What do Emily Dickenson, Woody Allen, and Selena Gomez have in common? They’ve all used the phrase, “The heart wants what it wants.” All three were referring to how one person is drawn to another by inner desires that defy logic, scruples, or wisdom.
We are tempted to view our desires as an intrinsic part of us, an intractable and unchangeable part of our nature. Whether by biology, or environment, or some generational predilection we just can’t change what we crave. “I can’t help it. I want what I want.” is our mantra.
This cultural understanding that happens inside and outside the church, creates at least two impossible paths to life. One is to live in constant battle with our desires. Every day becomes a battle to do the opposite of what we want. We are told to “fight ourselves.” We want to get up and lounge around for the day, but it’s Monday and so we force ourselves to go to work. Or that person pulls out in traffic, and we feel the urge to let it rip, but we hold our tongue instead. This is probably the approach that is most practiced by Christians who want to follow God, but just can’t get past their desires.
The second kind of life is a life of acquiescence. We give into our desires. This approach usually requires changing our view of God and what he must want for our lives. After all, we reason, he made us the way we are. He gave me this personality. He gave me my family that taught me to be how I am. He must have given me my passions since I’ve had them all my life. This is the approach most promoted in our secular culture and with Christians that just can’t find hope in living the battle described above.
If we want to experience true spiritual transformation, we must discern our desires and measure them by God’s desire for us. God’s desire for us is to know his life now and to walk in it in deep fellowship with him. And we should expect that as we walk with him, our desires too will shift and change to become more like his.
How do we seek God’s help in shaping our desires?
Ask for Wisdom. When we seek wisdom from God, he will reveal a path to life that leads to greater life, love, and joy. Proverbs is a book that reveals what a life of godly wisdom produces. James told us that when we’re facing hard questions, we need to pray for wisdom. Wisdom has its source in the mind of God. And when we find it, it leads us to life.
David wrote in the psalm, “Do not… be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.” (Psa. 37:1-2)
Give yourself to new Practices. What we practice doing will often end up shaping our desires. Doing good helps create and strengthen in us the desire for good. David continued, “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” (Psa. 37:3)
Learn Intimacy with God. Finding our grounding in God, realizing he is our source and sustenance, living with that awareness in constant prayer will shape our desires. We will end up affirming with the psalmist, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psa. 37:4). When he is our delight, his desires become ours. And new joy is born in us.
The caution for any of us is that our desires, when left unchanged, will continually pull is away from God. So, don’t just want what you want. Grow to want what God wants and find the life he has for you.