Desire: An emotion or excitement of the mind, directed to the attainment or possession of an object from which pleasure is expected. (Webster Dictionary)
Desire was once a perfectly innocent and natural inclination of the soul toward the experiencing of godly pleasure. It was originally a capacity for experiencing the delight of relationship with God and His creation but has now become an unbalanced burden as a result of sin. This chapter helps to bring a balance to our understanding of desire and an awareness of the many deceptions arising from the corruption of that desire.
In His divine wisdom, God purposefully designed us as creatures capable of great desire. His original intention was that we would realize the satisfaction of our desires in the Garden of Eden, in a perfect love relationship with our heavenly Father. Adam and Eve were created with the ability to enjoy intimate relationships with God and with one another; and to be loved perfectly and fulfilled in every way through God’s presence and provision.
The devil, hating everything God loves, went to work to destroy these relationships. He knew that God had told the man:
“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
So the devil approached Eve, brazenly stating that God was lying about the consequences of disobedience. He implied that God’s motive in forbidding them to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was actually to keep them from self-improvement. “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil ” (Gen. 3:4,5).
The underlying premise the devil was presenting was that God did not have Eve’s best interests at heart, but, instead, He was selfishly keeping from her that which she really needed to experience personal fulfillment. The devil knew that if he could corrupt Eve’s thoughts, he could corrupt her desires.
Eve chose to believe the lie and to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Thus, she became subject to a prideful delusion originated by the devil: that created beings could satisfy their innermost desires by taking it into their own hands to become “like God.” (Gen. 3:5) (Isa. 14:14)
Adam joined her in partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The consequence of their rebellion was enmity with God and the corruption of their souls. They had rejected God’s integrity, transferring their desire for Him onto something they could reach out and provide for themselves. This was a model of the curse that would come upon humanity from that day (Gen. 3:17-19). Unbelief (doubting God, but trusting more in our own godless self-determination) became the rotten core of the sin nature of man (Isa. 30:1-15). And a restless striving for self-gratification now became the primary focus of man’s desires.
Ungodly Thoughts Promote Ungodly Desires
Genesis 6:5 declares, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”
Our thoughts and emotions are never far apart. The way we think about a thing is the way we will inevitably feel about it. For example, if we entertain ungodly thoughts about people, we will soon experience ungodly feelings toward them. A combination of ungodly thoughts and feelings will, over a period of time, cause the development of a belief system that can keep us in spiritual darkness throughout our life. This is demonstrated for us in Romans:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God (they thought wrongly about him) nor gave thanks to him, (they felt wrongly toward him), but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21) (Parenthesis in text mine)
Romans goes on to say that as a result of these people’s sinful thoughts and feelings, they developed a belief system based in spiritual darkness which, in their delusion, they believed was wisdom (Rom.1:22-23). This is the way of the world.
The Effect of the Corruption of Desire
As a result of Adam and Eve’s sin, mankind experienced for the first time, desires that were no longer innocent, but were now depraved. No longer was man able to walk in an unhindered loving relationship with God in the garden. Now, he hid in shame, destined to try to overcome this shame by endeavoring to fulfill his corrupted desires through prideful self-determination (Gen. 3:8; 6:5).
Man’s efforts to replace the spiritual emptiness within himself rapidly became obsessive. He looked to his wife, children, other people, his work; anything to try to restore his sense of personal meaningfulness, which had been lost in the garden (Gen.11:3,4). Man, in his sinful nature, continues today along the path of self-determination and self-indulgence attempting to compensate for the unmet desires in his heart.
The book of James issues a warning to those who have chosen the covetous path of self-indulgence:
“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you….You have hoarded wealth in the last days….You have lived on earth in luxury and self indulgence. ”
-James 5: 1-5
Also, in James, we witness the dynamics of corrupted desire leading us into sin:
“…but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full grown gives birth to death.”
