The Soul's Desire

What does your soul desire above all?

It were my soul’s desire to see the face of God; it were my soul’s desire to rest in His abode.
It were my soul’s desire to study zealously; this, too, my soul’s desire, a clear rule set for me.

  - Anonymous, “The Soul’s Desire,” Early Irish[1]

For the Lord
is righteous,
He loves righteousness;
His countenance beholds the upright.

  - Psalm 11.7

Seeing the face of God is a frequent appeal among the writers of Scripture. (Translation note: the NKJV marginal note actually does a better job translating the last clause in verse 7: “The upright beholds His countenance.”)

Seeing the face of God is equated with being filled with the Spirit (Ezek. 39.29), instructed in God’s Word (Ps. 119.135), enjoying the Lord’s favor (Ps. 30.7), knowing His strength (Ps. 105.4), and basking in all His rich blessings (Num. 6.22-27). Conversely, one is in danger of trouble and judgment from whom the face of God is turned away (Ps. 104.29, 30; Jer. 33.4, 5).

No wonder that anonymous Irish poet described his soul’s desire as longing to see the face of God!

To contemplate the face of the Lord we must be in the Presence of the Lord. The close relationship between dwelling in the Lord’s Presence – where we may behold the glory of the Lord (2 Cor. 4.6) – and the life of study according to a strict rule of discipline, is plainly in view in these opening stanzas of the anonymous monk’s verse. Seeing God’s face and dwelling in His Presence come from study and discipline. That may not appeal to many of us; but maybe we need to think about this again?

Celtic Christians were also great mystics; their studies led them to deeper meditations on the beauty of the Lord, which, in turn, led to greater love for Him, and more zeal for and courage in the work of the Kingdom. These days we don’t much link meditation, study, and eager service for the Lord. Those who meditate on the Lord, meditate on the Lord. Those who study, study. And those who serve, serve.

But this was not the case with many Celtic Christians.

In our day, we want our religion upbeat and non-demanding. We’ll let the pastor and the worship band do the evangelizing, and as for discipline, well, the less we fuss and worry about that, the better. Don’t want to become too legalistic, you know.

But the psalmist says the Lord is in His holy temple and He looks upon us to test us, to try what we’re made of, and the quality of our faith (Ps. 11.4, 5). He tests us by confronting us with doubters, skeptics, oppressors, and those who would destroy our faith and our lives, as well as by various distractions and temptations which He allows to come into our path.

God allows these because He is righteous, and He expects us to respond to such threats, not by fleeing to some safe sanctuary or simply caving in, but by loving service and witness. But service and witness flow from beholding the face of Christ, which comes through earnest discipline and careful, daily study. If we won’t study about the Lord and meditate deeply on Him, we should not expect to know His face when trials and tests arise.

No matter how upbeat and exciting our weekly worship serice may be, it will not by itself prepare us for the tests we have to deal with each day. To meet and grow through these, we need diligent study, devoted contemplation, setting our minds on the things that are above, and being transformed by the glory that shines in the face of Jesus.

What does your soul desire – really, most eagerly, desire? Refuge and shelter from the threats of the secular world? A life untroubled by discipline, and untroubled by a few spiritual or moral shortcomings?

Or would you prefer strength and boldness to stand firm in deeds of love and truth?

The former you can get just about anywhere; the latter comes only by dedicated study and contemplation.

For Reflection
1. How do you experience seeing the face of the Lord?

2. How can believers help one another to focus on Christ throughout the day?

Psalm 11.5-7 (Tidings: O Zion, Haste, Your Mission High Fulfilling)
God tests the wicked as He tests the righteous;
See how His soul all evildoers hates.
He will not let our foes assail or smite us;
On them His wrath nor ceases nor abates.
  Jesus is righteous, loving the just;
  All will behold His face who on His mercy trust.

Lord, search my soul: what is my soul’s desire in these increasingly secular times? Help me to…

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T. M. Moore
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Hull, p. 142.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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