and western singers, whose music is full of lonesome dreams and broken hearts.

Overtones of seeking and searching In several of his writings C. S. Lewis explores this phenomenon of human longing or yearning — what the Germans call Sehnsucht, a word with strong overtones of seeking and searching. In thinking about Sehnsucht, Lewis observes that when we have it, we are seeking union with something from which we are separated. For example, we want to be reunited with a happy time or a lovely place or a good friend. We look at a green valley and want to crawl under its covers. We think of a happy home and want to dwell in its center. We keep wanting to "get back" or to "get in."

What's remarkable is that these longings are unfulfillable. We cannot merge with the music we love. Nor can we climb inside nature. Nature may delight us beyond telling, as Lewis says, but she cannot open her arms to receive us. The same is true of future situations in our lives. We may want a good career or a family or a particular kind of life, and these things may come to us. But if so, they will not fill all our niches, because we want more than these things can give. Even if we fall deeply in love and marry another human being, we discover that our spiritual and sexual oneness aren't final. They're wonderful, but not final. Even if they are as good as human oneness can be, something in us keeps saying "not yet" or "still beyond."

We can not go back into our past and steep ourselves in its joys. For one thing, some of its joys weren't as good as we think. It's characteristically human, said Mark Twain, to remember a lot of things that never happened. In any case, we cannot go back. Nostalgia is a yearning for what is over now.

The truth is that nothing in this earth can finally satisfy us. Much can content us for a time, but nothing can fill us to the brim. The reason is that ultimate beauty comes not from a lover or a landscape or a home, but only through them. These earthly things are solid goods, and we naturally relish them. But they are not our final good. They point to what is "higher up" and "further back."

Augustine, Calvin, and C.S. Lewis And so, in a famous prayer at the beginning of his Confessions, Augustine addressed the summum bonum ("supreme good") of the world: "O Lord," prayed Augustine, "you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." What Augustine knew is that human beings want God. In fact, humans want union with God: they want to get "in" God, as Jesus prays in John 17:21. Until it's suppressed, this longing for God arises in every human soul because it is part of the soul's standard equipment. We have been endowed by our creator with a sensus divinitatis (a "sense of divinity"), wrote John Calvin, and everywhere in the world, even when it expresses itself as idolatry, the sense of divinity is the seed of religion. God has made us for himself. Our "inconsolable secret," says C. S. Lewis, is that we are full of yearnings, sometimes shy and sometimes passionate, that point us beyond the things of earth to the ultimate reality of God."


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.