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Good Desire, Bad Desire

by Cameron Lawrence

In his sermon, “The Desires of Your Heart,” Dr. Stanley shows us that humans are complex beings—each of us filled with desires and impulses, some noble and some wicked. Many of them, scripture says, God gives us—most notably, He gives the desire to know and worship Him, whether we decide to or not.

But there are other desires rolling around in our hearts just waiting to be let out and put to work. Some are from God, and some are not. Trouble is, sometimes we get confused. Which desires are godly and given by His Spirit? Which are born out of the sin that still lives in our flesh?

Growing up in church, I often heard those words from Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Somehow I knew that didn’t mean God gives us everything we want. The missing gifts from the lists I made for my birthday and Christmas were proof enough. (I never did get that motorcycle.)

As I got older, the desires of my heart came to include immaterial things as well—the respect of my friends and family, success, and the love of a woman. These things are good in themselves—that is, until a sinful heart gets involved and distorts their essence into something less pure and pleasing to God.  And despite what my mother thinks, I am a sinner.

My human heart has not only the tendency but the habit of twisting good intentions into attitudes and circumstances that aren’t good for me or those around me. Some days, it’s as if I can’t help myself—the wrong things come out of my mouth involuntarily when speaking to my wife; I exhibit unrighteous anger at my fellow motorists, and wrongfully judge those dearest to me. (That’s just to name a few). And then there are other days when I have a different problem. I willfully help myself to whatever sinful desires I choose. The Bible has a word for that: it’s called disobedience.

Throughout the years, I’ve seen how the desires of my heart are so often misguided and, in certain cases, bad for me. It’s made me realize a very important truth: on its own, my heart can’t be trusted. I need help in discerning the good from the bad. Just as God told the prophet Jeremiah, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Dr. Stanley says, if our desires are wrong, we won’t experience satisfaction or joy in achieving them. The truth is my heart can’t be trusted to direct me. It desperately needs transformation—and a guide. That’s where the Holy Spirit comes in. He is the Helper whom Jesus spoke about in John 14: “”But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (v. 26).

Reconsidering Psalm 37, I realize that anything we want from God is secondary to wanting Him. Delighting yourself in the Lord begins with desiring Him more than His gifts. After all, what could be more satisfying than the joy, peace and comfort of living in God’s presence and knowing Him intimately?

If we walk closely with God, and delight in His presence, we are transformed over time: heart, soul, mind and body—and that includes our desires. The difficult thing is being willing to let our desires go, and humbly rest in the care of our Lord. It’s His will that matters, not ours.

God knows better than we do what we need to find fulfillment in this life. He is infinitely more trustworthy than our human hearts and minds, and carries His work in us to completion (Phil 1:6). Our job is to heed the prophet Micah’s words: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

Whatever God desires for your life is certainly His best. Humbly walk with Him, and you’ll find it every time.