08 Apr 2021
On April 9, 2021, Ellen Mary Dykas will be speaking at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference (TGCW21) in Indianapolis, IN. To access her recommended resource lists and speaker’s notes for the following breakout sessions, see the hyperlinks below with attached PDFs.
Breakout Session Round 1: Sexual Issues Women Face
When: April 9 at 1:00 PM
Description: When was the last time you attended a women’s brunch addressing sexual issues? Most likely, you haven’t! This breakout will address a variety of struggles that women face when it comes to sexuality. We’ll discuss sexual temptations and the pursuit of sin, and the trauma of being sinned against sexually. Come listen in as our panel shares honestly about these tough topics, keeping our focus on Jesus and the hope we have in him for transformation.
Breakout Session Round 2: Compassionate Care in a #MeToo World
When: April 9 at 2:30 PM
Description: The #Metoo movement has exposed widespread sexual harassment and brought accountability to those who have misused power and authority. This breakout will provide guidance on how to love our friends as they share with us about past (or current) sexual abuse. We’ll explore how to create redemptive communities where women can share their stories of abuse and trauma, and be compassionately helped in the process of healing and transformation available through Christ.
Our Direct Ministry Team—which encompasses our Women’s, Men’s, and Parents and Family Ministries—delights to receive questions about the how, why, and what of our discipleship. Over many years, we have met with women and men from all over the United States and many countries. It has been our joy to share the hope of Christ with people from all backgrounds and many ethnicities, which brings me to a question that was sent to us recently.
“How are you equipping your staff to help people of color (non-whites) who struggle with sexual issues?”
Let me say that I love that someone asked us this! Harvest USA is committed to remaining firmly planted in a biblical view of a) people, b) sexual struggles, and c) the gospel’s hope for real transformation, which is extravagantly and indiscriminately available for all people. Let me answer our reader with two foundational commitments that our staff team lives out and to which we hold each other accountable.
We listen to our ministry recipients and seek to understand their stories
Our team anchors our discipleship ministry in asking questions and engaged listening. We equip ourselves through learning from the men and women who come to us for help. We sit at their feet, if you will, even as they have reached out due to personal pain and addictions. We ask many questions to understand their stories, backgrounds, cultural messages to which they have ascribed, and how the specifics of unbiblical values became accepted as they grew up.
Our ministry team of staff and interns represents a variety of ethnicities, but we are mostly white. The individuals who come to us, however, truly span the beautiful array of God’s image bearers. As I shared earlier, my discipleship to women has included those who are African-American, Latina, Asian, S. Asian, and white sisters who come from so many backgrounds. The same is true for the staff in our Men’s and Parents and Family Ministries. I’ve had my cultural blind spots exposed by asking questions, inviting feedback, asking more clarifying questions, and—can I mention it one more time?—listening.
If Christ came to heal the brokenhearted and to set the captives free (Isaiah 61:1–3 and Luke 4:18–20), then it’s crucial for our staff team to know how people have been uniquely bruised, broken, and wounded because of their histories. Cultural and racial influences can shape our thinking to be anti-biblical at worst and confusing at best.
Below are a few of the stories that trained me, opening my understanding to how culturally-specific experiences of pain can shape a person. The insights I’ve gained from women’s stories have helped me grow in knowing how to apply the gospel in specific ways for women of color.
- One woman grew up in a community where it was just expected and understood that married men have mistresses. What this hurting woman needed was the same message that most of the wives who reach out need, but understanding the cultural message from her upbringing guided me in delving into her beliefs about marriage and sex, which included a lot of distortion.
- A dear sister shared that, in her church, homosexuality was named publicly as “the most disgusting” sin, yet other expressions of sexual sin, which were definitely happening in that church, were not condemned. Tragically, many majority-white churches operate in the same way, but, in this woman’s cultural world, it was completely unacceptable to wrestle with same-sex temptations. She came to our women’s ministry carrying the burden of so much shame due to her attractions towards women. She needed grace, mercy, and truth to soothe and reorient her heart back to Jesus—just like all of us do. Knowing her cultural lens and how she had been shaped by growing up in her particular religious environment helped me know how to understand the shame and fear that burdened her.
