Desire plays an important role in life


Desire plays a critical and often overlooked role in life, including spiritual life. Desire forges a person’s future and chooses the path they follow. Humans cannot live without desire. If a drug were to spread through our atmosphere that deprived humans of desire, the race would perish for want of spreading. Of course, he would starve before that.

Desire is a good gift, albeit a dangerous one. He has, as the philosopher Dallas Willard once said, “the tendency to take control of his life.” When desire takes over, a person’s mind is reallocated from its other tasks and its resources are directed to finding ways of gratification. This person has been sold – or has sold himself; they hold the deed of sale – in slavery.

The Bible considers desire to be an essential characteristic of life. It moves us and is, as such, essential. Desire, however, can lead us to a dead end. People can become so dominated by their desires that they lose the ability to appreciate the other good things in life. The desire which enslaves them demands more and more frequent gratifications. It is the life of addiction.

In his famous Letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul finds himself ambushed by desire and in the unenviable position of doing what he hates and not doing what he wants. Those caught in this situation usually think of “how to satisfy” their desires (Paul’s words). They find that they cannot help but “obey his wishes” (again, Paul’s words).

What then is the solution? People cannot live without desire; It’s impossible. People are not to be enslaved by desire; it seems inevitable. We all have desires that are not good for us and lack those that are. Since desire is not the kind of thing that can be turned on or off by just flipping a psychological switch, how can we develop desires that are good for us and lose desires that are not?

It can help to think that desires are superimposed. Deep desires are shared by all people, regardless of their race, gender or nationality. (These are the wants that made their way up Maslov’s hierarchy of needs.) They are part of what it means to be human.

God also gives distinctive desires that are unique to the individual. Each of us has a unique “desire imprint”. Desires like this are an important part of what makes people interesting and fun to be around.

There are still other desires that are conveyed to us by the people around us. The people we spend time with have more to do with what we want than we can achieve. Would anyone crave coffee and cigars if it hadn’t been introduced by someone who already had that desire?

I developed a desire for coffee while I was in college. All these years later, I sincerely desire it, and that desire influences my behavior. I didn’t develop a craving for cigars at the time, although I did try a few. If I had hung out with my cigar smoking friends, I might just want a good cigar. As it is, I can’t even imagine a good cigar.

Good desires cannot simply be turned on, and bad desires simply cannot be turned off. Desire doesn’t work that way. What we can do is spend time with those whose lives we admire and whose desires continually reinforce the quality character they have developed.

If hanging out with others influences the development of our desires, who better to hang out with than God? The church has encouraged this practice, which not only informs our thoughts but also shapes our desires. Various traditions offer different models of what spending time with God looks like, but all recommend prayer, scripture reading and study, as well as meditation and gathering for collective worship.

The summit of this life with God is summed up in the phrase: “pray without ceasing”. Those who learn to do this can work, play, eat, relax, craft, and even suffer in the company of God. They find that the psalmist was right: God truly gives those who take pleasure in him the desires of their hearts.

Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County. Learn more at

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