Duty vs. Desire

Our family visited the Portland Art Museum a few weeks ago to see an exhibit of California Impressionism.  The exhibit was outstanding.  My wife and I were super-impressed with the talent of the artists and the beauty of each piece.  My kids?  Not so much; they were a bit bored.

As we were heading for the exit door, we had an unusual encounter.  This guy rushes up to us with great excitement and asks if our family came to see the Ellsworth Kelly prints.  He mistook the blank, but somewhat anxious looks on our face for interest (in reality, we were just hungry and ready to go) and says, “Oh, they’re great.  Kids love them, they’re right here.”  The “kids love them” part lured me into thinking that we might salvage the experience for our three children, so we followed.

After a 90-second overview of Ellsworth Kelly (my three semesters of art appreciation in college had somehow failed to touch on this obviously important artist), the eager art lover thrust a pamphlet in our hands and said, “Our family just loves these prints and I’m so glad you’re here to enjoy them.”  With that, he left us to wander through the exhibit, which in all honesty took us all of 2 minutes.  Block prints are just not my thing.

As we finally made our way to the parking lot, I thumbed through the pamphlet and realized that the eager art lover was actually an eager art patron.  I read his name as one of the benefactors of the museum and learned that he owned the pieces on display.  This didn’t make me appreciate the prints any more or less, but it did surprise me that this wealthy patron chose to visit the museum on a Saturday morning and that he’d taken time to introduce our family to his passion.

The episode has me considering the difference between duty and desire.  If this man felt it his duty to make art available to the masses, he’d really done his part by writing a big check to the museum and loaning his private collection to them for three months.  No one could fault him for not doing any more; his obligation had been met.  But a person driven by desire goes far beyond duty – such a person might approach an unsuspecting family and attempt to infect them with his passion.

Ministry leaders are very susceptible to a sentiment that says, “Haven’t I done enough already?”  I recall one Sunday years ago when I was pastor of a church plant.  I’d been up since 5:00 AM, first honing that day’s sermon, then off to the school where we met to help set up chairs and sound equipment, then the actual worship service, followed by tearing down and packing up.  By the time I met my family for lunch at a nearby restaurant, I was beat.  So when the waitress didn’t meet my expectations for prompt and courteous service, I was not very Jesus-like with her.  I don’t remember the details, but I do recall my wife pointing out the incongruence between what I’d preached on and what I’d just practiced.  In a moment of self-pity and selfishness, I said, “Well, some people preach it and some people practice it.  I’ve already done my part for the day.”

When we are driven by duty, we measure our efforts and make excuses for our lapses.  Also, duty-bound leaders are often more interested in the abstract than the concrete, feeling that our love for God and obedience to Christ happens in our heads more than in our hands and habits.  We can also mistake leading a church or preaching sermons for following Christ, serving the needy, and sharing the gospel.  Giving so much effort to ministry of the abstract can lead us to ask the constant question, “Have I not done enough already?”

But when we are driven by desire, our constant question is, “Can I do more?”  Sometimes we cannot.  Not even the strongest leader or most faithful follower can serve out of a place of abundance all the time (rest, rejuvenation and restoration are needed).  But the desire-driven Christian does have an engine of motivation that is self-fueled and practically always ready – their satisfaction comes not in having done their part, but in doing their part.

If you sense you are driven more by duty than by desire, remember that “enough” is not a helpful category for considering your effort.  It’s not about doing enough or having more to give; it’s about Christ having done more than enough.  Duty and obligation are not currencies in the kingdom of God; passion for God, God’s Son, God’s Spirit, and God’s image-bearers is what moves the kingdom and moves us to love others in the same practical ways as we have been loved.

About Chad Hall

Chad Hall is the Director of Coaching for Western Seminary and also serves as a leadership coach for ministry and corporate clients through his role as Partner with Coach Approach Ministries and iNTERNAL iMPACT.

One thought on “Duty vs. Desire

  1. Chad, thank for the article. It’s a good reminder. Last year I took the Prayer and Spiritual Disciplines class and it happened to coincide pretty closely with a short sermon series we did at church on spiritual disciplines. It hit me at this time, that we sometimes distort spiritual disciplines because we misunderstand the word discipline. For most of us, we think it means doing something even when we don’t want to (duty). I think discipline is more accurately described as doing something we know is good for us (perhaps closer desire). It has changed the way I view spiritual disciplines and the whole duty vs. desire and legalism vs grace idea.

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