- Finally, a young single woman fearfully confided in me about her secret struggle with pornography and masturbation. She could barely lift her eyes as she slowly let these words come out of her heart and mouth for the first time. She was a non-English speaker, so another Christian woman needed to translate this conversation…can you imagine what this was like for her?! I had previously learned, thankfully, how shame shackled many sexual strugglers in this culture, keeping them in isolation and fear. So, I didn’t go deep with questions about her sexual struggle in that first conversation. I listened, sought to pour hope and mercy over her, and sorrowed with her as she shared about a painful, lonely life. That first conversation opened the door for her to engage with other Christians about her sin.
Our staff team stands on Scripture not only to understand the stories we hear from people of color but also to show us how we ought to love, disciple, and come alongside them, as well as white people. Believe me: I’ve been trained by my mistakes and cultural blunders too many times to count, but, by God’s kindness, I am growing! As 2 Corinthians 5:14–15 says, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
We anchor our understanding of people and sexuality in the Bible
Over the fourteen years that I’ve served with Harvest USA, a highlight has been five international trips to Asia and South America. As a former missionary, something in my ministry DNA comes alive in cross-cultural situations. My international teaching travels, as well as discipleship calls from all over the globe, have given me many opportunities to have honest, real conversations with sexual strugglers from many parts of the world.
My interactions in Asia, South America, and Latin America, along with women from the U.S. who are Latina, African American, and Asian-American, have proven to me what the Bible says: We are all more alike than different! People were created in the image of God, yet we all experience the brokenness of sin and the need of forgiveness, healing, and transformation. We each have unique experiences regarding cultural values, family histories, peer and religious influences, and more that have exerted powerful shaping influence on our hearts. However, the Bible is clear on several points.
“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come”
(2 Corinthians 5:17).
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16–17).
These three biblical touchpoints teach us that all people need the radical intervention of God through new life in Christ and the power of the Spirit. We all need the Spirit’s help to turn away from sinful thoughts, actions, and desires, including pornography, sexual fantasy, adultery, promiscuity, and any sexual struggle. The Bible does not discriminate in its bold and clear proclamation that we all need our Lord Jesus’ salvation, grace, and mercy to live faithfully in regards to our sexuality.
I could share many more details, but these two commitments lay the foundation upon which we seek to love and care for the men and women of color who reach out for help. Our staff listens to learn about each person’s unique story and beliefs, and we read, study, and meditate on the Bible’s teaching about people and sexual struggles, which keeps us anchored to a biblical worldview.
Jesus sent his people out to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:18–20), a commission which Harvest USA takes to heart! Please continue to send any questions you have about the how, why, what, and when of our commitment to live this out.
04 Feb 2021
Join Ellen and Shalee as they talk about their ministry to women in a group setting. Listen in as they discuss:
Common anxieties women experience as they come to our ministry: These anxieties present themselves in many different ways, but the two main ones stem from fear and shame.
A few ways to cultivate a safe environment for women: Lead with transparency, ask questions that draw people out, and listen attentively to show that you seek to know and understand, regardless of if you’ve experienced similar things.
Benefits of the group setting: As women hear the stories of others, they realize they are not alone, which helps build the community they might be lacking. They begin to realize that we are more alike than we are different. Taking our eyes off of ourselves allows us to focus on Jesus and others.
How do we hold these stories and protect our hearts? This looks different for each of us, but it includes intentionally pursuing beauty, inviting others whom we trust to pray for us, cultivating relationships in which we are not in the role of helpers, and remembering that Jesus is our ultimate burden bearer.
07 Jan 2021
The following is meant to help those who are weary in their battle to overcome sin and need help knowing how to pray and cry out to God for a fresh start.
