This post begins with a passage from The Lord of the Rings, and it requires a brief introduction.
The event described below happens after Frodo and his eight companions have met the fairest elf in Middle-Earth, Galadriel, in the woods of Lorien. Such is her beauty and wonder that a deep sadness and a profound sense of loss overtakes the company as they finally leave her land and say goodbye to her:
Suddenly the River swept round a bend, and the banks rose upon either side, and the light of Lórien was hidden. To that fair land Frodo never came again.
The travellers now turned their faces to the journey; the sun was before them, and their eyes were dazzled, for all were filled with tears. Gimli wept openly.
‘I have looked the last upon that which was fairest,’ he said to Legolas his companion. ‘Henceforward I will call nothing fair, unless it be her gift.’ He put his hand to his breast.
‘Tell me, Legolas, why did I come on this Quest? Little did I know where the chief peril lay! Truly Elrond spoke, saying that we could not foresee what we might meet upon our road. Torment in the dark was the danger that I feared, and it did not hold me back. But I would not have come, had I known the danger of light and joy. Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting, even if I were to go this night straight to the Dark Lord. Alas for Gimli son of Glóin!’
‘Nay!’ said Legolas. ‘Alas for us all! And for all that walk the world in these after-days. For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream.
The powerful passage above brings to mind two passages in the Bible:
Psalm 84:1, 2 (NKJV):
“How lovely is Your tabernacle,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, even faints
For the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”
Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NKJV):
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.”
When Legolas addresses Gimli’s grief, he speaks one of the most profound lines in Tolkien’s trilogy: “For such is the way of it: to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream.”
There is something deeply unsatisfying about life in this world. Nothing seems to fill the subterranean ache in our hearts that grasps and longs for something beyond the horizon of life. Even in our bliss we feel restless. It feels as if another world is hiding behind the roar of our happiest days like a secret cave behind a waterfall.
Time doesn’t help. When we finally reach a moment of great happiness—we obtain some goal, we get a job we love, we go to college, we buy a house, we marry someone we love, we have children—the first thing we notice is how quickly Time is pushing us along. We want to stand still and bask in the glory of that wonderful moment, but Time, like an impatient police officer gruffly managing a crowd, hurries us along to the next moment. Any joy to be had in this world begins moving away from us as quickly as it arrives.
We’re left wanting more.
A deep restlessness stirs. We wish those moments of happiness had never ended. Deep down we wish everything good could go on forever.
Ecclesiastes hints at this when it mentions God hiding eternity in our hearts. We’re discontent with the finiteness of human joy. Deep down we sense that joy was never supposed to end. God’s original plan had aimed for something better than the fleeting, half-formed happiness of this world. A vague awareness of this blissful eternity haunts every soul, especially because each of us, in our own way, are destined “to find and lose, as it seems to those whose boat is on the running stream.”
But Psalm 84 offers us a practical solution: refocus our many longings in life—like mirrors redirecting lasers—until our deepest longing points to Christ, the Author of Life. When we make God the object of our deepest desire, when our heart and flesh faints for the beauty of His presence on a daily basis, we begin to taste a supernatural kind of joy that never fades. This, of course, does not mean that our efforts to pursue God always yield a perfectly blissful experience. The journey of pursuing God, like hiking up a steep mountain, can be tiring and frustrating. (After all, our spirits are willing but our flesh is weak.)
But it is worth it.
By pointing our heart’s desire to God above all other pursuits, we grasp toward something that is itself eternal. Nothing in our earthly lives—money, relationships, romance, jobs, ministries—are eternal. When the beautiful tabernacle of God becomes our great desire—that dwelling place beneath His great pavilion where we go in our hearts to enjoy sweet fellowship, prayer, worship, and a continual feasting on the Word—a peace settles over our spirits in the place that was once incurable and restless.
Because we’ve finally set our hearts on a joy that is always available in rich potency and unfading quality. We’ve finally put our hope on riches that never fade or run out.
We’re finally beginning to taste and know the eternal love that has haunted us—a joy and source of life in Him we can never lose.
Abba, please change my cravings. Change my wants and needs and rearrange my heart until You genuinely are my greatest craving, want, and need—my deepest longing. If my hunger for You is weak and fickle, change me. Transform me. Reshape my heart. Stir a new hunger. Renew my vision of Your beauty so that I see what I am missing. Allow that sudden awareness of my lack of You to stir a deeper hunger until knowing You becomes the great pursuit of my life. In Jesus’ Name, amen.