The book of Romans elaborates upon the extent to which mankind has exchanged God’s glory due to the gratification of depraved desires:
“Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles…Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another…They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” – Romans1:22-29
The World Supports Our Selfish Desires
These same sinful selfish desires are today nurtured by a worldly belief system that encourages self-indulgence by promoting philosophies of godless self-determination. Our bookstores and libraries are full of an ever-changing supply of the always popular self-help books. Each new book competes with the prior books to introduce us to the secret of true happiness. (It would seem that to be happy, all we need do is learn and then apply the latest self-help technique or method correctly in our lives!)
Our media is saturated with advertising which promotes self-indulgence by endlessly encouraging us to purchase products to soothe, glamourize or stimulate ourselves so that we can feel good, fit in and experience significant excitement.
This present system of worldly beliefs, based on the gratification of selfish desires through prideful self-determination, originated with the devil. In Ezekiel 28:14-17, we read,
“You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.”
Isaiah 14:12-14 further describes Satan’s attempt to satisfy his selfish desires through self-promotion:
“How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” (Italics mine)
Misdirected by Desire
Because of the corruption of desire within our souls, a self-centered spiritual blindness frequently clouds our attempts to recognize and accomplish godly priorities in our lives. Our misdirected desires persistently entice us to seek contentment primarily through the satisfaction of our immediate material and physical needs.
However, concerning our physical and material needs, Matthew 6:25-34 exhorts us to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Throughout scripture we encounter warnings and admonitions about the temptation to prioritize our lives around the created things of this world (Matt. 6:19-21; James 4:1-6, 4:13, 5:4).
Another deception arising from the misdirected desires of our souls, is the common misconception that we can prioritize the development of intimacy in our personal relationships over developing an intimate relationship with God. Mankind’s desire to achieve happiness through relationship with one another is usually far greater than his desire to find contentment through relationship with God.
But, again, Matthew reveals to us that:
Anyone who loves his father or mother…son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and fol-low me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:37-39
In Matthew 8:21-22, we read, “Another disciple said to him ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ ” But Jesus told him: “Follow me and let the dead bury their own dead.”
According to our Lord, our greatest desire should be to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38). As Hudson Taylor is quoted in They Found the Secret by V. Raymond Edman, “there must be a full concentration of the thoughts and affections on Christ; a complete surrender of the whole being to Him; a constant looking to Him for grace. Christians in whom these dispositions are firmly fixed go on calmly as the infant borne in the arms of its mother.”
A Heavy Burden Upon Our Loved Ones
Our corrupted desires can wreak havoc in our personal relationships. We often have unresolved disappointment over past unmet needs or desires, from which, we place unrealistic demands for compensation on the people in our lives today. We tend to believe the socially accepted delusion that the fulfillment of our unmet desires is the responsibility of our loved ones. They are meant to “complete” us according to the romantic notions of popular love songs and romance novels and movies.
We cannot realistically expect our loved ones to fulfill our very deepest needs. They are imperfect, just as we are! Yet, most of us, influenced by our corrupted and misdirected desires, spend much of our lives imposing this very expectation upon our loved ones. As long as we continue to entertain this false presumption, we place an impossibly heavy burden on the lives of those we love.
Invite the Holy Spirit to Work in Our Lives
It is our responsibility to recognize and repent of these inappropriate expectations. We can invite the Holy Spirit to bring conviction to our hearts in this area. We can then ask Him to free us from ungodly thoughts and feelings arising from our disappointments over past unmet needs and desires. It is primarily the disappointment from these past unmet needs and desires that compel us to continue to place unrealistic demands for compensatory fulfillment upon the people in our lives today. We want and sometimes demand our loved ones to make it all better. We want them to fix the rift in our soul that has developed from the hope, trust or love that was lost, broken, or unrealized in our past.
Yet, it is actually because we are not experiencing the fulfillment of our greatest need, the intimate realization of God’s perfect love within our soul, that we continue to misdirect our unrealistic expectations for personal fulfillment onto the people in our life. And in so doing, we raise up people as our “little gods” in which we place our hope. Truly, our Father God’s love for us is the only real source of lasting contentment for our love-starved, desire-filled souls.