Two thousand twenty one. 2021. Lord, I’m not sure what to think or how to feel as this year begins. There has been so much upheaval, loss, and pain around me. The turmoil of 2020 stirs fear in my heart and anxiety for what may be in front of me this upcoming year, but here I am, coming to you for help, for hope, for comfort.
Lord, I say with David that I do love you, that you are my strength. You say that you will be my rock and my fortress, my Savior, my God, in whom I take refuge. So I call to you now, Lord Jesus, and ask for you to give me a fresh start this year with my battle.
My longtime struggle with sexual sin. I have done this before so many times, God—making a resolution every January: This year, I’m going to beat this thing. This year, I’ll get help. This year, I will have the courage to actually tell _______ about this. O God, help me! I’m scared, weary, and so tired of the shame and sinking down into despair. Can this year be different? I need a fresh start; I need you! My prayers echo Psalm 18:1–3 and 40:1.
You are my only hope, Lord Jesus. As Peter says to Jesus in John 6:68, where else can I really go anyway?! You alone have the words of life, truth, and rescue that I need so desperately. Help me to hear you, to believe you. Help me to obey you with a fresh start for this longtime sin. I name it again before you now: ______________. Thank you, Lord, that there is no shame for those who look to you and honestly tell you their real, raw thoughts in anguish and suffering (Psalm 34:4–5).
I bring my heart to you, Lord, because I know that I’m proud and stubborn. And as much as I hate the consequences of this sin, I don’t want to give it up. So, there…I said it. I hate it, and I love it. I hate feeling guilty, like a bad Christian. The mental assault of all that I’ve stockpiled in my mind from having this sin control me for so long is torment. However, I love escaping the stress of my life for a few minutes or hours; I like the intoxicating pleasure I get. I know it’s wrong, but it feels good. Why does it have to be that way, Lord? That sin feels good and life-giving, while obedience can feel boring, painful, and deathly? Why?! (Psalm 51:1–2)
God, your Word says that my heart is the source for all of this, the choices I’ve made, what I’ve pursued and run away from. So, I’m asking you today for fresh faith to believe that you can change my heart, including my desires, to long for what you long for and to will what you will. Will you change the appetites of my heart, calm my cravings, and bring peace into the turmoil of my thoughts, please?! It all seems like an uncontrollable monster inside of me—can it be different? Change my heart, O God…change my life! (Luke 6:43–45, Psalm 34:8, Philippians 2:13, Psalm 51:10)
Father, I need your comfort for all of the mess and pain that this sin has brought into my life and others’ lives. Even if _________ doesn’t know about it specifically, I know they have felt my detachment, disinterest, and distraction. I haven’t been involved in relationships with honesty, engagement, or love. I know I’ve hurt so many people, and, honestly, Lord, I know I should care more about their pain than mine, but I’m hurting, too. Please, Father, will you let me feel and believe in your mercy again? (Psalm 139:23–24 and 2 Corinthians 1:3–4)
And I do ask you to comfort _________ and __________. Wow, Lord, I guess you are at work already! I’ve not prayed for them for so long, so thank you, Father. As you help me to bring my feelings to you now, I can sense that you are softening my heart—a heart that has felt so hard, so cold towards these same people. Yes, God, cause your work in me to go deep, cut through my self-deception and self-preoccupation, and break my heart over this sin! You’re kind, not mean-hearted, and I need you to lead me into repentance one step at a time. (2 Corinthians 1:3–4 and 7:10, as well as Romans 2:4)
Lord, I’m not sure what steps I need to take first. Do I read that book? Call that friend? Should I try to find a counselor? You call yourself the good Shepherd, so if you’re willing to guide a weak sheep like me, please lead me; show me who to reach out to for help. Who do I need to confess this to first? Give me courage, Lord. Even as I pray about this, I’m so scared of what ______ will think about me. Help me believe what you say about me more than anything else, that I am holy, loved, and chosen by you and that, even with this mess of sin in my life, none of these things change. I’m yours, Lord. Period. (Ephesians 5:1–2 and Colossians 3:12)
