As a Follower of Jesus, is asking God to fulfill my desires a bad thing? I have been asked this question more than once. There are two extremes that I now see getting associated with Christianity. One comes out of the God-wants-you-to-be-happy theology and therefore wants to satisfy every desire. The other is more related to Eastern asceticism, labeling the pursuit of desires as a source of distraction that leads to suffering and deceitfully draws us away from God.
The short (and unsatisfying) answer that I usually offer: it depends.
So, maybe the better question is, how do I determine the character of my desire?
The Bible talks a lot about desires, and I have written before on the topic (read “Choosing to Desire Well”). Here I am writing about it again. I never seem to be able to get away from thinking about how desires are integral to how we do life. Whether we’re always aware of it or not, we make our choices and pursue our paths according to whatever object or goal our desires have zeroed-in on. Thus the Bible warns us of deceitful desires (Ephesians 4:22) and even ones that can lead to death (James 4:2). But it also informs us that there are desires that lead us to good places (Proverbs 11:23) and those that God longs to fulfill (Psalm 37:4; 145:16).
They are not all trustworthy
I have recently been going through the Book of Ephesians, and my mind got stuck on a verse warning that my life can be corrupted through deceitful desires (4:22). I began to think about how there are desires that lie and lead us in directions that are not good for us. They make promises like “If you just had more money, you would be happier.” Or, “If you had a spouse or a different spouse, or none at all, then you could flourish as a person.” Or, “If you had more education or certain skills, then you would feel valued.” All these and many more promises like them basically tell us that any particular thing or status, or relationship that we strongly desire will bring satisfaction once it is attained. Therefore, pursue it!
If there can be a “deceitful” desire, does that mean there are also honest or truth-telling desires? As I have written in the past, we typically get focused on the object of what we want which is the item or goal that we believe will satisfy. This is where we so often get deceived. An honest desire can thus be understood to be one that God has planted in us. I would call these the real or core desires of our hearts. They are what so often get overlooked as we pursue the unreliable promises of the objects we are lusting after.
Distinguishing the Surface from the Core
So how do we identify the difference? I often ask myself the question, “What would I have or feel if this desire was completely satisfied?” If I were making $100,000 more a year, what would that give me? For an answer, “peace” comes to mind. I believe I could be more settled in my thinking, perhaps rest more fully at night, and give up stressing over unexpected expenses. My core or real desire here is then for peace. The object of my desire – that which I believe will give me peace – is more money. The longing for more money, I can now see, is thus a deceitful desire. It’s not telling me the truth. Peace is the honest core one, and more money will never fully satisfy it.
Or what am I longing for when I dream of further education? For me, I answer that with “significance.” Accumulating additional knowledge and degrees promise that my presence and contribution will be so much more impactful. I want to feel as if I can make more of a difference and be noticed. But the desire for more education easily transforms into a deceitful longing. What if there are other, more effective ways for me to feel that sense of significance? If I never identify that as the REAL desire, I will easily remain blind to the way God has in mind to truly fulfill it.
The question then is, what do I do with these core desires once I recognize them? The simple and so often disregarded answer is, take them to the One who put them in me. The desire for peace is God-given because He is the Prince of Peace. It’s guaranteed that He wants to fulfill it with something other than money if I give Him the chance. And in the same way, the desire for significance comes from the very heart of my Heavenly Father. But it will never be satisfied by feeling smarter or accumulating unique life experiences or degrees. It is only by letting Him show me what He thinks of me and for what purpose He made me that my thirst for significance will ever be satiated.
What does my heart need?
We humans have many core desires in common that God longs to fulfill. He is the only One who can truly satisfy them. They can usually be identified as what we each need for our hearts to be whole and healed. Approval, security, belonging, justice, a sense of worth, are a few I can think of, but the list can be much longer. These desires are good and can be described as Desires of the Heart which God’s word declares He will fulfill as we take them to Him and delight ourselves in Him (Psalm 37:4). It never works long-term when we seek to fulfill them in our own way.
It is those lying and distorted passions that get us fixated on possessing, accumulating, and accomplishing in ways that at best satisfy only momentarily. God longs to satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts in a way that lasts. But first of all, we have to identify the real ones – the honest ones.
Don’t settle for pursuing a fake, corrupting, surface-level passion. Take your desires to God and ask Him to guide you in drilling down to the core. What is beneath it all? What do you need for your Creator to touch and make your heart more whole?
Do this. And then dare to trust Him for satisfaction that leads you into real and lasting life.