Investing our hope in the people or things of this world for inner fulfillment and the experience of temporary happiness often leads to a disappointment-filled striving for control in our lives. This is illustrated by the allegorical story of the Little Finch –
The Little Finch
Consider the allegorical story of The Little Finch:
There was once a young boy who wanted a bird for his birthday.
Now the boy knew his father to be a wise and generous man, so he went to his father with his request. He told his father all about the bird he wanted. Not just any bird, mind you, for the boy knew exactly what kind of bird he wanted. He wanted a finch. But, not just any finch – a zebra finch! But, not just any zebra finch – a female zebra finch! The boy’s father smiled when he heard this but said nothing.
On the boy’s birthday the father suddenly appeared at the boy’s bedroom door with a beautiful female zebra finch perched on his finger. The boy ran to his father joyfully and extended his own finger to the bird. The bird hopped onto his finger.
The boy, however, was perplexed. “Father,” said the boy, “where is the bird’s cage?” “Oh my dear son,” said the father, “if you place this bird in a cage you will surely not have the bird you truly desire.”
But the boy was afraid the bird might fly away and so he went to the store and purchased a birdcage. When he came home he found that the bird did not want to go into the cage. It was a small frightening place with bars all around! But, the boy insisted on placing the bird in the cage and he chased the bird with a net around and around the room until it was finally caught and placed in the cage.
Now the boy had wanted the bird to be his friend and so he would open the door to the cage and place his hand inside hoping the bird would perch upon his finger again. But the bird was terrified whenever the boy would place his hand in the cage and flew fitfully back and forth. The boy reflected on this for awhile and after some time had passed, he determined that his father had certainly not given him the bird he had really wanted.
And the boy was angry with his father.
One day the father came to the boy’s room and saw his son sitting next to the cage with a frown on his face. The father inquired of the boy, “What is it that weighs so heavily on your heart?” The boy jumped up pointing his finger at his father and said, “Why have you given this bird to me? This is not the bird I asked for as a gift!” His father replied, “Surely, this is the bird you asked for as a gift – but it is not the bird you truly desired! This bird has known you only as its captor, the warden of the prison you have placed it in. It has not had the opportunity to choose you as its friend, but, instead, because you were afraid, you have tried to force your friendship with the bird entirely on your own terms.”
“But who knows” said the father, “ perhaps if you choose to open the door to the cage, the bird may yet fly out and choose to become the friend you truly desire.”
And the boy opened the door to the cage…
The father in this story is a symbolic representation of our Father God. The little boy is a person who is desiring that God would bring someone special (the finch) into his life to make him happy. But after receiving the finch, he fears the finch may choose to leave. And just like you and I, he tries to control the relationship to get what he thinks he needs.
Again, our Father God’s love for us is the only real source of lasting contentment for our love-starved, desire-filled souls. So, God’s plan for each of us is to free us from our flesh-centered desires and then fulfill the desires of the new heart that He has created within us (Psalm 51:10-12). A new heart with desires that prioritize first and foremost, relationship with God. But, in order for the Holy Spirit to do this sanctifying work within us, we must first be in agreement with God’s assessment of the problems in our relationships:
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”
Repentance of our self-focused mentality, a mentality that prioritizes the fulfillment of worldly desires, combined with our belief in the ever-present sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, brings about a positive transformation of our desires through healthy relationship with God.
This transformation or renewal of our desires can positively affect every area of our lives, including our relationship with God, our relationships with our loved ones, and even their relationship with God. Unhindered by the weight of the demands our corrupted desires once pressed upon them, our loved ones may now be able to turn their own attention and devotion more fully toward God (1 Cor. 7:32-35).
As God performs this wondrous work in our hearts, we will be able to stand in agreement with the psalmist, declaring,
“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by your right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.”
-Psalm 73:21-25 (Italics mine)
Copyright © 2000 by R. Thomas Brass
All rights reserved