Victims of Desire
There’s a hidden kind of victim mentality that gets in the way of effective living. It also seems to be an undiagnosed hang-up limiting the spiritual lives of a good many people. It shows up in folks you wouldn’t think of as victims at all. It’s a common belief in our culture today that shapes how we act and react. What is it?
We believe that our desires just happen to us.
Whether we’re talking about love or a preference for dark coffee, we think that our hearts are at the whim of our desires. We just love what we love. You want to get what you want and these is just no explaining it.
This mentality creates all kinds of difficulty. Unmet desires cause us anxiety, even deep unhappiness. (That’s one reason Buddhism suggests that the best state is one with no desire or attachment since these are the root of suffering.) Deeply rooted desires for comfort, or control, or approval can undermine our relationships, leading us into great brokenness. Many people have written that our desires are one clue into our God-given purpose, but even this positive view is a struggle if we are just at the mercy of desire.
I’ve been thinking about these things for some time. Then last week I came across a blog post by Michele Perry. She’s a writer, a faith-adventurer, who is deeply invested in serving the people of Sudan. I’ve come to enjoy her blog posts since I came across her on Twitter some time ago. (You should follow her on her blogs & Facebook as well.) She made this claim:
One of the most important elements in embracing the supernatural walk God has created us for involves the intentional setting of our desire. (Source)
This resonated with me and led me to a week of my own study and reflection. It ultimately led to a message I preached at my church. here’s the line of thought.
God Made Your Desire
In Genesis 2:9 we find this verse: “The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food…”
God made these trees and made them “pleasing in appearance.” That phrase is translated from a single Hebrew word, chamad, which means “something to be desired.” God made these trees, and so many other thing, with the intention that they would be desired. If God created desire and desirability, then God must have a purpose for it, right?
Think about this passage, Psalm 37:4. “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.”
Here God says that your heart has desires. Not only that, but God wants to give them to you. That means they can’t all be bad. Trying to live without desire isn’t a Biblical choice. In fact, desire is part of God’s design to help you do good, to help you connect with Him, to move you to do Godly things.
John Eldrich, in his book Journey of Desire summarizes this nicely:
We are desire. It is the essence of the human soul, the secret of our existence. Absolutely nothing of human greatness is ever accomplished without it. Not a symphony has been written, a mountain climbed, an injustice fought, or a love sustained apart from desire. Desire fuels our search for the life we prize.[note John Eldredge, The Journey of Desire, 2000. Thomas Nelson Publishers. Kindle edition, location 283]
Desire is not bad. It’s God given and it serves a purpose. That purpose? To create possibilities in our lives. Here’s how that happens. You desire something. Your heart turns toward it. This means you think about it more and you begin to develop and nurture an emotional connection with it. You begin to focus on it.
Who is in charge of what you desire?
This focus is important because the things we focus on shape us. This is an inescapable Biblical principle: By beholding we become changed. The more we focus our thoughts and emotions on something, the more we become the kind of person who wants or needs that thing. The more we are shaped, the more likely we are to act in the direction of that desire. So, by desiring, we create the space for something to have power and influence in our lives. We actually get what we want!
All this means that desire leads to outcomes. Do you see that? Desire leads to action.
But if this is true, then it matters enormously what we desire. If our desires lead to actions, to outcomes, then we need to be intentional about what we desire. Whatever we desire is going to bring about real outcomes in our lives. But this is where the problem lies, because our culture doesn’t believe that we can influence our desires; they just happen to us.
Here’s something that might surprise you. The Bible says that you can choose what you desire. Your desires don’t just happen to you. You nurture them. You invest time and emotion in them. When you invest in them, they grow. When you choose to invest elsewhere, they fade.
Colossians 3:1 says this: “Since you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
“Set your heart” the verse says. That’s setting your desires. Your heart is set on what you want most, what you long for. This verse is telling us to set our heart on Christ. It’s suggesting that we can choose to desire Christ.
So stop for a moment and answer this question. Do you desire Christ? Not as a good idea that you accept intellectually, or some religious hero that inspires you. Do you actually desire, do you want in an emotional way, do you long for, a life-giving relationship with Christ? You can.
Not only that, the Bible says we’re not alone in the process of setting our desires. Philippians 2:13 adds this: “For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.”
Catch that? God is working in you to help you desire His good purpose. This isn’t something you have to muscle up on your own. God’s grace even extends to this–helping you desire the things that are best for you. Consider that for a moment. If you find yourself not desiring the best things, if you’re not really emotionally longing for a better relationship with God, that’s something God can help you with. That can be your prayer.
“God, give me this desire. Enable me to desire You. Enable me to desire the things You want for me.” If that’s all you prayed for the next year, you’d be fine.
How then do we set our desire?
So, how do we set our desire? Take a look at John 15:7. These are Jesus’ words. “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.”
Jesus connects two things.“Remain in me.” Do this, and then, “ask whatever you want.” Remaining in Jesus is about intimacy. It’s about spending time seeking Him. It’s reading scripture. Reflecting on it. Praying. Having personal worship. Participating in gathered worship. We do these things to know Jesus’ heart, and even to hear from Him. This is how we “remain in Him.”
Then Jesus says something crazy. He says that if we “remain in him,” we can ask for anything we want, and it will be given to us. At first it sounds like a blank check. It it really true that if I do a handful of religious things, I will get what ever I want from God? Because, I’d really like an iPad 4 and a Harley to go with it! But that’s not what’s going on here.
Jesus is teaching us about how our hearts change. When we remain in Him, we are building intimacy. Remember: by beholding we become changed. The more we look at Him, the more we seek Him, the more we study him, the more we listen for His voice–the more our hearts are shaped. As our hearts are shaped, we come to want the very things that He wants for us.
If we remain in Christ we get what we want because we’re wanting what He wants to give us. Tweet That!
That same sequence is found in the Old Testament too. Psalms 37:4. “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.” Take delight in the Lord. Desire God. Choose to set your desire on Him. Then what? He will give you the desires of your heart.
But what will your heart desire, if your heart is set on God? You’ll desire exactly what He wants to give you: Himself. A deep relationship that establishes your value and worth and purpose. A deep sense of belonging. Your identity will be secure, because it will be rooted in the One who made you. Your value will be established without the need to perform or accomplish or earn your place. And what you do will no longer be rooted in obligation or fear, but will become a response of love.
The more your heart desires God, the more you will get exactly what your heart desires.
Note: This post is the core of a sermon of mine. If you’d like to hear more, including more of the Biblical background, you can watch it here, on Youtube. November 3, 2012 “Set Your Desire”