What do you want? It’s a huge question and is a question Jesus cares about! Let’s look at a passage in John where Jesus calls the first disciples.
“The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.” (John 1:35-39)
Jesus asks the two disciples “what are you seeking?” or put another way, “what do you want”? It’s not a trick question. Jesus is legitimately asking the two disciples what they want. This brings us to the question of desire in our lives.
In religious circles, sometimes the word desire has negative connotations. When I say desire I am talking about needs, passions, longings, wants, imagination. Desire is the core drive or longing that pushes us to pursue things, to imagine, to long, to hope, to dream.
In religious circles we are sometimes taught that desire is bad. Desire can lead to sin, so avoid desire. What if we flipped the script? What if desire, at the core, is good? For example, the desire for love and intimacy can be sought in a healthy marriage or it can be sought in promiscuous relationships. It’s the same desire at the core, one healthy pursuit and one unhealthy pursuit. We cannot say that the desire for love and intimacy is bad. It is a God given desire and it is something we need. So, if desires at the core are good, how do we deal with desire?
Dealing with Desire
In contemporary culture we usually have two ways of dealing with desire. The first option is the religious option: kill it.
Because desires can lead us down the wrong path, sometimes the religious option tries to kill desire. The Bible certainly talks about the dangers of the flesh and avoiding sinful desires. (Gal 5:16). Yet, a common mistake religious people make is equating all desire with danger because it can lead to sin. While the motive of avoiding the wrong fulfillment of desires is positive, the method is flawed.
One way this plays out is a denial of desire that leads to a denial of ourselves by focussing mainly on the needs and desires of others. In this way we fail to recognize our own needs and desires. The seemingly selfless saint can end up resentful if their efforts and deeds for others aren’t recognized. This option is duty and service over desire. The Biblical example of this is Martha. She was so worried by her duty to Jesus, that she didn’t focus on his actual presence. She grew resentful when her sister Mary sat with Jesus and didn’t help with the housework. (Luke 10:38-42). Another downfall here is a lack of self care because it feels selfish. We ‘should’ be helping others, so taking time for ourselves and holding personal boundaries feels wrong. We may not even know what we like or want personally.
On the other hand, others in the religious model try to deal with desire by focusing on rational thought and correct doctrine. They live primarily in their heads and try to kill desire by ignoring passion and emotion. They live a calm cool life, but one detached from emotion. This option prefers correct doctrine and rules over desire. This method teaches that you get the rules right and you’ll be ok. Rules are safe because we can define and control them. The Pharisees had doctrine, rules and regulations, but they were so far removed from desire they actually rejected their own Messiah (Jesus) because he didn’t play by their man-made rules.
The second option to deal with desire is the cultural option: fulfill it
In this solution, instead of avoiding desire, you fulfill or try to fulfill every desire that you feel. This leads to things like consumerism, promiscuous relationships and addictions. In this option rather than denying desire, desire itself is god. If you buy this car, you will experience the freedom of endless road trips and perfect hair… A little more money and you could retire young and get that cabin and boat you always wanted…
The problem is that the fulfillment options always falls short. Once a desire is attempted or fulfilled, another desire pops up to replace it. It’s a never-ending cycle. Furthermore, it is impossible to look out for others if your goal is to fulfill every desire you have; it leads to a selfish, self centered life.
The Heart of the Matter
First, we realize that the things we spend a lot of time pursuing or avoiding end up defining us. Jesus taught that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also (Matt 6:19-21). Secondly, humans have deep longings built into their souls by God. These are things such as a desire to be wanted, loved, needed, and respected by those around us. When we don’t feel that our desires are being met, our tendency is to turn to things that we think will satisfy the cravings of our souls. All of these can bring some level of fulfillment, but all the people, activities, things and actions in the world cannot perfectly fulfill us. The reality is that God created us and therefore he is the only one able to perfectly fulfill our desires and meet our needs. Our desire is created by God and is meant to lead us to God.
So desire is created by God. How do we deal with desire?
First, admit you have desires.
- Desires in and of themselves are not necessarily bad or good, they simply are.
- How you deal with them, what actions you take, determines the results
- It’s okay to have desires (It just means you’re human)
Secondly, reflect on your desires and name them
- Maybe you have a desire to be married. This could be because you feel lonely.
- Maybe you have a desire for freedom.
- Whatever it is, reflect on your desires and name them
Third, submit those named desires to God.
- He knows what we really need and what we really want.
- If you want a new sports car but have a perfectly functional Corolla, just be aware you might not get the sports car
- This isn’t name it and claim it. It’s name it and submit it
- For example, the desire to take care of our bodies is real. We need to eat for instance. However, we can overeat or spend too much dining out. In order to submit our desires, it is wise at times to practice disciplines like fasting and avoiding buying things
- But let’s say you have a desire for adventure, God wants to help you with that. It might not always look like what you think it will, but God really cares about your desires and dreams
Fourth, reflect on your named and submitted desires
- Consider your desires and discuss them with a trusted friend, pastor, mentor or counsellor
- What might this desire be leading you to in your life?
- Why are you feeling this specific desire?
- Try to uncover the root or core of your desires. Why are you thinking that particular way? Is it healthy or unhealthy?
Fifth, allow Jesus to fulfill and transform your desire
- As we follow Jesus our desires naturally begin to align with Jesus’ plan for our lives
- “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Rom 12:1-2
- So, your desire for adventure may be fulfilled by pursuing a missions trip! This is a win-win, your desire leads you to something good that helps other people and furthers the Kingdom of God, while also meeting your desire in a healthy way. After all, God created you and has a good plan for you life!
Have you been taught that having desires is wrong? Desire is not wrong, and it can often be a tool in God’s toolbox for pointing us in the way he will lead us. Maybe you’ve been more in fulfillment camp. Some self-discipline may be what is needed. We want life to be fulfilling, and we find fulfillment in many things, but true and complete fulfillment comes only from God. This week, consider spending some time journaling and thinking about your desires. Review the five steps we talked about: admit, name, submit, reflect, transform/fulfill.
What do you want?
For further information a couple great resources that I drew from for this message.
Sermon from Oak Hills church: http://oakhills.org/sermons/what-do-you-want/
Blog on desires: https://gravityleadership.com/desire-in-discipleship/
 Some material in this section drawn from https://gravityleadership.com/desire-in-discipleship/