Sometimes Christians act as if all desires are bad, but that depends on the desire and the context. Good desires practiced outside of the loving boundaries Father God has given for our flourishing and protection will cause damage and pain. But does that mean all desires are wrong? Certainly not!
Food is one example. Hunger is a natural desire. We need food. Food is good. But if we eat more food than we need or we consistently eat things that aren’t good for our bodies, we can become obese and it can cause significant health problems.
My point is, though many desires aren’t inherently wrong, a good desire in the wrong context or lived out in a way it wasn’t designed for, can be disastrous. So how should you discern which desires are good and and which ones are not helpful, fruitful or right? The answer is found in this psalm written by King David. As one who experienced both the good and bad as a result of his desires, King David is the perfect test case. Good in the sense that many of David’s desires came true (see 2 Samuel 12:8) and bad in the sense that some of his desires, practiced in the wrong context, were catastrophic (committing adultery with Uriah’s wife and then having Uriah killed, see 2 Samuel 11-12). Let us turn to Psalm 37 for David’s insight.
Delight Yourself in the Lord
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 ESV)
Does this mean God is going to fulfill your every desire? Or conversely, does it mean He will force His desires upon you so you want what He wants? I don’t think it means either. Notice it says, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” Delight means to take one’s pleasure in the Lord or to be soft and pliable in response to Him. “In the Lord” is self-explanatory!
As you take your pleasure in Him, He will give you the desires of your heart. Let me say it again: He will give you. It means He will ascribe, bestow or bring to you the desires of your heart.
Several things happen as you delight yourself in the Lord. First, He will place His desires in you and they will become yours. Second, He will fulfill the godly desires that you have. And third, He will align your desires with His so that your heart longs for the same things He longs for.
After all, didn’t Jesus pray that we would be one with God even as He and the Father are one (see John 17:22)? Aren’t we in the process of being “conformed into the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29)? And doesn’t the word Christian, mean “little Christ?” (By the way, if you’re not sure, the answer to all those questions is yes!)
So, I ask you again, are all desires wrong? Not when you are delighting yourself in Him.
Is My Heart Wicked?
When I talk about desires in this way, people often say, “What about Jeremiah 17:9?” And I say, “What about it?”
The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT)
The problem is, this verse of Scripture is set in the context of a passage that is contrasting those who put their trust in the Lord with those who don’t. If you read the rest of the passage, it ascribes wonderful blessings to those who trust in the Lord. Another prophet named Ezekiel, said that God would give us a new heart and put a new spirit in us, taking out the old stubborn heart and giving us a tender, responsive heart (see Ezekiel 36:26 NLT). And if you are looking for a parallel passage in the New Testament, look no further than 2 Corinthians 5:17 which states we are “new creations in Christ.”
Is your heart wicked? Yes and no. Before Christ replaces it with a new heart, yes! And yes when we are living from our carnal and sinful desires rather than godly ones. But once we receive God’s grace and forgiveness through Christ, we are given a new heart that is responsive to God, and He changes us into new creations in Him. We are no longer slaves to sin. We move from darkness to light, orphans to children, and sinners to saints – all because of what Christ did on our behalf!
Can You Trust Your Desires?
Can you trust your desires? I find it best to answer a question with a question. Are you delighting yourself in God? Is your desire in line with the testimony of Scripture? Is the desire for now or later?
Some people say they don’t trust their desires and therefore they don’t make decisions based on them. Here’s my problem with that. The psalmist says if I’m delighting myself in God, He will grant me the desires of my heart. In other words, if I’m drawing my pleasure from God and I’m responsive to His heart, then my desires are most likely either from Him, in line with His desires, or they are godly desires. On the contrary, you should never trust your fleshly desires but instead crucify them. Just make sure you are not crucifying the good and godly desires with the fleshly ones. All desires are not created equal!
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:24 NIV)
What constitutes a fleshly desire? Fleshly desires are those based on what your sinful nature craves. Paul the apostle was very specific about fleshly desires. He identified them as, “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Gal. 5:19-21 NLT)
As we grow into Christ’s likeness and delight ourselves in Him, our desires come into alignment with His and we can trust them – so long as they are in line with Biblical truth.
Desires aren’t something to despise; they are something to discern. When they are godly, you can take them as a sign of His grace and act upon them. Quite honestly, I make better decisions when I follow my desires because I know I am delighting myself in the Lord. You may find that arrogant, but for me it’s not arrogance, it’s confidence. So long as I’m abiding and delighting myself in Christ, I’m quite comfortable following my desires.
How do you know if you are delighting yourself in Him? You will know. Delighting or abiding looks different for every person. You don’t have the grace to do it the way I do it, and I don’t have the grace to do it like you do it, but make no mistake, we all have the grace to delight and abide in Him. Jesus would never ask us to do something without giving us the power to carry it out.
So instead of starting with your desires, ask yourself this, what would it look like for me to delight myself in the Lord?