Acts: The Spirit-Led Church Desires God

Elder Brian Haferkamp preaches on Acts 8:9-25 and encourages us to ask God to light the flame of desire for God himself.

What does your heart desire?

Maybe this question sounds too ephemeral. Maybe you've never really thought about it.

What is the motivation for our faith and practice? What is it that you desire?

This might seem like an elementary question. It is elementary, in fact. But it is elementary in the sense that it is foundational, not in the sense that it is trivial or trite. 

In our passage today we see the tale of two hearts. One heart desires God wholeheartedly and the other desires his own power, fame, and fortune, not God. 

The Spirit-Led Church desires one thing above all--God himself. He is our Chief End and Desire.

John Piper, in his book, Desiring God, writes:

[God] is the end of our search, not the means to some further end. Our exceeding joy is He, the Lord--not the streets of gold or reunion with relatives or any blessing of heaven.

Let's look at today's passage in Acts 8.

In verses 4-8 we read that Phillip is doing great and wonderful works among the Samaritans. They are coming to belief in Christ in large numbers. Even the local magician, Simon, has believed and has begun to follow Phillip. 

Simon the Magician was once held in high esteem among the people. They said of him, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.”

But along came something greater and the people of the region recognized it--the Gospel and the name of Jesus Christ. Even the Magician believed and was compelled to follow Phillip. No doubt he saw amazing things as he walked with this disciple of Christ.

Peter and John were sent from Jerusalem to lay hands on the people to receive the Holy Spirit. Simon the Magician saw that this amazing power--which he had previously only known Phillip to possess--was being given to the people. At this point he wanted the power to do that. 

Simon, who was once respected by everyone in Samaria, seems to have quite suddenly lost his position among the people. He was being overshadowed by these Christian disciples. His works were being overshadowed by God's works through the Spirit.

The Magician had believed but his heart and intentions were not right. Maybe they never were. Where others saw freedom and release from sin's grip, Simon saw an opportunity. He saw a chance to regain his former glory among the people. If they wanted this new power he wanted to be the one to give it to them. He needed to get it for himself.

As I've read and prayed through this I've been trying to discern Simon's intentions. It seems clear that the problem lies at the level of Simon’s heart. This is very similar to what we saw with Ananias and Sapphira in an earlier account in the book of Acts. It is the heart--the intention--that is wrong.

In this case, Simon sees an opportunity to possess a greater power than he had previously obtained. Imagine what would happen if he were able to possess and control this Spirit that can do so many amazing things. He would be the gatekeeper of the greatest power known to mankind. The rich and powerful would give anything to have this power and he would be the one who could give it or refuse to give it. His desire was to be like the Most High, not a desire for the Most High.

As the Apostles are laying hands on the people to freely give them God's Spirit, the Magician does a curious thing. Instead of taking the power being freely bestowed by the Apostles, he tries to buy this power with money. It was not God that he wanted. It was God's power that he wanted. He wanted to be a gatekeeper to God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit revealed to Peter the Magician’s true heart--he was in "the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity." 

In this passage we have the dichotomy of two men--Phillip and Simon the Magician. The first was focused on Christ and Christ's Kingdom while the second was focused only on himself. Phillip preached the message of Christ and displayed God's power to heal and drive out evil spirits. Simon wanted to skip the part about the Gospel of Christ and go straight to the power. He knew from previous experience how that would affect his life. He would once again be esteemed by all men as important.

Purchasing religious power or spiritual influence is called simony. It is called that because of this Simon the Magician--often referred to as Simon Magus. Simony seems to be particularly prevalent in societies where the Church has a lot of governing power and influence. Consequently, it didn't really show up in the Church until the 4th century. Since then it has waxed and waned as the Church has accumulated and lost power in societies around the world. 

The practice of trying to buy religious power or influence is a little less straightforward as Evangelicals than it has been in the Catholic church. However, I do believe there is something at the core and center of this story that does affect us--it is a question each of us must answer. 

Before we get to the question we should clarify what desire is. We often hear it in different contexts, but I would say most of us don’t think much about it in our daily lives.

Desire is an intense longing for something; something that we want or hope for.  The philosopher Thomas Hobbes asserted that human desire is the fundamental motivation of all human action. When a person desires something or someone, their sense of longing is excited by the enjoyment or the thought of the item or person, and they want to take actions to obtain their goal.

So the fundamental question for us today is: What is your heart's desire? Is it God himself?

There is a singularity of desire that sets the child of God right. A person can only serve one master. The Christian's focus is to be first and chiefly on God himself.

Jesus himself said that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. (Luke 10:27). 

Matthew 5:6

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

It seems clear that our desire and focus is supposed to be on God himself, but I think the million dollar question is how do we do that?

Desire is more difficult to talk about than obedience or will. Those are things that feel a little more like they’re in our control. Desire, however, is like a flame. It is either lit or out. Once desire is lit, it will be fanned into a more intense heat or left to die out.

The only way I know to light the flame of desire for God within the heart of man is for God to light that fire. It is not a matter of obedience or the will. It is something that God must light within us. So if you don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness--if you don’t have a desire for God--I believe the first order of business is to ask God to give you a desire for him. 

If you are in a place today where you do not desire God then ask him for it. God is the giver of good gifts and he has created you to desire him. God has created you to live in a love relationship with him where your desire drives you to be with him and know him. 

If you are here today, and God has given you a longing for him, praise God! There are things you can do to fan and cultivate the flame once it’s lit. The most important thing is to spend time with God. We read the scriptures to know him, we pray, we repent of our sins, we serve others, and we ask him to continue to give us focus and keep our eyes on him. If you feel your desire for God waning, ask God to fan the flame of desire for him. 

Lately, I’ve come into an awareness of an area among Christians where the flame is flickering and dying out. It is an area I have struggled with at times in my own life. That’s the area of reading the scriptures and spending time with God in prayer. 

I work for a company that is trying some different approaches to solving the problem of Believers not reading the Bible regularly. For all of the products and programs and marketing, the one thing the Believer needs most is not being addressed. Not spending time with God or reading the Bible is a heart issue, not an issue of time management or the form of the Bible or even of the will. Many know in their heads they should be spending time with God, but they do not have an intense desire to read, pray, and listen to God. 

I told you that at times that has waned in my own life. If I find myself in those times I go to God and ask him for the desire to read the Bible and to be with him. I ask him for the desire to pray. God has always rekindled, or even re-lit, the flame of desire for him. 

We live in a world full of things other than God that would love to have our desires. Our hearts are easily entangled in the things of the world. Out of fear or practicality or from a lack of fanning the flame that was once lit, we find ourselves striving for and pursuing things other than God himself. His promise to us is that if we singularly pursue him he will give us all of the other things that we need. That pursuit of God and his righteousness begins with the flame of desire burning brightly within the heart of man.

Is your chief desire for the Lord Jesus Christ? Or have you let other desires take over? Where is your sense of longing and excitement? Where is your treasure? 

I encourage you to re-engage with God. Ask him to give you a desire for himself and not just for what he can give you; not just for what he can do to fulfill your selfish desires. I encourage you to read the scriptures and engage God in prayer. 

Phillip's heart desired God. He desired to see God glorified. Simon the Magician’s desire was for himself and his own selfish desires, not for God himself.

As you sit here this morning are you Phillip or are you Simon?