God, help me to trust that you can do in my life what David said you did in his: You sent help to him from heaven; you took him and drew him out of many waters. I’m drowning, Lord; draw me out of this place! This sin is too strong for me, and I finally am willing to admit that to you, Lord. This sin isn’t a friend; it’s an enemy, my enemy and yours, so please, be my strength! Rescue me and bring me into a place of freedom, of spaciousness, rather than this prison I’m stuck in now. Yes, God, because you love me, and your Word says that you not only love me but also delight in me. You love me, are with me—you’ll never let go. O God, thank you. (Psalm 18:16–19 and Matthew 28:20)
Lord, I’m in. I commit to walking forward in this obedience. I rest in your power that enables me to obey. To obey just one step at a time. Today, then again tomorrow. So, before you now, I want to commit to taking these steps in the coming week. I know that I need your Word, Lord, so this is my first step: to read the Bible and to pray it, to really take in your truth again as I’ve been so lazy—just going through the motions if I even bothered to open it. No more! Just one step at a time. Truly, Lord Jesus, help me to seek to please you in these steps. Encourage me and help me to not grow weary or give up. I want to trust you! (Galatians 5:13, Colossians 3:16–17, Galatians 6:7–9, and Proverbs 3:5–6)
I put my trust in you, Lord, even in the midst of my fears and weakness. You are worthy of my praise, worthy to be trusted. You will be merciful to me and will care for me as I take refuge in you. You are holding onto me and will never let go. Rain down your faithful love over me, over my feeble faith, and fulfill all your purposes for me. Thank you, Lord Jesus. (Psalm 56:1–4, 10–11 and 57:1–3)
The Harvest USA Direct Ministry staff are available to help you take steps of faith in overcoming your struggle with sexual sin. Please reach out for help if we can serve you in this way by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finding a greeting card for someone you love can be tough! Have you noticed how the messages in cards are often exaggerated, lofty, and unattainable?
“You make life complete and worth living for!”
“Mom and Dad, you are my unfailing rock and support. Without you, I would have failed to accomplish anything of worth.”
“You’re the friend I’ve always longed for, the other half of my heart living in another person.”
Movies and music also frequently touch upon deep longings for unfailing love and commitment. As image bearers of God, desiring intimate relationships is in our spiritual DNA—yet God alone can offer us unfailing love. We can taste love like this in human relationships, but spouses, parents, children, friends, siblings, and mentors are supposed to point us to God’s love, not hijack our heart’s devotion to him.
Codependency: Worldly Wisdom vs. Scriptural Truth
In the 1980s, self-help books popularized the term “codependent” to describe dysfunctional relationships in which an individual excessively relies upon others for worth, approval, and self-identity. Professional organizations made diagnoses for personality and relationship-based disorders. One example was dependent personality disorder, described as an “excessive and pervasive need to be taken care of; submissive, clinging, needy behavior due to fear of abandonment.”¹ Tragically, the American Psychiatric Association offers little hope because “personality disorders are resistant to treatment!”²
The word “codependent” isn’t in the Bible, and yet Scripture addresses unholy relationship patterns. What the world calls codependency, God’s Word calls “idolatry,” the worship of anything or anyone other than him. When we displace God with human relationships, relational idolatry happens.
God’s explicit command is that we have no other gods, including people, before him in our lives (Exodus 20:2–3). The sin is subtle, but the idolatry that causes codependency happens when relationships entice us away from the Lord, and we selfishly demand that someone give us, or receive from us, love, attention, and affirmation.
Our closest relationships can present the fiercest temptation to turn from the Giver to his gifts. Codependent relationships are idolatrous because they usurp Jesus’s rightful place. Instead of yielding to the Lord who loves us, we yield our sense of well-being to a person. Even though these connections at first feel emotionally intoxicating or comforting, a painful harvest of discontentment, anxiety, and insecurity eventually develops because people can’t fill, heal, or satisfy our hearts!
Delighting In, Rather Than Running After, People
Codependency, or relational idolatry, is something I personally know well. God used Psalm 16, particularly verses 1–4, to help me step away from broken patterns of relating to people.
“Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, ’You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’ As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply.”
David looks to God as his refuge, the One apart from whom there is “no good!” This echoes Jesus teaching his disciples that the truest intimacy and security could only be found in relationship with him: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When we abide in Jesus alone, he will bear good fruit in our relationships.
Having proclaimed God as his true refuge and Lord, David expresses a godly heart posture towards people: a holy delight in and affection for them. He cautions that when we desperately run after anyone to feel good about ourselves, devastating consequences will result: sorrow, pain, and grief.
When you “watch” Jesus relate to people in the Gospels, he is never aloof or selfishly distant. His relationships weren’t fueled by flattery, people-pleasing, or demands that people make him feel good about himself. John 2:24–25 explains how Jesus lived out Psalm 16:1–4: “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”
Jesus loved, served, and enjoyed people without “entrusting” himself to them in the same way that he entrusted himself to his Father. He compassionately and selflessly loved people and obeyed the command to love God alone with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. For all of the Bible’s commands regarding marriage, friendship, parenting, and neighbors, God never said to place our trust in people with our whole being—yet we are to love as he has loved us (John 15:12). That kind of love and trust is rightly focused on our Savior, who refused to allow people to capture his heart’s focus and “sideline” God.
God-dependency Displaces Codependency
If you struggle with idolatry in your relationships and recognize the symptoms of codependency in your life, take heart! Worldly wisdom cannot offer effective treatment for a spiritual matter, but the gospel can through Jesus. He offers all that we need to grow into healthy and holy people. Jesus offers you himself! Our Savior makes a home in us through an eternal union based on his grace. This is the most intimate, satisfying, and healthy relationship anyone could ever enjoy!
Jesus also forgives us when we sin in our relationships, and he heals our broken hearts. Many people were never taught what healthy relationships look like, much less how to cultivate relationships and friendships fueled by rightly ordered love. Pray that God would guide you to love that abounds with knowledge and discernment.
Finally—though so much more could be said—Jesus came to transform your heart so that you would be captivated by his love and freed to move towards people with God-honoring motives rather than selfish demands. With Jesus in his rightful place as our loving Lord, other people will increasingly take their proper place as gifts to be enjoyed.
¹ https://www.theravive.com/therapedia/dependent-personality-disorder-dsm–5-301.6-(f60.7), accessed by author May 29, 2020.
You can also watch the video, “Once Codependent, Always Codependent?“, which corresponds to this blog.
23 Nov 2020
If you struggle with codependency and obsessive attachments, take heart! The Lord can help you and change you.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart or Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share by Ellen Dykas. When you buy these minibooks from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “Codependent No More: Encouragement for Keeping Christ Central in Our Relationships,” which corresponds to this video.
24 Sep 2020
“I, like many others in her life, wasn’t necessarily bumping up against a proud, coldhearted wall. No, I was experiencing Kara’s protective shield that had been built one piece at a time in response to a scary world…”
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our resources, such as Helping Students with Same-Sex Attraction by Cooper Pinson and Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share by Ellen Mary Dykas. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “Post-Traumatic Growth and the Gospel,” which corresponds to this video.
24 Sep 2020
“How in the world is she still standing?! Still functioning as a sane, responsible, adult woman?”
More often than I wish, I am left stunned, with these questions swirling through my head, as I hang up the phone or Zoom call or escort a woman to the door of our office. Why? I’ve just heard a story of such horrific suffering, of traumatic pain, that I’m left brokenhearted and in awe. I can only praise God through my tears for his supernatural strength that has enabled so many women to grow forward after suffering circumstances that could have crushed them—and, in fact, have crushed others.
