Someone very dear to me recently said, “It’s one thing to get on your face before the Lord a few times, and it’s something else entirely when you need to be on your face for months or even years.” I’m paraphrasing a bit, but that comment prompted me to look at the issue of desperation a little harder. Once I did, I began to see that there is a desperation of the flesh that precedes the desperation of the spirit.
A Broken Spirit vs. Desperation of the Flesh
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise.
Psalm 51:17 NKJV
In this verse, David is describing a desperate spirit. This is the desperation that comes when we are standing in absolute reality and seeing the stark and terrifying truth about ourselves. The desperation of the spirit goes straight to God because He’s the only help possible. In this moment, both the heart and spirit are broken and the weight of sin is unbearable. This is the desperation God does not despise.
Fleshly desperation is a different creature entirely. The desperate flesh is a drowning woman who wraps herself around the nearest swimmer in flailing hysteria, uncaring of what happens to the other swimmer because she’s only aware of her own need. The desperation of the flesh knows that it’s in trouble and just wants to find a way out of it, by any means necessary. There’s blood in the water and the sharks are moving in and this desperate flesh is not yet ready to die.
Desperation of the Flesh Isn’t the End
I can remember well the pain and hysterical fear of that desperation. It was awful! I couldn’t bear the judgment I was under or the wrath that I’d earned, but still, entitlement lingered. I’d admitted what I’d done and apologized, so why wasn’t it over? Why wasn’t I forgiven yet? What else could I possibly do?! The flesh can admit what it’s done, but it will never admit what it is. The battle cry of the desperation of the flesh is, “Please don’t kill me, I can change!”
God was waiting for my fleshly desperation to become “a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” before He gathered me up. He didn’t coddle my flesh and He never will. But He also didn’t leave me flailing and wailing. He gave me my first life verse in that painful, hideous state: “Let be and be still and know that I AM GOD.” That Word sliced through my hysteria and enabled me to see the whole, terrible Truth of who I was, not just what I’d done. He paved the way for my desperation of the spirit with that Word, but it was my choice to receive it that set me on the path He had prepared.
Desperation of the flesh is not the “sacrifice” that God responds to, but it can be a step in that direction. Desperate flesh looks for a way out of trouble that doesn’t involve dying. A desperate spirit knows that it’s already dead and looks for Life.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
Jeremiah 17:9 KJV