Desires: A GPS for the Human Heart
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.