Why is it that some people come through the horrors of this world still standing, even flourishing, while others’ lives are utterly wrecked in the aftermath of trauma? Military veterans, survivors of abuse, abandoned children, and betrayed spouses often experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a “mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event—either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”¹
Many of the wives who come into my office have experienced symptoms of PTSD because the husband and the marriage that they assumed and believed they had do not exist. The trauma of betrayal results in sleeplessness, depression, anger, outbursts, and paralyzing grief. They are responding to the demolition of the safety and security, life plans, and stable relationships they thought they had. Yet I’ve witnessed so many of these women shine for Christ! Faith, resiliency, and courage are fired up, and they plant their roots down deep into the Lord and his Word. How?
Post-Traumatic Growth: Psychological Category and Biblical Concept
The American Psychological Association gives one answer for my response of wonder and awe for the resiliency that I witness week after week in suffering women. It’s called Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG), which I learned about when I researched the impact of sexual abuse. “(PTG) is a theory that explains [healthy]…transformation following trauma. It was developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD, in the mid-1990s, and holds that people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward.”²
While the APA provides one helpful perspective from which to consider PTG, Scripture addresses trauma and its impact differently from the APA. Repeatedly, God makes it clear that, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33), and, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6).
The Bible is honest about the ugliness of sin and how people commit evil against one another. In the pages of the Old and New Testaments, stories of traumatic losses, abuse, manipulation, and suffering cause us to cringe. However, the Bible includes something to which the APA is blind: Into this sin-broken world has come our Lord and Healer, Jesus Christ. He offers comfort in the face of terrifying events, hope that these events do not define us, and a trustworthy promise that he can use pain to promote growth rather than distress.
Jesus Enters Our Pain and Transforms Our Responses
Friend, if you’ve suffered trauma, Jesus knows. He sees, hears, and understands. He was treated horrifically through the crucifixion, suffered alienation from the Father, and experienced death. The distress he endured the night before these events was so traumatic that his blood vessels burst, leading to a literal ”sweating” of blood.
Here’s where the gospel brings life and the possibility of true post-trauma healing and growth in a way that the secular theorists can’t! Christ responded to the most horrific pain with honest grief, faith, and love—love for his Father and for us. Christ’s response to traumatic events can become our example and our way of responding, our faith-fueled path of resiliency; this is one of the amazing applications of John 15’s teaching about our union with Jesus.
Post-traumatic growth could be relabeled as “with-Jesus transformation.” As we grow in both knowing who Jesus really is and understanding that we are spiritually joined to him, our pain becomes his, and his resilience, faith, and love become ours in a process that promotes wholeness and healing, displaces our distress, and changes our desires for sinful, false comforts. Christ is in us, the hope of glory, and his power allows us to choose a different path!
Choose Jesus and the Promises of the Gospel
The men and women who come to Harvest USA have a backstory to their sin struggles, just like you do. They may define themselves initially as a sex addict, a traumatized wife, or a person messed up beyond repair. They have been sinned against and suffered much in a sinful world, and they in turn have responded to it with their own sinful choices. However, the gospel of new life in Christ gives us the capability to respond to sin done against us, as well as horrific circumstances, by turning to God for comfort, strength, and wisdom to obey and trust him. This is true post-traumatic growth!
You can also watch the video, “Why a Christ-Centered Lens Is Important,” which corresponds to this blog.
Because of the heart transformation that happens through our union with Jesus, any desire can slowly come under the loving lordship and reign of King Jesus.
To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our books, God, You, and Sex by David White and Sexual Sanity for Women by Ellen Mary Dykas. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “Desires: A GPS for the Human Heart,” which corresponds to this video.
16 Jul 2020
How did we ever get around before Global Positioning Systems were so accessible? I’m sure there are other travelers like me who loathe trying to understand paper maps, not to mention figuring out how to refold them neatly. In the “old days,” we made do, charting our course to the best of our ability by following signs, checking state highway maps at rest stops, and asking for help (sometimes) when we got lost. GPS apps and devices now put all of the information we need literally at our fingertips, helping travelers get from here to there easily and efficiently.
Though not always easy to decode or seemingly efficient, our desires serve as a spiritual GPS for our hearts. What do I mean? We can grow in awareness of how we typically respond to the desires that consistently show up in our lives. During this process, God provides insight into the direction of our hearts: Are our desires facing towards Christ’s love and truth with a posture of surrender, or are our desires facing away from him, towards selfish demands that we be satisfied on our own terms? Like my phone’s GPS that locates my physical position and gives me directions, our desires communicate and motivate us in a particular direction.
Our Desires Communicate
Let me ask you to do something that may seem intrusive and vulnerable but can open your eyes to your desires. If you are currently engaging in any form of sexual sin, think back to the last time you gave in. Now try to remember one hour before you gave way to that temptation. What were you feeling, experiencing, desiring? Next, think back to twelve hours before you succumbed. Again, what were you feeling, experiencing, desiring?
Many women who are enslaved to cycles of viewing porn and sexual self-gratification can identify that certain desires were “speaking” to them before the actual sinful behavior. A longing to be comforted from pain called to them, “Soothe me immediately!” A craving for love or physical affection was persistently persuading, “You deserve what you don’t have!”
Desires communicate to us, but they don’t have the right or power to force us into sinful solutions that ultimately don’t satisfy. Actually, as desires rise up, whether quietly or kicking and screaming from our hearts, the most important factor is where they take us. Like a GPS, in what direction to do your desires motivate you?
We Are Motivated by Our Desires
David Powlison, former director of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation, wrote in his masterful essay, “I Am Motivated When I Feel Desire,”
To examine desires is one of the most fruitful ways to come at the topic of motivation biblically. New Testament authors repeatedly allude to life-controlling cravings when they summarize the innermost dynamics of the human soul. Which will triumph, the natural deviancy of the lusts of the flesh or the restored sanity of the desires of the Spirit? Christ’s apostles have the greatest confidence that only the resources of the gospel of grace and truth possess sufficient depth and power to change us in the ways we most need changing. The mercies of God work to forgive and then to change what is deeply evil, but even more deeply curable by God’s hand and voice. The in-working power of grace qualitatively transforms the very desires that psychologists assume are hardwired, unchangeable, morally neutral givens. Christ’s glance slays and replaces (in a lifelong battle) the very lusts the theories variously explain as “needs” or “drives” or “instincts” or “goals. That’s the second unique thing God shows us about human psychology… We can be fundamentally rewired by the merciful presence of the Messiah.¹
Isn’t it hopeful to know that our desires can be transformed? We need daily “rerouting,” which comes from the Spirit working within us to change our hearts, renew our minds, strengthen our conviction to trust him, and make choices of faith and obedience. Our loving Lord doesn’t merely send a message of hope; he companions and cares for us in the lifelong process of change.
Five Ways That God Shepherds Us in Our Desires
Understanding desires may feel tricky, but God’s Word is a trustworthy map to follow. Consider using the list below as a Bible study that you can use personally or, better yet, with a trustworthy friend or spouse. Together, you can learn how God:
- Names and normalizes our experiences with desires. This is communicated through words like “craving,” “lusts,” and “passions,” all of which you’ll find throughout Scripture. (2 Peter 1:3–4, James 4:1–4)
- Invites us to come to him regardless of what our struggles are, including our disorderly desires. (Matthew 11:28–30)
- Commands us to flee from unholy desires and to fast from influences that trigger them. (Romans 13:14, 1 Corinthians 10:1–14)
- Enables us to increasingly place our whole lives, including our desires, “under his feet.” (Ephesians 1:22–23)
- Comforts us in our sadness and grief when good desires remain unmet. The most important way he comforts us is by giving us himself! (Psalm 34:18, 147:3; Isaiah 61:1–4; John 14:11–4, 8)
Pray and ask God to help you locate the desires that loom largest and most insurmountable for you. Then ask him to shepherd you in the specific ways you need in order to grow in obedience, faith, and trust of him, especially when good desires remain unsatisfied. He is faithful, and he will do it!
¹Powlison, David. Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture. (P&R Publishing, October 2003), p.147.
You can also watch the video, “Desires: Stuff, Deny, Embrace…or Something Else?,” which corresponds to this blog.